A handful of Israeli teenagers go to prison every year because they refuse to serve in their country’s army on grounds of conscience.
Nineteen-year old Natan Blanc from Haifa has been through this seven times in four months.
Blanc says he will not participate in human rights violations against Palestinians in the Occupied Territories. He was first imprisoned after refusing the military call-up up last November.
So far he has served 116 days in jail. Every few weeks he is released, then tried and imprisoned again after repeating his refusal to join the army. His most recent release was on19 March after 20 days’ imprisonment in Military Prison 6, northern Israel,
On 21 March, Natan Blanc went before the Israel Defence Forces “Unsuitability” Committee which can exempt individuals from conscription if they are deemed unsuitable for service.
Yesterday, the Committee told him he must serve in the army so Blanc looks set to return to prison after the Jewish Passover festival next month.
Blanc spoke to Amnesty International about his motivation for objecting to military service, shortly before starting his sixth sentence in early February.
"In today's Israel, there is apartheid,” the teenager said.
“No one is talking about granting Palestinians equal rights, or even the right to vote. I do not want to take part in this situation … I want to stand behind my actions and not to do things that are against my conscience.”
Amnesty International is calling on the Israeli authorities to accept his conscientious objection and stop jailing him for his beliefs.
Blanc says he started to question conscription four years ago during Israel’s invasion of Gaza in ‘Operation Cast Lead’, when he was only 15.
“The wave of aggressive militarism that swept the country then, the expressions of mutual hatred, and the vacuous talk about stamping out terror and creating a deterrent effect were the primary trigger for my refusal,” he explained.
At the close of the 2008-2009 conflict hundreds of Palestinian and three Israeli civilians had been killed, and Gaza lay in ruins.
On the heels of ‘Operation Cast Lead’, at least nine Israeli teenagers were jailed in 2009 for being conscientious objectors - an increase in the usual numbers.
Four years later, Israel has failed to hold a thorough, independent investigation into war crimes committed during “Operation Cast Lead”, and so far there is no indication either that allegations of violations of international law committed during the November 2012 conflict with Gaza will be independently and impartially investigated.
Blanc believes that “the Netanyahu Government … is not interested in finding a solution to the existing situation”.
“We, as citizens and human beings, have a moral duty to refuse to participate in this cynical game."
Many young Israelis avoid the draft through seeking mental or physical health deferments, or on religious grounds.
In October 2012, 17-year-old Omar Sa’ad, a Druze from the Galilee, refused in an open letter to the Prime Minister and Defence Minister to undergo a medical examination, the usual procedure for anyone once they become eligible for conscription in the Israeli army.
In the letter he said "I refuse because I am a man of peace and I hate all forms of violence, and the military institution represents for me the peak of physical and psychological violence."
He could be arrested at any point and be taken to the induction base to undergo the medical examination.
Noam Gur went to prison in April last year at the age of 18, after declaring her refusal “… to join an army that has, since it was established, been engaged in dominating another nation, in plundering and terrorizing a civilian population that is under its control”.
She served two prison sentences before being granted an exemption from military service.
Unless the army agrees to discharge Blanc, the number of times he can be retried is technically limitless.
“I think that the repeated trials are a very bad way to handle the situation,” he told Amnesty International.
In 2003, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention found that by convicting repeatedly, individuals on the basis of their conscientious objection, Israel was effectively punishing them for the same offence over and over again, thereby flouting their rights under international human rights standards which prohibit ‘double jeopardy’.
“If someone committed a crime he would know for how long is he going to sit in jail... In a civilized society I would have gone on a trial only once and that's it, even if they would have subjected me to a longer term in prison."
A military-run “conscience committee” decides upon exemptions for conscientious objectors, but such claims are usually only allowed to those who refuse to serve on religious grounds. .
Israeli law does allow for pacifists to be exempted but the conscience committee frequently rejects their cases.
Amnesty International believes that the Israeli government should establish a fully independent and impartial body to assess claims of conscientious objection in a fair and transparent manner.
After all, the right to object to military service on grounds of conscience is protected under international human rights law.
UPDATE: Natan Blanc was given another 14-day sentence on 2 April and was imprisoned for the eighth time.