‘Revenge is no war plan’: Why an Israeli teenager is choosing jail over war with Gaza

Israel has ramped up its enlistment efforts after Hamas’ October 7 attacks, in which more than 1,100 people dead and 250 people kidnapped

Words by Sophia Ankel, ITV News

An Israeli teenager who is facing jail a third time for refusing to enlist in mandatory military service tells ITV News that peace is the "only solution" to the war in Gaza and that the two sides "have to co-exist".

Sofia Orr, 18, was sentenced to 20 days in Neve Tzedek military prison in Tel Aviv in February and then again in March after she refused to enlist in the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) in protest at its ongoing war on Gaza. 

She was released from prison on April 4 and is expected to be jailed for a third time by the end of this week. Her sentence will likely be extended if she continues to refuse enlistment, but Orr says she will continue resisting because she "knows its the right thing to do."

"I was sure of my decision before, I'm sure of it now," she says.

"I made the decision to refuse long before the war, when I was about 15 because for me the occupation and the operation of the Palestinians both in Gaza and the West Bank was, and is, still enough of a reason to refuse and to make this act of resistance and to raise this voice for peace."

National military service is mandatory for all Israeli citizens over the age of 18, with men required to serve for about three years, while women must serve for at least two.  

Thousands of young people are exempted from the draft every year either on medical or religious grounds (Ultra-Orthodox Jews have been exempt since Israel’s founding in 1948). 

But “selective refusal” – rejecting specific duties – is illegal in the country.

Talking about what her time in jail was like, Orr says it can be isolating, with limited time for calls and only one visitor allowed in every two weeks.

She says: "The most difficult part for is not being able to stay in contact with my family. I am very, very close to my family.

"But you can write, you can read books, you can draw, you can play crosswords. This is usually how I spend my time," she adds.

Orr says she is very different to the other people she is imprisoned with

Israel has ramped up its enlistment efforts after Hamas’ October 7 attacks, in which more than 1,100 people dead and 250 people kidnapped.

The majority of the almost 100 hostages who remain alive are believed to be male IDF soldiers or men of military reserve age.

Since October 7, Orr says the rhetoric in her country has become more "violent," adding: "That 'us and them' mentality, that 'black and white' mentality is really strong in Israel and outside of Israel right now."

She calls Israel’s ongoing military action in the Gaza Strip - which has so far resulted in the deaths of more than 33,000 Palestinians - a "horrible distraction". "Continuing a cycle of violence will never lead to anything," she says.

"Revenge in no war plan."

Palestinians line up to receive free meals at Jabaliya refugee camp in the Gaza Strip. Credit: AP

Orr is among 230 Israeli teens who signed an open letter in early September announcing their intention to refuse their draft orders.

She tells ITV News she wanted to be public about her decision because, "I wanted to try to reach as many people as I can and try to raise that message of peace and coexistence as loudly as I can."

This is despite the risk of shrinking career prospects and social stigma in a country that has sworn revenge to Hamas' attacks.

Orr says she regularly receives death threats from people online, adding: "It has been very very hostile from the people in Israel.

Orr says the environment around her changed following the attacks on October 7

"Videos of me in Hebrew get a ton of comments cursing me saying I should die, saying I'm stupid and that I don't know what I'm talking about."

The 18-year-old says her immediate family has been "very supportive" during this time, though she has had significant backlash from some friends and extended family.

"Most of the reactions [is] that I am naïve and that I'm ungrateful... I don't think I'm naïve. I think its naïve to think that we could ever solve this political conflict with military means.

"And I don't think that I'm ungrateful... because I am doing this for all the people around me - Palestinians and Israelis - and for this country to be a better place that I want to live in."

Orr is two months away from her 19th birthday and has no plans of staying quiet - even if this means it will land her in prison again.

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