Jewish Holocaust survivors respond to Wiesel and call for justice in Gaza

40 Jewish survivors of the Nazi Holocaust and 287 descendants of survivors and victims issued a letter this weekend condemning Israel’s actions in Gaza. The letter, with signatories from 26 countries representing four generations of survivors, runs in the Saturday, August 23rd edition of the New York Times:

As Jewish survivors and descendants of survivors and victims of the Nazi genocide we unequivocally condemn the massacre of Palestinians in Gaza and the ongoing occupation and colonization of historic Palestine.

Elie WieselElie Wiesel

Their letter is in reponse to a statement by Elie Wiesel, the Nobel prize-winning author, and Shmuley Boteach, an outspoken American-born Orthodox rabbi. An advert jointly written by Wiesel and Boteach called on David Cameron and other political leaders “to condemn Hamas‘ use of children as human shields”:

Elie wieseA part of the advertisement

The advertisement by Wiesel and Boteach was carried in US newspapers, including the New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal and the New York Observer. It compares the murder of children during the Holocaust to Hamas’ actions in Gaza. The Times of London declined to run it and the Guardian published a response for free. In an open letter on its website, the Stop The War coalition, the UK anti-war organisation, described the advert as a “wildly inaccurate and inflammatory advert from supporters of the state of Israel branding Palestinians opposing Israel in Gaza as ‘child killers’.”

The Holocaust survivors in turn expressed their dismay over Israel’s assault and misrepresentation of their shared history. Liliana Kaczerginski, daughter of a Vilna ghetto resistance fighter, said:

What Israel is doing goes against everything that my father fought for; it is a violation of my family’s memory and I am proud to honor them with my signature.

Hajo Meyer, a survivor of Auschwitz who lives in the Netherlands expressed outrage at the racism coming out of Israel:

The dehumanization of Jews is what made possible the Nazi genocide. In the same way, we are witnessing the escalating dehumanization of Palestinians in Israeli society.

 In their response letter, the survivors write:

We are disgusted and outraged by Elie Wiesel’s abuse of our history to justify the unjustifiable: Israel’s wholesale effort to destroy Gaza and the murder of more than 2,000 Palestinians, including many hundreds of children.

Dr Hani Jamah, a Palestinian living in California who lost 30 family members in an Israeli bombing said:

When Israel started it’s bombardment of Gaza, I turned on the news and discovered that 30 of my aunts and cousins had died in a single bomb blast. Joining my voice with 40 survivors of the Nazi genocide adds power to our call that we must work together to bring justice to Gaza.

Said Monadel Herzallah, who is part of the US Palestinian Community Network and has family in Gaza:

With the growing number of people around the world holding Israel accountable for its genocidal crimes, I applaud the courageous statements by holocaust survivors and their families being on the right side of justice,”  “Our children and grandchildren inside of Gaza deserve a life of believing that Never Again means Never Again for Anyone, Anywhere, Anytime.

Raphael Cohen, grandson of survivors who lives in the United States, called on people to take action to demand justice for Palestinians:

It is my own government paying for this violence. When governments won’t do what’s right, individuals and communities must speak out. That’s why I support the Palestinian call for boycott, divestment, and sanctions.

The signatories hope that their letter will strengthen the claim that the legacy of Jewish suffering must mean never again for anyone, least of all, to be used in defense of Israeli violence.

Signatories will be hosting a press conference on Monday, August 25th, 2014 at 11:00 am Eastern Time

[8/22/14 San Francisco, CA]
Press Contact: Lee Gargagliano – survivorsletter@gmail.com

UPDATE ON CHILDREN IN GAZA:

A UNICEF field officer in Gaza reported that to date, 469 chjildren died as a result of violence against Gaza since early July. The report added “there is not a single family in the tiny enclave that has not been touched by the current violence.”

“The impact is has truly been vast, both at a very physical level, in terms of casualties, injuries, the infrastructure that’s been damaged, but also importantly, emotionally and psychologically in terms of the destabilizing impact that not knowing, not truly feeling like there is anywhere safe place to go in Gaza,” Pernilla Ironside, Chief of the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Gaza field office told a press conference at UN Headquarters.

UNICEF has 50 psychologists and counsellors in Gaza reaching out to children directly impacted by loss. They have reached 3,000, but the needs are “staggering” as parents are also in a state of trauma, Ms. Ironside said, noting that today 373,000 Palestinian children need “immediate psycho-social first aid.”

