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High schoolers refusing war and occupation in Palestine

High school seniors send Olmert Barak letter saying they refuse to enlist in army carrying out Israel's policy of 'segregation, oppression, killing in occupied territories'; army reacts quickly, arrests teen at his Herzliya home a day after he was set to enlist.

Dozens of Israeli high school seniors who are looking to evade mandatory military service on moral grounds sent a letter Wednesday to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Education Minister Yuli Tamir and IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi in protest of Israel's policy of "segregation, killing and oppression in the occupied territories".

As opposed to previous protests by the defiant teens, also known as refuseniks, the IDF responded harshly and arrested 18-year-old Udi Nir at his Herzliya home a day after he was supposed to enlist in the army. The teen was subsequently brought before a military judge.

Tali Lerner of the New Profile movement, which backs the refuseniks campaign, told Ynet that Nir was tried for refusing to enlist and was "frightened by the unpleasant situation, but sounded very determined not to serve".

Lerner said most refuseniks are sentenced to 28 days in a military prison.

Sahar Vardi, a senior at the prestigious Leyad Ha'universita High school in Jerusalem, said "We (conscientious objectors) planned to go to prison together, but the army has apparently learned its lesson and arrested Udi as a preemptive measure."

'IDF service a privilege'
While in custody, Nir wrote a letter to Barak saying "I cannot take part in the activities of an occupying army that regularly violates human rights. As an Israeli citizen and as a drafted teenager, I feel that it is my duty to refuse to enter the circle of blood and (add fuel) to the fire of hatred that is raging in our fields.

"I refuse to join an army so as not to support the occupation and other acts that go against my most basic principles: Human rights, democracy and every man's social responsibility towards his fellow man," the letter read.

Vardi said Nir's arrest was a "deliberate attempt on the army's part to prevent our voices from being heard. We were surprised by how quickly Udi was arrested, but we were prepared for such a scenario and knew that this was a price we were willing to pay.

"Fortunately people are beginning to realize that the army is not a sacred cow and enlisting in it is not a must," she said.

"If more and more people voice their objection to the occupation, the government's policy will have to follow suit."

A number of seniors who signed the letter are planning to rally outside the Kirya army base in Tel Aviv as a show if support for Nir.

The IDF Spokesperson's Office said, "Udi Nir was supposed to enlist on Monday, but did not report and was therefore treated as an absentee. He was detained, brought before a judge and received a six-day suspended sentence. Following his continued refusal to report for duty, Nir was sentenced to 21 days in a military prison. We consider IDF service a privilege."

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