Report from Israel: My Experience as a Political Prisoner

By an Israeli supporter of the Internationalist Socialist League (RCIT-Section in Israel/Occupied Palestine), 15.8.2014, www.thecommunists.net and www.the-isleague.com

 

In military jail in Israel, there are two facilities, prison number 6 and number 4, which approximately 15.000 soldiers go through every year. About 80% are due to defections, mainly soldiers who have to help in financing their families, and 426 NIS (about 100$) a month is ridiculous figure that can hardly be called a salary. Another 10% or so is about drug-related offenses, which are harsher treated as compared to civilian courts. The rest is miscellaneous, refusal to follow commands, refusal to undergo certain courses and so on.

Overall in Israel, military service is mandatory for a period of 3 years. While the ISL advocates that Jewish communist revolutionaries work inside the army in order to reach regular soldiers and to turn them against their officers and the Zionist occupation, we consider it under the present circumstances as a tactical question if revolutionaries infiltrate, refuse or dodge the army rank-and-file service. I chose to refuse for personal and conscious reasons. In addition, there isn't a legal option for males to refuse military service for political reasons, which is a democratic right, along with the right of oppressed minorities not to serve in the army (which not surprisingly, is also under attack). However, the army, in recent years, created an internal committee to deal with conscious "Refusniks". As a rule, for males and even for females, it has to be framed as absolute radical pacifism and not as opposition to the occupation to receive the exemption.

The military is a special kind of employer. It has the power to send soldiers to its own special kind of court, a military tribunal, and its own jails. It has extraordinary power over individual's private life, like no other private employer. In addition, military courts are corrupt in their attitudes towards justice, for example, it is assumed that the officers always tell the truth, and that you are guilty until proven innocent.

At first, I travelled to the Bakum (induction base). After refusing, they put me in arrest at the Bakum. After a short speech that went something like "you are a traitor to your country blah blah blah your friends are fighting in Gaza blah blah blah" (it was during the Gaza war) and a body search, I was stripped from any personal items and put in a cell with nothing in it except metal beds for a couple of hours. Afterwards, I was promptly sentenced to 20 days. A bus transferred me and the rest of the detainees to prison number 6, where you put on prisoner uniform (actually it was US Army uniform, how symbolic), go through reception, and go to sleep at around 1 AM. The first night is harsh on purpose to create demoralization.

In a typical day in Company B, where I was, you wake up at 5 AM, have some morning military parade, eat breakfast, some more military parade, and then a couple hours of rest, then lunch, a telephone call of 4 minutes, and have time to buy cigarette/snacks and then a couple more hours of rest, and then dinner and some more parades and then the guards lock the door and you go to sleep at around 10 PM. The cells are closed structures, but the door and the windows on top let wind and sunshine in.

There are several companies in military jail. In company A, you work in cleaning, kitchen, guarding, accompanying suicidal prisoners in company D, or do IDF external jobs, such as handling uniforms. It is known that in the past some work even consisted of filling sand bags that were used in areas occupied since '67. In exchange, you get unlimited phone time usage during your free time and better attitude from the guards. This is done mainly to reduce the labor cost of running the prison.

In company B, you can also do certain types of work (kitchen work, cleaning, helping the guards with some tasks, etc.), but not guarding, and get some of the mentioned privileges. The inmates clean their own cells, and the guards appoint an inmate to make sure that the work gets done, although he has no legal or special status to bring complaints to the guards. There are also hidden informers, who, in exchange for better treatment, shortened terms, and playing XBOX with the guards in the management room, tell the guards about any smuggling of illegal possessions, such as cellphones, or about discontent among the inmates. The capo system works well.

Company C is similar to Company B, just reserved to prisoners with longer sentences. Company D is the Isolation/Dungeon area, reserved for suicidal prisoners (that's part of the reason why in the dining room there are only spoons), prisoners who do lots of serious problems, prisoners who refuse to wear uniforms/shave, etc.

Prison number 4 is similar, just with less discipline, and worse food and less opportunities to make phone calls (3 times a week as opposed to every day). The cells have TV's and newspapers in them, to pass the time and to pacify the prisoners.

The guards have more powers at their disposal. They have cameras in the cells, and can deny telephone calls if they wish, or even add days in jail for a harsher "misbehavior" during the prison term. For example, if you need to talk on the phone with your family, the guards will use that against you to make sure you behave as they like. They can send inmates to Company D.

The more disciplined prisoners undergo lesson with a teacher, mainly for brainwashing purposes about the importance of military service, or one time it was about why we should respect the guards (one of the reason given was that they are human. Well, who isn't? Needless to say it probably would not mean better treatment towards the prisoners.) There is also a more general mandatory lesson for everyone, about varying topics. One time it was about the Gaza war, and other times it is about society, or Israel's history.

They can also become very strict with inmates they don't like. If they are mad, they can also ban arbitrary things, like sleeping during free time [the biggest time-passer during prison along with smoking]. I think that some of the guards are there just to stem pressure from their childhood unto the inmates, who will do the same thing to the Palestinians when they get out of jail...(there has also been very limited violence against guards off-duty by former inmates).

I did try to initiate some political conversation in prison, knowing that there is some solidarity among prisoners and more openness to radical ideologies. When speaking about practical steps, some people agreed, even if they didn't define themselves as leftist. There is a wide difference in response across different ethnicity (Ethiopian/White) and class, especially people who defected to work and support their homes because they are poor. While Ethiopians were less "institutionalized", some of them were very racist.

The prison was close to full, as the war led to many refusals, only half of the places in company A could be used due to security reasons, and some of the guards went to fight in Gaza.

I also talked with Uriel Ferera, a left-Zionist conscious objector. I would also say that the female guards were consistently tougher than the male guards, as if to prove that they were "equal" to men in their ability to order around the prisoners. The prison is a totalitarian institute, even if you are allowed to have watches and to speak with other people. You cannot escape from it.

Jails are a necessity for the capitalist system. They are for punishment and deterrence, to keep soldiers from breaking the military discipline. Another minor purpose for prison is to "educate" the prisoners about the correct ways. That's why it's created to be miserable enough so soldiers would not want to return there. Prison is a mirror of our current class society.