Meanwhile, Defence for Children International Palestine reported how a Palestinian child was used as a human shield by Israeli forces:

humanshield.profile2.21august2014_0Ahmad Abu Raida was only 16 when Israeli soldiers repeatedly used him as a human shield for five days in Khuza’a, southern Gaza

Ramallah, August 21, 2014—Israeli soldiers repeatedly used Ahmad Abu Raida, 17, as a human shield for five days while he was held hostage during Israel’s ground invasion of the Gaza Strip.

Ahmad, from Khuza’a, near the southern Gaza town of Khan Younis, was just 16 years old when he was taken from his family on July 23. He was forced at gunpoint to search for tunnels for five days, during which time he was interrogated, verbally and physically abused, and deprived of food and sleep. Ahmad told DCI-Palestine in a sworn testimony that Israeli soldiers attempted both to extract information from him regarding Hamas members, and recruit him as an informant, before releasing him on July 27.

“The Israeli military has consistently accused Hamas of using civilians – particularly children – as human shields, but this incident represents a clear case of their soldiers forcing a child to directly assist in military operations,” said Rifat Kassis, executive director of DCI-Palestine. “Israeli officials make generalized accusations while Israeli soldiers engage in conduct that amounts to war crimes.”

Ahmad’s ordeal began on July 21, when Israeli tanks entered Khuza’a, a town where Israeli forces allegedly committed war crimes during the the ground invasion of the Gaza Strip. After two days of hiding at home, Ahmad’s family and neighbors attempted to flee intense artillery fire. As they tried to leave, however, Israeli soldiers assembled civilians, separating young men from others.

Ahmad was singled out, detained with his hands tied behind his back, and kicked and insulted by a soldier. His family was released, but lost sight of him as they fled the area.

In the days that followed, despite not being associated with Hamas, Ahmad was interrogated about his political affiliation and the location of Hamas tunnels. He managed to sleep for just two hours on the first night, sitting in a chair with his hands tied behind him. Every day he was made to search for tunnels, including at one point digging under the afternoon sun.

Speaking to DCI-Palestine, Ahmad said, “[The Captain and the soldiers] were walking behind me, with their rifles pointed at me. “Get in and see if there are tunnels or not,” [the Captain] ordered me. They made me search all the rooms for tunnels. Whenever I told them there were no tunnels, they would take me out and search the room themselves.”

Jews against Genocide: Compassionate people from across the globe must protest against Israel

We brought dolls to symbolise the children of Gaza, and tried to bring a glimpse of the horror that Gazans face, to Israel’s doorstep. We hope to show Israel, and the world, the absurd reality of using the memory of one genocide to justify another.

jews against genocide

Their full statement follows:

JEWS AGAINST GENOCIDE

We, Jews Against Genocide, came to Yad Vashem, Israel’s memorial of the genocide committed against Jews, to honor the Palestinian children who are dying in a genocide committed by Jews.

We brought dolls to symbolise the children of Gaza, and tried to bring a glimpse of the horror that Gazans face, to Israel’s doorstep. We hope to show Israel, and the world, the absurd reality of using the memory of one genocide to justify another.

We invite compassionate people from across the globe to join the outcry by staging similar protests in front of Israeli embassies and consulates around the world. Please send pictures of your actions to jewsagainstgenocide1948@gmail.com.

Just as we honor the people who were murdered seven decades ago in Europe because they were Jews, we are here to honor the people who are being murdered at this very moment because they are the indigenous people of this land who are not Jews.

The UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide defines Genocide as, “any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:

(a) Killing members of the group;

(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;

(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; […]“

The children of Gaza, who are being systematically murdered as we write this article, constitute 52% percent of the population under siege in the strip. The vast majority of these children are descendants of refugees from historical Palestine.

In the current round of atrocities committed by the Israel occupation army, so far dozens of children have been murdered in their homes, with Israel’s war-making leadership vowing “much higher costs” on the Palestinian side as the bombing and shelling continues.

The war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Gaza today are the latest stage of an ongoing campaign of ethnic cleansing and genocide against the indigenous people of this land.

The Jewish State was founded on the Zionist principle of “maximum Jews on maximum land, and minimum Arabs on minimum land”, which was made reality through sixty-six years of continued assault against Palestinians, denying them the right to live freely and peacefully in their historical homeland.

