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It is that second foundational principle – of the IDF as the 'Army of the People' – that now finds itself under threat.Conscientious objectors like Moriel Rothman form only a minor part of the problem, treated with a mixture of bafflement and disdain by high command.Rothman coped well with being inside, despite the loneliness and a worry about how his then-girlfriend might react to more time apart. "The [guards] are being mean, they're yelling a lot, they're slamming the doors, and they're taking away your shoelaces – but I wasn't afraid they were going to keep me there forever and I wasn't afraid they were going to hurt me physically."If there was a shock for Rothman, it was the prisoners' uniform, a hand-me-down from the US Marines - logo still intact. Though born in Jerusalem, a Western upbringing and education, including a degree in Arabic and Political Science from Middlebury College in Vermont, helped to land Rothman in Israeli jail."If I'd stayed here aged 18," he says, speaking of a three-month visit, "I would have served. It's astonishing how little the kids here know about what the occupation even is."Pausing for mouthfuls of falafel, Rothman gives a blow-by-blow account of overlooked injustices.He cites a legal system that's biased against Arabs, unfair land distribution, an apparent callousness to civilian deaths in 2008's Operation Cast Lead – and the wall still under construction that separates Israel from the West Bank, splitting Palestinian villages in its path.Second, as immigrants flooded into former Palestine, the army, it was hoped, would glue together the wildly different peoples – Bulgarian, American, Libyan, German – that made up the new nation.As of 2013, the force is stronger than ever militarily, with nearly 500 aircraft and 3,000 tanks combat-ready.The IDF was founded alongside the Israeli state in 1948 with a double purpose in mind.First, it was meant to keep the country safe from the threat of Arab invasion.
At first, Rothman, aged 22, applied to it, but support for the Palestinian cause, he believes, saw his case rejected."Right after I said 'I won't serve' to the first commander, he marches off to find someone to take me away." Two stretches in jail followed last autumn, both 10 days long.Though short, these sentences can be brought against refuseniks on repeat (Natan Blanc, a peer of Rothman, served 10 of them, spending 178 days in jail).I was struggling against the occupation."Over the past six months that sore has seeped more than its usual level of poor publicity.
In April, the EU called for an end to the "forced transfer" of Palestinians out of their homes in the West Bank, while a June UN report records widespread maltreatment of Palestinian children – up to 7,000 of whom they say have been jailed over the past 10 years, mostly for throwing stones.
The threat of more time in prison has passed too, after a certificate confirming Rothman's sleep troubles was shown to the authorities .