Refusenik | Just Vision Skip to main content

The glossary is comprised of nearly 250 terms related to the Israeli-Palestinian context. Given the rapidly shifting landscape, these terms cannot capture the full range of nuances, narratives and historical events. This tool is meant as a starting point and we encourage you to continue your exploration of this topic through further research. Last update and review: September 2015.


The term "refusenik" in Israel applies to conscientious objectors - Israeli soldiers or reservists who refuse to serve in the Occupied Palestinian Territories in the Israeli army altogether. For an Israeli to legally avoid military service based on the grounds of conscience or refusal, one must be granted Conscientious Objector status, which is extremely difficult to obtain. The Refusenik movement gained strength during the Second Intifada, when a group of Israeli reserve combat officers and soldiers drafted the Combatants' Letter in January 2002, outlining their decision to refuse to serve in any capacity that would uphold Israel's "illegal and thus immoral" occupation, founding Courage to Refuse. 623 Israelis signed onto the letter. Similar statements followed, including a September 2003 letter by Israeli Air Force Pilots, a December 2003 letter by an elite commando unit, and, in September 2014, a highly publicized letter by 43 military intelligence officers. Israeli high school seniors who collectively declare their refusal to serve call themselves "Shministim" ("12th graders") after an earlier group of high school seniors in 1970 who, calling themselves the same name, sent a letter to then prime-minister Golda Meir, expressing concern about the newly occupied territories. Israel has court martialed hundreds for the refusal to serve and many refuseniks serve time in prison. See 2002 Combatants' Letter; the website of the Refuser Solidarity Network; and "Who are the Shministim?" See also "Why I Won't Serve Israel," Moriel Rothman-Zecher, The New York Times, Jan 11, 2015.