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Tair Kaminer: Letter from a teenager in an Israeli prison
May 14, 2016
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Tair Kaminer is a 19-year-old conscientious objector currently incarcerated in an Israeli military prison for refusing to do compulsory military service in the IDF. He says Israeli prison uniforms are cast-offs from people in the US Army – so he wrote a letter to the man who once wore mine.

Dear Mr Smith,

You don’t know me, but I feel as though we are really close. For the past 20 days I have worn your shirt. At least, the shirt that was yours while you served in the American army.

Here’s the thing: I am sitting in an Israeli military prison. And our uniforms, here in the military prison, were donated to my country by your country. Yes, it is really US Army uniforms that we are wearing, the tiger-skinned uniforms, the uniforms of the Marines, and some of them still have the family names of the soldiers sewn on the right and left sides of the shirts. And this time, I received your shirt with your nametag still sewn on the right side of the shirt.

I want to tell you why I am in prison. I am sitting in prison because I refused to enlist in the Israeli army, because I am against the continuation of the policies of occupation in the occupied territories. I requested to do alternative community service, but they are not letting me do that. This time, when the prison uniform had a name on it, I thought of you. I wondered what you would think, how you would feel about me wearing your uniform.

I wonder who you are. As one might expect, at the beginning I imagined you as a typical American, maybe chubby, a football fan, and maybe you have no idea what is happening here. You are, perhaps, not aware that there is a very complex and sad conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians. That actually, since the foundation of this country there have been horrible wars.

So it’s important for me to tell you, because I am wearing your shirt. We have been in this situation for many years now. A terrible situation where wars that keep on replaying themselves, over and over. Thousands of people on each side have been killed as a result of this war. The Palestinians live under Israeli occupation. The significance of this is that they are refused the basic rights of life, liberty, security and dignity.

The Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip live under a heavy Israeli military presence, and about twice a year, the Israeli army also goes in and destroys the place. And of course the Israelis are suffering from this situation as well. We have a cycle of mourning that grows from year to year. For years now, entire communities in Israel, near the city of Shderot next to Gaza, have lived with the reality of constantly running to the bomb shelters to avoid incoming missiles – not just during war times, but daily. Huge populations of both soldiers and civilians live with trauma and anxiety.

If I can summarise, it is not safe here. For anyone. And the reason that this is connected to you is that your government is very involved. The taxes you pay support these wars, meaning we receive a “security” budget, and in Israel, the meaning of “security” is really “occupation”, a siege and closure of the Palestinian population. For the security of Israelis, of course.

I didn’t get your shirt randomly; your country is a little more involved in the situation than simply donating old uniforms. So now that you know the situation, are you bothered by the fact that your clothes and your money are actually playing a part in occupying the Palestinian people? Do you sleep well at night knowing this?

Actually, I imagine you a bit differently. I want to believe that you are a person who is active in your society, simply because it would be nice if the person whose shirt I wore was a significant person in his society. And that you are very aware of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. You even are sometimes critical of Israel. And you also know that you are not anti-Semitic just because you are against the occupation and support non-violent action against it, because Israel is committing crimes and it is important for you as a world citizen not to lend your hand to this. You are concerned about how your money is being used, and that’s fantastic.

But I wonder if you make the connection, on a higher level, between what is happening in your city or state and what is happening across the sea where we live. Because we too, here in the Middle East, are hugely influenced by the policies there in the US.

I’ll explain. It’s very important to blame Israel for this whole problem. But that’s not enough. You see, the atmosphere in Israel lately has become more and more violent, racist, and extremist, and our government is responsible for this; but your government continues to caress my government’s head.

Yes, I know that sometimes there is tension and I know that sometimes Bibi does stupid things in his relationship with you, but at the end of the day, you are giving the atrocities here protection: unofficial permission, but still very significant. So please, enough. Enough to the cooperation, enough to channeling money to support the occupation, enough to sending war equipment, enough to the hypocritical involvement that maintains the status quo.

I am asking you, as the one who is wearing your old shirt, that you apply a little pressure there in the US and don’t just give your government the legitimisation to support the crimes that are happening here.

It’s suddenly hit me that it’s possible you have actually died. I mean, you are also a soldier, you also served in a violent campaign, and maybe the power struggles killed you too. Maybe you lost your life as well. Maybe you had a family and children who became orphans because of some pig that wanted money. He didn’t think at all about your mother, who lost her child, while he bought a new car. He didn’t think about your sister who lost her big brother while he bought off the decision-makers so he could continue to get richer. I am sure he also didn’t think about your best friend; he probably just went quietly off to sleep.

I’m sorry, Smith, I didn’t think about that – and now I feel a little bad. You are just like the many Palestinians, the many Israelis: a victim. A victim of governments supporting wars and perpetuating injustice.

So Smith, I am sitting here in prison for you as well, because I am not willing to take part in the injustice that killed you and is killing many others. Thank you for accompanying me on this struggle for a better world that I believe is possible – it’s possible for your children, and it’s possible for mine.

The Independent

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