The Israeli regime has turned the beautiful Gaza strip into a densely populated ghetto, with unsafe water, untreated sewage, and insufficient resources and electricity. This ghetto has become a concentration camp, through repeated Israeli massacres in what the Goldstone Report described as an effort to, “humiliate and terrorize a civilian population, radically diminish[ing] its local economic capacity.”

We express our support and solidarity for the Palestinian civil society’s call for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel, until it complies with the three basic demands of:

1. Ending its occupation and colonization of all Arab lands and dismantling the Wall

2. Recognizing the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality; and

3. Respecting, protecting and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN resolution 194.

Never Again for Anyone – End Israel’s Genocide of Palestinians
Jews Against Genocide (JAG)

Resources:
United Nations, preventing Genocide:http://www.un.org/en/preventgenocide/adviser/genocide_prevention.shtml
Palestinian civil society call for BDS: http://www.bdsmovement.net/call
United Nations, human rights in Palestine and other occupied Arab territories:http://www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/hrcouncil/docs/12session/A-HRC-12-48.pdf

Sign the petition to end imprisonment of conscientious Israelis who don’t join the military

Imagine being a Palestinian Israeli and having to join the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) to oppress, intimidate and attack Palestinians in the occupied territories?

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Omar Sa’ad is one such refuser, and he has just been incarcerated for a seventh time, this time for 40 days. Imagine his guts and his perseverance. I am not sure that I could have done such a thing, let alone having the moral integrity at such a young age. What Omar does, is by far more brave than putting on a uniform to brutalise someone else.

omarOmar Sa’ad at a recruitment center. Photo by Twitter

To sign a petition by New Profile and Amnesty International for the immediate and unconditional release of Omar Sa’ad and all other all other individuals held solely for their conscientious objection to military service, click here: SIGN THE PETITION.

Palestinian Israelis are Arabs who are largely Sunni Muslims, with smaller numbers of Christians and members of the Druze community. They do not enjoy the same benefits as Jewish Israeli citizens, but the Druze group is the only non-Jewish group that must enlist in the Israeli Defense Force.

Maisan Hamdan, the coordinator of the Druze campaign against military service, said:

“Refusing the imposed military service is one of the components of our Palestinian identity. Our campaign is not affiliated with any political party nor religion. We call all the national powers to unite and coordinate in a joint effort to end the mandatory military service imposed on the Palestinian Arab Druze youth.

druze community

In my own inner conversation, I too had to ask myself what I can do. Omar needs the help, the encouragement, the solidarity, the prayers, the letters and whatever else may be appropriate, from those of us who share his values.

After being sentenced for the seventh time, Omar issued a public statement:

The Easter gift, The Spring Feast, the Freedom Fest. They talk about Easter holiday as a symbol of freedom and the story of the children of Israel who were saved out from slavery…I have gave in myself to the Israeli Army…I was ruled 6 times to prison, and every time for 20 days, and today for the seventh time and in retaliation I was sentenced for 40 days.
Since one year and a half I declared my refusal to the conscription law imposed on the Druze community, and I refuse to serve in the Israeli army, through a letter sent to Israel’s Prime Minister and Minister of Defence, and up till today I have not received any reply.
I declare out loud today: I Omar Zaher Alden Saad will not serve in the Israeli military army and I demand respect for my faith and I yearn for my freedom.
Those who sent me to prison today and for 40 days: before you sit with your family to celebrate Easter and to tell the Easter your children how they are free now and not slaves any more, look in the mirror, you will see you are still a slave that carry out orders.

In his original refusal declaration Omar wrote:

“I refuse because I am pacifist, and I hate any kind of violence, and I believe that the army institute is the top of physical and psychological violence, and since I received your order for making the checking procedures my life changed completely. I became very nervous and my thoughts were dispersed. I remembered thousands of hard images, and I could not imagine myself wearing the military uniform and participating in suppressing my Palestinian people, and fighting my Arab brothers. I reject enlisting to the Israeli army or to any other army, because of national and moral reasons. I hate oppression, and I reject occupation.”

Please write a letter of support to Omar?
Since the prison authorities often block mail from reaching imprisoned objectors, please e-mail your letters to: messages2prison@newprofile.org and they will be printed out and delivered during visits.

