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Meet Tal Mitnick, 18, the First Israeli Jailed for Refusing Military Service in “Revenge War” on Gaza

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As Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vows to continue the assault on Gaza, we speak with the first Israeli to refuse mandatory military service since Israel’s offensive began over three months ago. Last month, 18-year-old Tal Mitnick announced he would refuse military service in what he called a “revenge war” on Gaza, and was sentenced to 30 days in a military prison. Just released from jail, Mitnick faces another draft summons and says he will refuse “over and over until someone gives up, until the army gives me an exemption.” Mitnick says the October 7 Hamas attack on southern Israel broke the idea Israel could live with occupation. “We need to keep fighting for a just future,” he says, urging the younger generation of Israelis to use their voices for peace. “We’re the future, and we can change.”

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman.

Israel is continuing its attacks across the Gaza Strip, from the north to the south, as the number of Palestinian casualties continues to soar. Over the last 24 hours, at least 142 Palestinians were killed in Gaza, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry. Nearly 25,000 Palestinians have been killed over the past three months, 10,000 of them children, thousands of others missing under the rubble presumed dead, making Israel’s assault one of the deadliest, most destructive military campaigns in recent history.

Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has again rejected calls to scale back Israel’s military assault on Gaza or take steps towards the establishment of a Palestinian state. In a nationally broadcast news conference, Netanyahu vowed to press ahead with the offensive until what he called a “decisive victory over Hamas.”

As Netanyahu vows to continue Israel’s assault on Gaza, we turn now to the first Israeli to refuse mandatory military service since Israel’s offensive began over three months ago. Tal Mitnick is an 18-year-old conscientious objector in Israel. Last month, he announced he would refuse military service, saying, quote, “I refuse to take part in a war of revenge.” He was sentenced to 30 days in a military prison, was just released yesterday morning. Tal Mitnick is joining us now from a studio in Tel Aviv.

Tal, welcome to Democracy Now! Can you talk about why you are refusing?

TAL MITNICK: Thank you for having me on.

I am refusing because, like I said, I refuse to take part in this revenge war. I’m refusing because I want to make a statement about how we need to conduct ourselves in this land. I feel like there’s too much violence here. There’s too much revenge and talk about this side or that side. And we need to talk about how we need to go forward in a future of coexistence, where both Israelis and Palestinians can live together and live with security and peace.

AMY GOODMAN: So, talk about what exactly this means. How did you make this known? Talk about where you served time in prison. And is this just a brief period of days before you’re sent back to prison?

TAL MITNICK: Yes. I got sentenced for 30 days for my first sentencing, and I got another draft order for Monday morning, which means I have to get drafted on Monday morning, where I will go and refuse service once again and probably get sentenced again. And this will happen over and over until someone gives up, until the army gives me an exemption.

AMY GOODMAN: So, talk about the response of your friends, your family. And I was also just wondering — you’re an Israeli, but you have an American accent. Are you American, as well?

TAL MITNICK: My parents immigrated from the U.S., and we spoke English at home. But I’m Israeli and American, yes.

AMY GOODMAN: So —

TAL MITNICK: The friends and family response — yes?

AMY GOODMAN: Go ahead.

TAL MITNICK: My friends and family response was, thankfully, mostly very understanding, because people that know me and people that talk to me know that I come from a good place of nonviolence and coexistence. I feel like the people that got to talk to me also inside military prison, a lot of them, Ben-Gvir supporters, they support killing all Arabs. When they got to know me before they knew my political opinions, they understood. They understood that there are people that don’t support this. Sorry, I can hear myself twice.

AMY GOODMAN: If you can possibly blank that out, because we’re not sure how to fix that right now. But just continue to talk, because we don’t hear you twice, but we do hear you very clearly.

TAL MITNICK: Yes.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about your time —

TAL MITNICK: OK, yeah. So, the —

AMY GOODMAN: — in prison? And where are you —

TAL MITNICK: No, no, go ahead.

AMY GOODMAN: — being held?

TAL MITNICK: Yeah. So, I’m being held in a military prison, where other soldiers that have committed crimes inside the military and got sentenced to military prison are also being held. It’s not a fun experience, but it’s also not the worst experience imaginable. It’s not like the experience that Palestinian prisoners are being held under in the West Bank or inside Israel. Yeah, it’s very strict timing, very strict about what you’re allowed to do and when. But this is something that I’m willing to do to make an impact.

AMY GOODMAN: I’m wondering if you feel the climate is changing among Israelis, and also what Israelis see about what’s happening in Gaza. I mean, we just reported we’re talking about now close to 25,000 Palestinians killed, over 10,000 children, over 7,000 women, many believed to be dead in the rubble. We don’t even know that count. If you watch something like Al Jazeera or you watch other media, since there are only Palestinian journalists there on the ground, you see endless pictures of carnage, of horror, of babies being pulled out of the rubble, dead or alive. What do you see on Israeli TV? We’re talking about people who are just 15 minutes away from Gaza.

TAL MITNICK: So, actually, inside prison, the only source of news that we got was one newspaper called Israel Hayom. And every day on the newspaper, there will be pictures of the soldiers that died. And I remember feeling like — I feel sad, very sad for the soldiers and the families that have to take this great burden of losing someone close to them, but I know that while seeing soldiers dying, I know that this means that there are much more Palestinian civilians dying, which we don’t see in the newspaper.

AMY GOODMAN: Who else are you serving time with in that prison? Who else is there?

TAL MITNICK: Sadly, a lot of the other people there don’t — they are deserters, which means that they served time in the military, and then at some point, for some reason, they went back home and did not come back. Most of these people desert because of socioeconomic reasons, if it’s having to take care of their siblings or go work for their family. And when they come back and turn themselves in, we’re now seeing a very heavy sentencing of those deserters as a part of the fascist persecution and the fog of war. People that went to work for three months to feed their family are now being sentenced to half a year in military prison.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about the overall antiwar movement, if there is one in Israel? I mean, there were massive protests, up to a million people in the streets, which is massive for Israel, around the — Netanyahu wanting to gut the power of the judiciary. Of course, he is under charges himself, and that would help him remain out of prison. But at that point, many reservists said they would not serve in the military. Everything changed after October 7th Hamas attack on southern Israel. If you can talk about why that did not change you? And how large is the antiwar movement, and do you feel it’s growing?

TAL MITNICK: I feel like after the horrendous attack of October 7th against Israeli civilians, there was a very important conception that was broken in Israeli society: the conception that we can live with the siege and with the occupation and not feel it. Now, when that conception is broken, we have a vacuum. And there are two ideas that are trying to pull people: one idea that the right is offering, which is, “We can’t live with occupation. We can’t live with siege. This means we need to wipe all of them out,” and the other idea, the moderate one, the one that makes sense, is that “We can’t live with occupation. We can’t live with siege. We need to step forward for peace.”

Inside military prison, I got asked a lot, “What do you think? We should just stop the war and put our hands up and not do anything?” And I would answer, “No, we need to keep fighting. We need to keep fighting for a just future. We need to stop the physical fighting between us, and we need to very, very aggressively push for a better future.”

AMY GOODMAN: I’m wondering your response to Prime Minister Netanyahu once again saying “from the river to the sea.” When Palestinian advocates and their allies talk about “from the river to the sea,” the response of the Israeli government has been, “That means they’re for the genocide of Jews, because they don’t want Jews to be there,” the government says. Now you have Netanyahu saying — not that this hasn’t been said before by Likud — but, “From the river to the sea, Israel must control.” Your response to that, Tal? And if you can talk about the word “occupation”? Because in the U.S. media also, there is rarely that word used, that Israel occupies the West Bank and Gaza.

TAL MITNICK: The term “from the river to the sea” is very controversial inside of Israel. And I feel like some people that use it, there are people that use it that mean the genocide of Jews inside Israel. But just the term itself, I feel like, does not mean a genocide of Jews; it means freedom of all Palestinians from the river to the sea. When Benjamin Netanyahu uses this term, it does not mean freedom for all from the river to the sea; it means oppression of Palestinians, and it means Jewish supremacy from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, Tal, I’m wondering your response to Jews around the world, particularly here in the United States, like Jewish Voice for Peace, these massive protests that have been held, from Grand Central Station to shutting down the bridges and the tunnels from New York, to highways in California, saying, “We want a ceasefire now.” How do you respond to that? And your final message to other 18-year-old Israelis?

TAL MITNICK: These protests are amazing. These organizations, like Jewish Voices for Peace and IfNotNow, do incredible work. And I support the continuation of these protests all around the world.

And a message to other people my age, other kids, I feel like it’s important to know that we have a voice. I used to think that talking to people is all we could do, but we can change, and people want to hear what we have to say because we’re the future. And this is — yeah, we’re the future, and we can change.

AMY GOODMAN: And finally, might you spend months, more than a year in jail if you keep saying no to military service, since Netanyahu says this will go on for more than a year?

TAL MITNICK: Because there’s no policy set for jailing conscientious objectors, I don’t really know how much time I’ll spend in prison, but it could be months.

AMY GOODMAN: Tal Mitnick, 18-year-old Israeli activist, known as a refusenik. He’s refused mandatory military service in the Israeli army, the first conscientious objector in Israel since the Israeli assault on Gaza began over a hundred days ago. He’s just sentenced to 30 days in prison, which he served, for refusing to enlist, was released a few days ago, then will be called up again and says he will refuse again.

Coming up next, we talk to a doctor who just came out of Gaza. Stay with us.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: “The Urgent Call of Palestine” by Zeinab Shaath. The Palestinian singer recorded this more than half a century ago.

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