The letter penned by 63 draft-age 12th graders proclaiming their refusal to serve in the IDF, unveiled in Yedioth Ahronoth Thursday, was the subject of raucous response from both sides of the political aisle, and received a counter from other 12th graders who opposed it.
"The military carries out a racist government policy that violates basic human rights," the original letter calling for draft refusal said. "We therefore have decided not to participate in the occupation and oppression of the Palestinian people."
Upon learning of the letter, hundreds of 12th-graders decided to respond in kind, writing a counter-petition to Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in which they stated, "We will serve wherever Israel needs us."
The letter was the brainchild of students from Sderot, members of the AMIT school network's youth leadership program. The letter has thus far been signed by 650 12th graders from across Israel.
"We wish to strengthen the IDF, strengthen the State of Israel, and declare we will continue serving in the army and national service to defend the people and our country," the letter's writers vowed.
Chai Levy, a Sderot resident and one of the letter's originators, said, "We felt we had to respond, because statements (like the ones expressed in the original draft refusal letter—ed) have no place in Israeli society. Refusal to serve in the IDF is a grave mistake."
His friend, Re'em Argov, added, "The vast majority of young people in Israel understand that without a strong army we won't have much of a country left to live in."
A second letter, penned by 12th-grade students of the Nehalim Torah Technologic School, said, "Refusing to serve in the army is not born of great ideals but rather a narrow worldview. We invite the draft-refusers to our school to express their stance with the hope of changing this distorted decision, which may affect our lives in particular and all of Israeli society in general."
Deputy Defense Minister Eli Ben-Dahan (Bayit Yehudi) blasted the 63 students in harsher terms. "Using military service to promote political opinions the vast majority of Israelis object to is hypocritical and contemptible. I call upon all left-wingers who regularly denounce calls to refuse (to serve in the IDF) to also denounce this letter," he demanded.
Head of the Tavor Leadership Academy military preparatory program in Nazareth Illit Maj. (res.) Amichai Shikli offered even more virulent criticism, calling to disenfranchise those who signed the letter from voting.
"Choosing refusal (to serve) is an anarchistic, anti-democratic act with non-recognition of election results at its core. Israeli society will not persevere if this phenomenon grows more common. Anyone who choose refusal has cut themselves off from the State of Israel and should be denied voting rights," Shikli opined.
Not all responses were negative, however. The 63 students' letter was lauded, for example, by Joint List Chairman MK Ayman Odeh, who congratulated its writers. "Brave boys and girls, it's so moving and meaningful to see these youths stand up to the entire society and proclaiming, in the loudest and proudest terms possible: we will not serve the occupation and oppression of the Palestinian people. One day, all of society will appreciate your work here as well," he assured.