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Alex Cohn

Alex Cohn

Published: March 30, 2010
Alex Cohn

Alex Cohn

Israeli conscientious objector who spent 152 days in a military prison for refusing to serve in the Israeli military. Cohn has been active in the Shministim, a movement of Israeli high school students who refuse military service, and New Profile, an Israeli feminist organization that challenges the militarization of Israeli society.

Alex Cohn is a conscientious objector, a member of the Shministim (a movement among Israeli high school students who refuse Israel’s compulsory military service), and has been active in New Profile, an Israeli feminist organization that challenges the militarization of Israeli society.

Cohn became politically active from a young age and was especially influenced by visits to the occupied Palestinian territories. He began to question whether he could serve in the Israeli military after working with Palestinian farmers to help with the annual olive harvest and seeing the Separation Wall in the West Bank. Through these encounters Cohn developed an emotional connection with the Palestinian people he met and he grew to question the narrative of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that he was raised to believe. 

Eventually, Cohn decided he would refuse to join the Israeli army at his initial induction when he turned 18 years old. Instead, he joined the Shiministim.

"I chose to refuse after I saw the occupied Palestinian territories and realized that the occupation is not only unjust and unnecessary, but also horrible and destructive for both people," Cohn says.

In 2005, more than 300 Israeli teenagers signed a highly publicized letter from the Shministim to the Israeli Prime Minister and Minister of Defense stating their intention to refuse military. In that letter, the Shministim explained,

Our backgrounds are diverse, but we all agree that these values form the basis of a just society. Every human being has the right to life, equality, dignity, and freedom. We are bound by our conscience and as citizens of Israel to act in defense of these rights, by refusing to participate in the occupation and repression policy.

After refusing his induction in April 2005, Cohn was jailed and spent 152 days in a military prison.

Cohn does not view his refusal only as a protest against the Israeli occupation of Gaza and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. He also is challenging the militarism that he believes dominates Israeli society.

"Militaristic society observes reality through the sight of the gun: everything is us or them, life or death, kill or be killed," Cohn explains. "In this way, every act of resistance to Israel becomes an existential threat. I see the Israeli refusal movement, in which I include the Palestinian citizens of Israel who do not have the chance to refuse, as an alternative to the militaristic way of life that leads Israel from one war to another."

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