How To Break a Pacifist - The Story of Theodore Rubinstein

Conscientious Objector Theodore Rubinstein (Serial Number 5178660) has already served two prison terms in military prisons, and is now facing a third one.

Rubinstein is 27 years old. He immigrated to Israel from the former Soviet Union. Before his induction he studied at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

Already before his conscription Rubinstein had written a letter to the Minister of Defense, explaining why he decided to refuse army service. His grandfather had fought in the Red Army during WWII and afterwards told his family many stories about the horrors of war he had witnessed. (His entire family on his grandmother's side perished in the Holocaust.) Another factor influencing him were the books of Hemmingway, Solzhenitzyn, and Orwell. Rubinstein also was abhorred by what he learned from documentaries of the horrors of the Vietnam War and the war in Afganistan.

During the interviews he gave to placement officers and to a military psychologist, Rubinstein repeatedly explained his pacifist convictions and stated that military service would be in total contradiction to his values. But the representatives of the army ignored what he told them and just threatened him with long prison terms. In the end, Rubinstein gave in and allowed himself to be drafted.

He completed his basic training and then served for a year and a half as a guard watching over armuaries. During all that period he experienced anxiety attacks, fears and also guilt feelings at not having been faithful to his convictions. And if all that was not enough, he was much harassed by fellow soldiers who served with him, who were much younger then him and thought him weird. Isolated among the soldiers he became also a victim to disdainful and disrespectful treatment by the commanders being several times punished for things he didn't do. In November 1998 Theodore left his base after making a final decision not to return to it.

In April 1999 Theodore Rubinstein gave himself up to the Military Police. On April 1999, a court martial sentenced him to six months' imprisonment. He was transferred to Military Prison 4 at Tzrifin. There he refused to don a military uniform, which is required of prisoners, and started a hunger strike.

During his imprisonment, Rubinstein - with the aid of a lawyer - appealed to the proper military authorities to allow him to appear before the army's "Commission on Conscience". When that was finally granted, however, the commission - composed solely of military officers - treated him in a harsh and cursory manner, failed to seriously address his motives or his pacifist ideals, and rejected his appeal out of hand (which is the common experience of pacifists appearing before that commission).

On August 4, 1999 under the recommendation of the Military Court of Appeals, Rubinstein appeared before another military commission, this one charged with deciding whether or not "the subject can adapt himself to military life". But this commission, too, refused to grant him a discharge. They did suggest that he be discharged under the "medical profile 21" clause which denotes that the individual is mentally or medically unfit to serve. That is a common way of the military authorities to get rid of "troublemakers", and it entails a social stigma to the former soldiers discharged under it, as well as difficulties in obtaining a job or driving licence. Rubinstein - who has not yet totally given up on his self esteem - refused this kind of discharge stating that there is nothing mentally or physically wrong with him.

Theodore Rubinstein was released from prison on September 1, after his term was reduced by 40 days for good behaviour. Upon his release, however, he got a new order to present himself for service. Appearing at the camp to which he was assigned he was promptly placed under "diciplinary proceedings" and sentenced by the commanding officer to 28 days' imprisonment (the maximum punishment possible in that kind of proceeding). Two days ago, Friday October 1, Rubinstein was relesed at the end of his term - and ordered to present himself for service at the same base as before. He is likely to be reimprisoned on Sunday, and - unless the military authorities are induced to change their attitude - to have still a long period of repeated imprisonments ahead of him.

For further details: Ruti Hiller 09-8982396, and: