Note: Or Ben David is a young Israeli woman who ecently served jail time for refusing to serve in the Israeli army. Recently she visited London, and while there she met with a group of mainly Muslim youth, to talk about her experiences. After the meeting, one young man commented that he had only come to meet with a friend, but his friend didn’t show up, so he stayed. He said he was really glad he had. “She changed how I look at things,” he said.

Or Ben David speaks:

In 2003 we had a second intifada… I live in Jerusalem and people there saw it as a terrorist act. I saw bombs. People were afraid to go out of their house. In front of my school there was a bomb. People shooting. All kinds of crazy things. It was a very, very scary time.

Most people, when someone close to them dies, they become racist and hate the race that killed their friend. But I started asking questions. I couldn’t understand why would a person take themselves out of their family, out of their work… what makes a person give up their life for something and kill other people?

And so I started asking other people – teachers, my parents, other adults around me. And the answer I got was that Jews and Arabs have never been able to live together and they never will be able to live together. And it’s a fight that always was, always is and always will be and there is nothing you can do. And I didn’t get this answer.

Or Goes to the West Bank

What happened then was that a few years later, a friend of mine, her father is a peace activist, and she used to go when she was younger with her parents to the West Bank to see what was going on. And she told me she was not going into the army. And my reaction was shouting at her and yelling at her and saying, “who the hell do you think you are? People died for you. So you could live here and keep dying  for you to have the right to live here. Who are you?”

So we had this big fight. We have this word which means somebody who’s run away from their obligation. It also means a leech, somebody who takes everything away from society and gives nothing back.

So, after this big fight, step by step, I realized in my mind that I’m saying not what I really believe but what people made me say.

So I went to the West Bank. I went to a village called Bi’lin, a wonderful village that has had non-violent demonstrations there for six years now. To go to the village is not fun. It’s pretty scary. You have to go through a lot of problems and you have to run away.

And you got to the village and you sat down all together. Jewish and Arabs and Israaelis and internationals. And I sat down, and I realized that I’m sitting down with Palestinians and no one stabs me in the back and nobody tries to kidnap me or murder me, and it’s a big shock. Okay, it’s reasonable, but it’s a big shock to see the stereotype that society makes you believe is not true. Because I had truly believed that if you see a Palestinian and you turn you back on them they would stab me.

So after this big shock we went out to this big demonstration. And standing in front of the demonstration is this army, the Israeli army. The army that I believed is my army that is there to protect me. The army that I believed they will make me safe and care about me. And of course everybody knows that the Israeli army “is the most moral army in the world.” That’s what everybody knows. And we are standing there, singing our songs, being nonviolent, and they started shooting at us and they started beating us up.

Physically, it wasn’t fun, but mentally it was like a big slap to my face. This was one of my first steps towards being a leftist, towards being a conscientious objector.

Change from the Inside?

Usually, what people do is that because what they’re being raised on is that they see what is happening and if they see there is a problem they try to change it from the inside. They’ll go to a checkpoint and if they’re standing at a check point they’ll be the good soldier at the check point; they’ll say “no you can’t go through” but they’ll say it with a smile or give you a flower. But they’re still standing at the check point. Or they believe that if they’re in the army you’ll not send people to destroy houses and stuff. But it doesn’t happen that way; you’re still in the army. You have so much on your brain. You have commanders. You have not sleeping at night. You’re depressed. If a commander tells you to go into a village and you say “no,” you’re not the only one suffering, all your friends will suffer. If you’re in the army, you have so much pressure, you just close your eyes and do those things. You just hope that the minute you’re out you will go straight to India and smoke lots of drugs.

The other thing is the army is not the problem; it’s the government that sends them there. The army is just the messenger. So some people do that, but I just decided to refuse and go straight to jail…. When I turned 16, I told them I wasn’t going to go and they told me, “We know who you are. We know you’ve been to the West Bank. You’re not going to get out that easily.”

So I didn’t have a lot of other choices. I decided to stay out and go to the media and tell them why I was refusing. It shocked people. Because (in Israel) the army is a holy cow. You have to go into the army, and then [afterwards] you have the right to do other things. You have to give your obligations to society and then you have the other rights. But this isn’t a democratic society.

And for other young people, who just assume you go into the army and that’s it, it’s like a shock in their brain. It’s just like, “wait! There are people who don’t go into he army? There are people who actually refuse? There’s something wrong about going into the army?” And for Palestinians, it brings a lot of hope to know that not all Israelis are like that. For young people, well not even only young people, all they know about Israelis is either a soldier or a settler – people who have come to harm them. So it brings a lot of hope to know that not all Israelis are like that.