New Profile is an Israeli organisation working towards the demilitarization of the Israeli society. Ruth Hiller, one of its founding members, wrote as follows:

I have friends, activists like myself who are feeling discouraged. Indeed our mission is a difficult one, and there is good reason to feel fearful with the present government and the on-going military suppression and other actions against the Palestinians, internationals, and supportive Israelis. It is difficult to remain optimistic.
At the same I can’t help but note that when my son Yinnon declared his refusal to serve in the military, he was one; and I was the one mother who said no. Today we are not alone.
I would like change to happen more quickly, at a different pace. But I also believe that in order to maintain change, it must start from deep within Israeli society and in particular at the grassroots level.

Please write to Omar!

Israel has a militarized society. It means, for example, that people in uniform are heroes, and that fighting is something to aspire to, even if you are a child as recently demonstrated in  Efrat, an illegal Israeli city in the occupied West Bank of Palestine:

An Israeli boy wearing a military vest throws a mock grenade during a traditional military weapon display to mark the 66th anniversary of Israel’s “independence” at the occupied West Bank settlement of Efrat on 6 May 2014.(Photo: Gali Tibbongali / AFP)

If you have the stomach for disturbing information click here for more on militarizing children.

50 Young Israelis to Netanyahu: “We Refuse to Serve in the Occupation Army”

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On 8 March 2014, the largest group of draft refusers in the history of Israel sent Prime Minister Netanyahu a letter in which they declared their refusal to serve in the Israeli military:

The problem with the army does not begin or end with the damage it inflicts on Palestinian society. It infiltrates everyday life in Israeli society too: it shapes the educational system, our workforce opportunities, while fostering racism, violence and ethnic, national and gender-based discrimination.

I quote from an e-mail I received from  Ruth Hiller co-founder of New Profile in Israel:

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This is the largest group of Israeli draft refusers in the history of Israel; it is the first act of its kind in five years, but follows a long tradition of communal conscientious objection. The current Israeli government is trying to widen the army draft to all ethnic groups within Israel against their will and young people from all over the country are reacting by refusing to serve in the Israeli Army.

The purpose of this statement is to protest against the ongoing occupation of Palestinian territories where, according to the signatories “human rights are violated and acts defined by international law as war-crimes are perpetuated on a daily basis.” They are also protesting the way in which the army influences civilian life, deepening the sexism, militarism, violence, inequality and racism present in Israeli society.

Mandy Cartner, a 16 years old signatory from Tel Aviv said: “The actions of the army distance us from finding a solution and from creating peace, justice and security. My refusal is a way of expressing my opposition to the wrongs done daily in our name and through us.”

Shaked Harari, a 17 years old signatory from Bat Yam, said: “The army serves the people in power and not the civilians, who are only a tool. My friends and I refuse to be cannon fodder.”

Roni Lax, a 20 year old signatory from Bnei Brak: “We stand in solidarity with the ultra-orthodox youth and the Arab youth – Christian and Druze, some of whom are currently in an army prison.”

Contact Info:

Dafna Rothstein Landman – 0522470123 – dafna.e.r.l@gmail.com

Itamar Bellaiche – 0547484248 – itabellaiche@gmail.com

Their statement reads as follows:

“We, citizens of the state of Israel, are designated for army service.

We appeal to the readers of this letter to set aside what has always been taken for granted and to reconsider the implications of military service.

We, the undersigned, intend to refuse to serve in the army and the main reason for this refusal is our opposition to the military occupation of Palestinian territories. Palestinians in the occupied territories live under Israeli rule though they did not choose to do so, and have no legal recourse to influence this regime or its decision-making processes. This is neither egalitarian nor just. In these territories, human rights are violated, and acts defined under international law as war-crimes are perpetuated on a daily basis. These include assassinations (extrajudicial killings), the construction of settlements on occupied lands, administrative detentions, torture, collective punishment and the unequal allocation of resources such as electricity and water. Any form of military service reinforces this status quo, and, therefore, in accordance with our conscience, we cannot take part in a system that perpetrates the above-mentioned acts.

The problem with the army does not begin or end with the damage it inflicts on Palestinian society. It infiltrates everyday life in Israeli society too: it shapes the educational system, our workforce opportunities, while fostering racism, violence and ethnic, national and gender-based discrimination.

We refuse to aid the military system in promoting and perpetuating male dominance. In our opinion, the army encourages a violent and militaristic masculine ideal whereby ‘might is right’. This ideal is detrimental to everyone, especially those who do not fit it. Furthermore, we oppose the oppressive, discriminatory, and heavily gendered power structures within the army itself.

We refuse to forsake our principles as a condition to being accepted in our society. We have thought about our refusal deeply and we stand by our decisions.

We appeal to our peers, to those currently serving in the army and/or reserve duty, and to the Israeli public at large, to reconsider their stance on the occupation, the army, and the role of the military in civil society. We believe in the power and ability of civilians to change reality for the better by creating a more fair and just society. Our refusal expresses this belief.

For details:

Dafna Rothstein Landman – 0522470123 – dafna.e.r.l@gmail.com

Itamar Bellaiche – 0547484248 – itabellaiche@gmail.com

Status

Invitation: Miko Peled 10 – 16 March, South Africa

peled Please join us for a talk by Miko Peled, the well known Israeli peace activist and author, during South Africa’s Israeli Apartheid Week:

JOHANNESBURG
EVENT:
Israeli Apartheid Week Opening Event
DATE: Monday, 10 March 2014
TIME: 19h00
VENUE: Protea Hotel Auditorium, School of Tourism and Hospitality (STH), Bunting Road Campus, University of Johannesburg, Auckland Park

STELLENBOSCH
EVENT:
Book discussion with Miko Peled and Breyten Breytenbach
DATE: Tuesday, 11 March 2014
TIME: 12h50

VENUE: Faculty Chapel, Faculty of Theology, Stellenbosch University, Stellenbosch
SPECIAL GUEST: Afrikaans poet, academic and anti-apartheid activist Breyten Breytenbach

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CAPE TOWN
EVENT:
Resisting from within, fighting oppression done in your name
DATE: Tuesday, 11 March 2014
TIME: 18h00
VENUE: RW James Building Lecture Theatre B, University of Cape Town

GRAHAMSTOWN
EVENT: Discussion with the author
DATE: Thursday, 13 March 2014
TIME: 17h00
VENUE: Humanities Seminar Room, Rhodes University, Grahamstown

DURBAN
EVENT:
Book discussion
DATE: Friday, 14 March 2014
TIME: 18h00

VENUE: Women’s Cultural Group Centre, Mariam Bee Sultan, 222 Kenilworth Road, Overport, Durban

PRETORIA
EVENT: Breakfast and Discussion With the Author
DATE: Saturday, 15 March 2014
TIME: 09h30
TICKET PRICE: R200 (this Pretoria event is a paid event, please contact 0735004036)

Find more information on Miko Peled’s South African Book Tour here: www.facebook.com/events/597059117046154/

For more information, comment or to arrange an interview with Miko Peled contact Muhammed Desai on 0842119988

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR – Miko Peled

In 1997, a tragedy struck the family of Miko Peled: His beloved niece Smadar was killed in Palestinian political violence in Jerusalem. His sister, Nurit Peled-Elhanan, reacted –according to some– “unusually” to the tragic death of her daughter. As a mother, she did not call for revenge or blame the Palestinians but the Israeli occupation policy of the Israeli governments.

That tragedy and his sister’s response propelled Peled into a journey of discovery. It pushed him to re-examine many of the beliefs he had grown up with, as the son and grandson of leading figures in Israel’s political-military elite, and transformed him into a courageous and visionary activist in the struggle for human rights and a hopeful, lasting, just peace between Israelis and Palestinians. Miko Peled’s father was was the well known General Mattiyahu “Matti Peled” – a prominent general who turned after the Israel’s “war of aggression” in 1967, into an advocate of peace.

Miko Peled is a former Israeli soldier himself (having trained in Israel’s Special Forces) and has written in a June 2012 Los Angeles Times article that “Israel is faced with two options: Continue to exist as a Jewish state while controlling the Palestinians through military force and racist laws, or undertake a deep transformation into a real democracy where Israelis and Palestinians live as equals in a shared state, their shared homeland. For Israelis and Palestinians alike, the latter path promises a bright future.”

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ABOUT THE BOOK – “The Israeli Army General’s Son: Journey of an Israeli in Palestine”

Miko Peled, in his book, combines the exceptional history of his family, the political development of the State of Israel and his personal conversion to a fundamental critic of the policy of the different Israeli governments. Peled has described his 2012 book, “The Israeli Army General’s Son: Journey of an Israeli in Palestine” as an account of how he, “the son of an Israeli General and a staunch Zionist, came to realize that “the story upon which I was raised … was a lie.” The book, he has said, is based largely on long conversations with his mother, on a thorough reading of “everything my dad had ever written,” and on material about his father’s career in the Israeli army archives.

