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?

Israeli strikes in Gaza destroy office of Hamas premier.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAmedia_29ebc6919dd74f69ad4b1c1ff51d929e_t607

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”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

Right-click here to download pictures. To help protect your privacy, Outlook prevented automatic download of this picture from the Internet.

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.”

Right-click here to download pictures. To help protect your privacy, Outlook prevented automatic download of this picture from the Internet.

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: