Israeli Military Refusers Appeal to Biden: “Stop Arming Israel’s War”

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Tal Mitnick and Sofia Orr — two Israeli teenagers who are in prison for refusing to serve in the Israel Defense Forces — sent a letter to President Joe Biden, beseeching him to use his power to stop Israel’s war on Gaza, including through placing conditions on military aid.

“Your unconditional support for [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu’s policy of destruction, since the war began, has brought our society to the normalization of carnage and to the trivialization of human lives,” they wrote. “It is American diplomatic and material support that prolonged this war for so long. You are responsible for this, alongside our leaders. But while they’re interested in prolonging the war for political reasons, you have the power to make it stop.”

The teens wrote the letter before reporting to prison for their most recent sentences. They sent it to Biden on Thursday, a day after he confirmed in an interview for the first time that Israel has used U.S. bombs to kill civilians and said that he will not supply Israel with arms if it moves toward a major invasion of Rafah. Biden did not specify what he considers to be a major invasion; Israel already reportedly has troops on the ground in Rafah, which is considered the last refuge for displaced Palestinians in Gaza and which the Israeli military has long been bombing.

The White House’s National Security Council declined to comment. 

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Mitnick was first sentenced to prison in December for refusing Israel’s mandatory military conscription at age 18. His successive prison terms have added up to 150 days, while Orr has been sentenced to a total of 85 days. The pair are part of Mesarvot, a growing refusenik network within Israel of teenagers and former dissenters supporting each other as they refuse to serve in the Israeli military. 

Another teenager in the network, Ben Arad, was sentenced to 20 days last month for refusing, and his sentence has since increased to a cumulative 50 days. “I oppose senseless killing, the policy of intentional starvation and sickness, and the sacrifice of soldiers, civilians, and hostages for a war that cannot and will not achieve its declared objectives and that could escalate into a regional war,” Arad said in April. “For these reasons and more, I refuse to enlist.”

The refuseniks are not alone in their opposition, nor in the treatment they face. Throughout the war, Israelis have taken to the streets of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem to protest the war and Netanyahu’s government. This past week, Israeli police arrested and beat protesters and hostage family members calling for an end to the war, just the latest example of Israelis being punished for voicing dissent or sympathy with the people of Gaza.

While the U.S. paused one shipment of weapons out of concerns over the Rafah operation, the refuseniks are calling for a ceasefire. “Biden’s announcement that he will not deliver offensive weapons to Israel for its Rafah campaign is a positive development, but it is not enough,” a spokesperson for Mesarvot told The Intercept. “By using the leverage of arms transfer, the President can force Israel not only to downscale its Rafah offensive but to actually reach a Hostage/ceasefire deal with Hamas that will end the war. This is within reach and is in the best interest of Israeli society, just as it is in the interest of the Palestinians in Gaza and elsewhere.”

In their letter to Biden, Mitnick and Orr note that they will be watching his next steps from their prison cells, where they are serving time “because we keep on objecting to this war.” 

They acknowledge that the president has signaled frustration with Israel’s military campaign in recent weeks, yet they draw a contrast between his rhetorical shifts and the military support the U.S. continues to provide (just a few weeks ago, the U.S. sent another $17 billion to Israel).

“We want to tell you, Mr. Biden, that harsh words and condemnation will not make a change,” the refuseniks wrote. “The only way to make Netanyahu stop is to apply real pressure — and to stop arming Israel’s war.”

 Civil defense teams and citizens continue search and rescue operations after an airstrike hits the building belonging to the Maslah family during the 32nd day of Israeli attacks in Deir Al-Balah, Gaza on November 7, 2023. (Photo by Ashraf Amra/Anadolu via Getty Images)

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Israel’s War on Gaza

The pair argue there is no military solution — that no amount of destruction in Gaza could resurrect those killed on October 7, and that hostages have been freed almost exclusively through negotiation. They appealed to Biden to not just stop the violence that has killed more than 34,000 Palestinians, but to save Israeli society too.  

“Mr. Biden, we need your help. Not with weapons delivery but with the conditioning of aid. Not by giving the Israeli government diplomatic backing, but by turning a cold shoulder to its fanaticism,” they wrote. “This might be seen as a harsh action against the Israeli government, but it would be a great service for us, the Israeli citizens, and for the future of all people living in this land.”

The post Israeli Military Refusers Appeal to Biden: “Stop Arming Israel’s War” appeared first on The Intercept.

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