The book, which has been characterized as “part confessional, part cinematic epic and part emotional appeal for ‘different answers’ to the Israeli-Palestinian conundrum,” contains a moving foreword by Alice Walker, well known African American author of “The Color Purple”. Walker write: “The journey that Peled traces in this groundbreaking memoir echoed the trajectory taken 40 years earlier by his father, renowned Israeli general Matti Peled. In “The General’s Son,” Miko Peled tells us about growing up in Jerusalem in the heart of the group that ruled the then-young country, Israel. He takes us with him through his service in the country’s military and his subsequent global travels… and then, after his niece’s killing, back into the heart of Israel’s conflict with the Palestinians. The book provides a compelling and intimate window into the fears that haunt both peoples– but also into the real courage of all those who, like Miko Peled, have been pursuing a steadfast grassroots struggle for equality for all the residents of the Holy Land.”

FURTHER INFORMATION


Recent Article by Peled

http://electronicintifada.net/content/wake-john-kerry-global-intifada-erupting/12964

Videos of Miko Peled
www.youtube.com/watch?v=TOaxAckFCuQ
www.youtube.com/watch?v=qEV8DuBUfI4
www.youtube.com/watch?v=c4ZfnpN4Dfc&list=PLL9k0-nVbeO_jGxjI9Z-INdXu_3KyMzBL

Book Review of Miko Peled’s “The Israeli Army General’s Son: Journey of an Israeli in Palestine”
http://electronicintifada.net/content/book-review-miko-peled-sets-record-straight-palestines-dispossession/11950

“The Israeli Army General’s Son: Journey of an Israeli in Palestine”
– Exclusive Books: http://tinyurl.com/nwkslck
– Kalahari: www.kalahari.com/Books/The-General-s-Son_p_44486412
– Amazon (as a Paperback or eBook/Kindle): www.amazon.com/The-Generals-Son-Journey-Palestine/dp/193598215X

FOR MORE INFORMATION, COMMENT OR TO ARRANGE AN INTERVIEW WITH THE AUTHOR:
IAW South Africa National Convenor, Muhammed Desai: +27 (0) 842119988

ISSUED BY KWARA KEKANA, NATIONAL SPOKESPERSON OF “ISRAELI APARTHEID WEEK SOUTH AFRICA TEAM”
Tel: +27 (0) 72 449 1774
Email: iawsouthafrica@apartheidweek.org
Twitter: www.twitter.com/iawsouthafrica
Facebook: www.facebook.com/iawsouthafrica
Website: www.bdssouthafrica.com/2011/02/israeli-apartheid-week.html or www.apartheidweek.org

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Is the dream of Zionism crumbling?

The founding social contract of Zionism was based on the notion that all Jews must stick together, especially in combat against Arabs but also otherwise against a hostile world, and in exchange they would enjoy the benefits of a welfare state.

(Haggai Matar, an Israeli journalist and political activist)

There is a new (and in my view a positive) take on military service refusal in Israel. It flared up from an unexpected, and a very tragic angle.  In July 2012, a man set himself on fire in public; thousands took to the streets of Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Haifa and Be’er Sheva; and Guy Tamar, a first sergeant (res.) in the engineering corps. declared:

Recent events cracked something within me. You can say my eyes were once closed, and the social justice protests opened them in such a way that I can’t go back.

Ruth Hiller from New Profile sketched the events leading up to the mass protest:

e-mail, 17 July 2012

Dear Friends,

I hope all is well.

I don’t know how many of you are following the newest wave of social protest going on in Israel. Saturday, July 14th marked a year since it began, and demonstrations were held in most of the larger cities in Israel. During the demonstration in Tel Aviv, Moshe Silman, a social activist from Haifa, who is unemployed and homeless, read a letter that he wrote to the government having been refused social benefits and rent assistance several times, and set himself on fire. The act in itself is horrific and sad. Moshe has burns on 96% of his body, is in a medically induced coma and is being ventilated. This is a tragedy for his family and for Israel, as so much could have been done to help him so that he would not have to reach this level of extreme desperation.

The discussion of why Moshe Silman and why he did what he did is very today’s discussion all over Israel. Here is a man who once owned his own small trucking business and an apartment. But due to debts incurred to the National Insurance Institute (our Social Security system), he had to claim bankruptcy and lost his home. Additionally he then suffered a series of small strokes and was unable to seek employment. From here everything was then downhill for him and in spite of the many applications for financial aid, he was deemed ineligible.  Moshe Silman’s sister gave several TV and radio interviews and shared with the Israeli public how he used to be a very proud man and how his sense of pride was beaten.

Other people in Israel have committed suicide, leaving testimonies of great shame in their inability to maintain their households and support their families… it is difficult for me to comprehend the choice of taking one’s life to prove a point. At the same time while it is not my place to criticize the act, I also can’t rationalize and call Moshe Silman a social justice hero. I would not want others, who have reached similar levels of desperation, to take their lives. (Just this morning a man tried to set himself on fire before the National Insurance Institute offices in Be’er Sheva, but was stopped on time by a security guard.) Moshe is not one case, and there are many other Israeli citizens, from all the ethnic sectors, who are experiencing the same systematic red tape treatment by governmental offices. However the social movement has been consistent in one aspect from the get go, and has kept matters of social services, affordable medical services, and affordable housing high up on the agenda.

Now Haggai Matar, a colleague and fellow activist in New Profile, writes about an new phenomena within the Israel social protest – conscientious objection in protest of neo-liberalism and the lack of social justice. I think you will find the article…on the online magazine +972, of much interest.

All the best,

Ruth

Group of J14 activists to refuse military reserve duty

Moshe Silman, who set himself on fire sparked a new wave of angry J14 protests against the Israeli government. Thousands of demonstrators marched the streets of Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Haifa and Be’er Sheva, enraged by anti-social policies and by Prime Minister Netanyahu’s response to the event, which he defined it a “personal tragedy.”

Protesters carried copies of Silman’s suicide letter (parts of which were omitted in the pro-Netanyahu daily Israel Hayom), and chanted slogans such as “every man is Moshe Silman” and “Netanyahu – go home!”

In Tel Aviv more than a thousand demonstrators blockaded government buildings and blocked main roads, including the Ayalon Highway, and gained much support from car and even train drivers passing by. While in Tel Aviv police did not intervene, In Jerusalem six were arrested while blocking roads. Late at night the  entrance to the National Insurance Institute (Bituah Leumi) building in Ramat Gan was set on fire, and graffiti was sprayed reading: “Price tag for Moshe Silman.”

One of the protesters in Tel Aviv was 39-year-old Guy Tamar who is a first sergeant (res.) in the engineering corps who says:

I was careful not to reach this point before, but on a day such as this there is no choice. I will no longer defend a state that does not defend its citizens.

Within hours five more reserve service men, two of them officers, sent him their names and ranks and asked to join the initiative, as did two ex-servicemen.

I had problems with the way the army does things in the past, but I felt like it was important to be there and make a difference. But recent events cracked something within me. You can say my eyes were once closed, and the social justice protests opened them in such a way that I can’t go back.

And then the words that I find so encouraging:

We mustn’t worship the army, but rather the lives of citizens and all others who live here. Before equal duties we must talk of equal rights. The government must understand that we are rejecting the militaristic discourse.

Read the full article with photos here.

In another step, Abigail Disney an investor in Shamrock Holdings, the Disney family investment fund that owns a part of Ahava, decided to donate her profits to the ending of the occupation.

Ahava’s main factory is located in an Israeli settlement, and is owned by companies deeply invested in Israel’s illegal settlement project.  She says:

While I will always hold my colleagues and coworkers in the highest regard, I cannot in good conscience profit from what is technically the “plunder” or “pillage” of occupied natural resources and the company’s situating its factory in an Israeli settlement in the Occupied West Bank. Because of complicated legal and financial constraints I am unable to withdraw my investment at this time, but will donate the corpus of the investment as well as the profits accrued to me during the term of my involvement to organizations working to end this illegal exploitation.

These Israelis and Jews who have the guts to stand up for justice remind me of those in my country during the apartheid years who were willing to face the critique of society when they said that apartheid must end.  The occupation of Palestine will end too.

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Can one act morally in an immoral situation?

“I fell in love with Israel as a Zionist state.”

Ruth Hiller originally came from the States at the age of 17 to work on a kibbutz.  And so she stayed, got married and raised her six children.

But things changed when her third child said that he did not want to serve in the Israeli Defense Force (IDF).  Today Ruth and her colleagues from New Profile assist other young Israelis who also refuse to join the IDF. (I met her last year during my work as an ecumenical accompanier in the West Bank.)

One such person, is the 18-year old Noam Gur who explains in frank words why she refuses to join the Israeli Army:

“I can’t take part in these crimes”: Israeli refuser interviewed.

I refuse to take part in the Israeli army because I refuse to join an army that has, since it was established, been engaged in dominating another nation, in plundering and terrorizing a civilian population that is under its control.

Israel, since it was established, is committing war crimes and crimes against humanity, from the Nakba [the forced displacement of 750,000 Palestinians in 1947-48] until today. We see this in the last massacre in Gaza, we see this in the everyday life of Palestinians under occupation in Gaza and the West Bank, and we see this in Palestinians living inside Israel in how they’re being treated.

I don’t think that I belong in this place. I don’t think I can personally take part in these crimes and I think that we have to criticize this institution, these crimes and go out publicly saying that we will not serve in the army as long as it occupies other people.

Since Noam announced her decision in public, others felt less alone and also refused military service on behalf of Israel. This is not an easy decision, as they all expect to go to prison for refusing to enlist in the Israeli army.

Alon Gurman, 18, from Tel Aviv had no doubt that he would enlist until he first went to the West Bank. During his last year in school, he started to educate himself on what happens in Palestine.

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Alon Gurman in Nabi Saleh (Anne Paq / Activestills)

“I started going to demonstrations thinking that while certain policies might be wrong, they can be changed, and changed from the inside, and so I went on with the pre-draft procedures as expected of me. Only after I went to the occupied territories did I realize that I could never be a part of the army. I saw house demolitions; I saw unbelievable levels of violence used against civilian protest, and all in the name of colonialism. I was especially traumatized when I was arrested in a demonstration in Al-Walaja, just as we were starting to disperse. The soldiers were my age, my peers, and I saw the effect of the service on them. You can’t be moral in an immoral situation.”

But what about those Israelis who did join the IDF?

Yigal Levin, 25, is far from your typical conscientious objector. Born in Ukraine, and growing up in Bat Yam, Levin was taught that a man’s role is to protect his family and homeland:

“I used to be a Mussolini-styled fascist, not the local kind of religious fascists who want the land because of some divine promise, but the kind who believes that the spoils go to the winner. I knew I would be an officer when I joined the army, and having snipers shoot at me in Gaza in 2005 made me even more of an extremist.”

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Yigal Levin (Oren Ziv / Activestills)

“Part of my ideology was that the state has to be wise, responsible, decent and protective. In Lebanon, I saw a war that started for no clear reason, where soldiers died in vain while also committing a massacre against the Lebanese.”

Levin says he witnessed officers raping their female subordinates, soldiers tormenting Sudanese refugees who crossed the border from Egypt, and during operation “Cast Lead” he was shocked to see the army bombarding the civilian population and setting Gaza aflame. These factors broke his faith in making a difference from within the ranks.

After the attack on Gaza, Levin finished his service, and inspired by Lev Tolstoy, he joined the Israeli Anarchist Communist Front and toured Ukraine and Germany with comrades. When he recently received an order to show up for his reserve service, he ignored it, and is thus now considered a deserter. Having heard of Gur and Gurman, he decided to turn himself in on the day of their refusal.

“The Israeli army is commonly considered to be ‘the people’s army’, an army of the people protecting the people, but in fact, the Israeli army is simply a bourgeois army – a tool in the hands of a small clique, which does not give a damn about the people… Not willing to remain a mere tool, a traitor, and a hypocrite, I decided to terminate my participation in it.”

(Information on Yigal and Alon from Ranjan Solomon, badayl.alternatives)

read more.

And then there is Michael whom I met in Jerusalem in 2011:

In conversation with Michael from Breaking the Silence – veteran Israeli soldiers who now wants the occupation to end.

We try  to convince our society (Israel) to end the occupation completely, and not as proposed in the past. We want to be completely equal. If you want Breaking the Silence to end, then start by talking to your kids.  There is still a lot of work to do.

Breaking the Silence is an Israeli organisation that was started in 2004 by veteran soldiers who wanted to talk about their experiences whilst serving in Palestine. By the end of 2011, they received testimonies from 800 soldiers. Breaking the Silence conducts photo exhibitions worldwide, they publish books and they take people on tours to see for themselves what happens in the occupied territories.

In my mind, the issue here is that what we do to others, also defines who we are.  So we should not ask ourselves “What system do I fit into?”  but rather “Who am I?”  and “What kind of world do I want to live in?” 

An ethical choice not based on fear requires emotional courage and maturity.  If one really wants a better world, it is possible.  We can each make a difference in the direction of the kind of freedom we choose: