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Home arrow Blog arrow September 2008 arrow September 26, 2008

September 26, 2008
WAWA Blog September 26, 2008: Confirmation from SABEEL and HOPE from Jewish Peace News 
SABEEL is Arabic for The Way

[Emphasis mine]

Cornerstone
Summer 2008
A Sobering 60 Years
http://www.fosna.org/cornerstone/documents/CornerstoneIssue49.pdf

Does God Care for Labels?

On May 15, 2008, the Palestinians commemorated their Nakba while the Israelis celebrated their independence. The two sides are miles apart from reconciling their divergent history.

It was obvious that the Israelis were proud to celebrate 60 years of the establishment of their state while the Palestinians were mourning 60 years of tragedy. This is the enigma of history in the Middle East - the presence of tragedy and triumph, commemoration and celebration, Nakba (Arabic for catastrophe) and Atzma’oot (Hebrew for independence).

Those who celebrated paid no attention to those who mourned, and those who mourned are powerless to turn their lamentation into celebration. What exacerbated the pain of the mourners was that those who celebrated totally ignored and denied their Nakba.

We have been living in this paradox for the last 60 years. Let us stop for a moment and ask ourselves a theological question: how does God see the Palestinian Nakba and Israel’s Atzma’oot?

Liberation theology emphasizes that God takes a stand on the side of the poor and oppressed and against the powerful oppressors.

In this theology, the only labels that matter are those of oppressor and oppressed.

The labels cross over racial and national borders. Does it, therefore, matter to God whether one is a Jew, a Muslim, or a Christian? Does it matter whether one is Israeli and another is a Palestinian? Are such human made labels important to God?

I am sure there are believers in the various religions of the world who would argue vociferously that God started these labels and sees us through them. “This one is special and chosen and that one is not.” For other people, this can pose a dilemma. On the one hand, it is difficult to be emphatic. After all, is it not presumptuous of any of us to claim that he/she can speak for God?

On the other hand, is it not our duty to challenge any simplistic answers that come from fanatic religious fundamentalists?

I believe it is possible without pretentiousness and egotism to address difficult theological questions. Although God is aware of the many labels we wear, I do not believe that these labels are important to God.

Let me illustrate the absurdity of labels. Here in the Middle East each religious group has its own cemetery. There is one cemetery for Jews, another for Muslims, and another for Christians. In addition, we have one cemetery for each Christian denomination. It is considered scandalous when a person is buried in a different cemetery than his/her own denomination, let alone when the religious boundaries have been crossed. How ridiculous to think that God worries about such petty things?

Does it really matter to God?

I believe that God sees us all as human beings who are God’s creation. We are all God’s children. God sees us as members of one human family.

God looks at Iraq and says, “I am grieved because my children are at war.”

God looks at Palestine and Israel and says, “I am grieved because my children refuse to share the land and cannot live in peace with each other.”

I believe what matters to God is not the labels that we have invented be they the national, ethnic, racial, religious, social, etc. as much as the way we violate our own God-given humanity and the humanity of our fellow brothers and sisters.

Labels are useful when they are meant to make a reference to simple facts such as one’s nationality or racial origin. But when they are used to denigrate, separate, and classify people’s worth and discriminate among them, they become a curse and a crime.

It is hard to believe theologically that it really matters to God whether one is Israeli or Palestinian.

What matters is whether both live justly and mercifully together. It matters to God when one oppresses the other and fabricates schemes to kill and eliminate them. It matters to God when one side wants to celebrate its independence while forcing the other to live in poverty and deprivation. It matters to God when one side enjoys freedom and then denies it to the other.

What we must aspire for as humans is, therefore, to shed the residual waste of our tribal theology and culture and discover the true potential of our own humanity. When we reach that level, we realize that true celebration takes place whenever good has triumphed over evil in all of us and justice over injustice and truth over falsehood and love over hate.

When this happens our theology of God and our theology of human beings has come of age.

To celebrate one’s independence on the ashes of another people becomes a blasphemy and a sacrilege against God the creator of both and a profanity against our fellow human beings. It is an insult to God and it belittles the worth of man/woman.

So long as the Palestinians cannot share in the celebration, it is a shame for Israel to celebrate. We are still enslaved by a theology of a tribal warrior god and a humanity that is limited to vengeance. Such a tribal theology must be rejected and abandoned.

The God who attracts our loyalty and love is the God who breaks the labels that separate God’s children from one another, meeting us in the face of the other, even the so-called enemy, and presenting us with the possibility of living in peace together and in freedom and reconciliation.

As we move into the next decade and in anticipation of possible worse scenarios for our region, there are important points to keep in mind:

In the past, some Israeli leaders said regarding the Palestinian Nakba, “the older Palestinians will die and the new generation will forget.”

The Nakba memory is deeply embedded in the psyche of the Palestinians, in conscientious Jews, and in the hearts of many friends abroad.

Public opinion in the world is growing against Israeli intransigence. Oppressed people will ultimately gain their freedom. Sooner or later, Israel will have to grant liberation to the Palestinians. It is wiser if the Israelis initiate it themselves rather than being compelled to concede it.

Nonviolence movements in Palestine are beginning to take hold.

An increasing number of Palestinians are abandoning the armed struggle and showing a commitment to nonviolent resistance.

Israel’s violence has helped create not only the violence in Palestinians but equally nonviolence. Israel has pushed the Palestinians into nonviolence. This trend is growing in spite of Israel’s harsh reprisals.

What is happening in the West Bank will also happen in the Gaza Strip. It is only a matter of time. The movement towards nonviolence is inevitable. It seems that training in nonviolence which many groups throughout Palestine have had is bearing fruit and it will gain global support. This is a hopeful sign and it will contribute to the emergence of potential leaders.

Exile and return are two phenomena this part of the world is used to. No matter what Israel does, it cannot prevent the return. It can drag it out, it can slow it down, but it cannot prevent it. Israel needs to learn from its own Jewish history.

If Jews waited for 2000 years and did not forget the land; who would bet that the Palestinians will forget Palestine? The day will come when a Palestinian“Herzl” would rise and the Palestinians will find a way to return. It is better if Israel works with the international community to find how to achieve a resolution of this issue rather than to plot ominous schemes to expel the Palestinians.

Justice remains the issue.

For many years, Israel has created policies that would displace the Palestinians, deny them their rights, humiliate them, and force them to leave. It has invested billions of dollars to make life miserable for them so that they would emigrate. Israel has taken the shortest way to make itself insecure. The shortest way for the resolution of the conflict is the doing of justice in accordance with international law. All other schemes will not work in the long run. Justice is the only true foundation for peace.

Israel needs to listen to its modern-day prophets.

They are Jews from Israel as well as from abroad. They care about Israel, its security, and its survival. But they are in agreement that Israel today is on a self-destructive course. It must change. They are asking Israel to stop its injustice against the Palestinians. They are calling for a true sharing of the land with the Palestinians.

It is sad to observe that the voices of these prophets are not heard. The true prophets are those who know that true peace can only be built on the foundation of truth and justice.


Israel needs to confront the internal forces that continue the process of the Nakba. The Association for Civil Rights in Israel’s report “The State of Human Rights in Israel 2007” [http://www.acri.org.il/pdf/state2007.pdf] documents tragic statements and legislation by Jewish Knesset members against Arab Israelis including proposals for population transfer of the Arab citizens of Israel. Israel’s obsession with maintaining a Jewish majority and its fear of its Arab population together are breeding a culture of racism. Many fear that these incitements will lead to additional actions against citizens who already suffered in 1948. This racism and discrimination only perpetuates the sin of the Nakba of 1948.

With other courageous people, we continue to commit ourselves to speak truth to the powerful leaders.

Israel must change if it wants peace. I hope we do not have to wait for another decade to see that transformation happen.


Rev. Naim Ateek is the director of Sabeel Jerusalem






JPN editors have invited a guest editor, Haggai Matar, to introduce this posting, based on his experience as a longtime activist against the occupation, his stand and extended imprisonment as a Conscientious Objector, his extensive organizing work both as and with youth.

Recent developments in Israel, says Matar, reveal "a fascinating phase in a struggle between militarism and occupation on one side and, on the other, a civilian society" in Israel. His introduction then refers JPN readers to a selection of relevant recent items from alternative sources and mainstream press.



Three young Israeli women are being sent to prison this week. The three, members of the Shministim – a new group of Israeli teenagers openly refusing to enlist, are expected to serve several consecutive sentences in military prisons for taking this stand, amounting to several months in all, during which they will be joined by at least five of their friends. In their joint declaration, the first of the items below, the Shministim state that they "oppose the actions taken in the name of the 'defense' of the Israeli society" and "protest on the separation, control, oppression and killing policy held by the state of Israel [… which] will never lead us to peace". (To read more about the three girls sentenced this week and to learn what you can do to help see the second item hereunder).
 
In order to understand this new wave of declared conscientious objection one should step back and look at the dynamics of the draft refusal movement in Israel and its relation to local politics. From this perspective one can see two dominant patterns at play in the movement. The first, and perhaps more well known of the two, is that of responding to the State's use of extraordinary excess force in its wars and oppression campaigns against Palestinians. We've seen this happen during the First Intifada, during the Lebanon Wars, and during the intense first few years of the Second Intifada; young people facing the draft, alongside reserve service soldiers, realize that what they are being asked to do is in no way a form of serving their country or protecting it from a fierce external enemy, but rather an attempt by Israeli elites to continue to profit  from the lands, real estate, water supply and captive markets of the occupied Palestinian territories, also lowering Israelis' popular resistance to radical domestic neo-liberal reforms, through maintaining fear and external conflict. The waves of refusal aroused by these actions focus their stand on saying 'no' to the terrible war crimes committed in crushing the civilian Palestinian population and making its life intolerable, and 'yes' to viable alternatives to the cycles of violence. This was where I was coming from when along with many friends I refused to enlist in the bloody days of 2002.

The second pattern of declared refusal is that which arises at times of supposed peace, or peace processes. Such was the case in 1970, when few young soldiers-to-be called upon then PM Golda Meir to accept the Egyptian peace offer, and avoid another terrible war. The current wave of declared COs belongs to this kind. While Israeli media talks of ongoing negotiations and while acts of violence towards Israelis have come to a halt, it has become extremely and dangerously easy to forget, inside Israel and abroad, that the occupation has not ended. This new wave of Shministim is trying to remind the world that while we talk of peace, there is no reality of peace for Palestinians. Gaza is under siege and poverty-stricken. In the West Bank illegal settlements and the Apartheid Wall continue to grow and expand on Palestinian land. West Bank civilians, forced to live within increasingly smaller confines, need permits and encounter checkpoints in their every move. The western world currently sees no violence in Israel/Palestine because there are no or very few terrorist attacks targeting Israeli civilians, but at the same time Palestinians continue to be subjected to brutal daily terror. Not only is this not a reality of 'peace', it is also a status that, in the longer run, will necessarily escalate again into yet another round of violent military conflict. If the former pattern of refusal reacts to very visible violence and challenges it, the challenge of groups of the latter pattern is to bring to light the violence deep rooted in the mere existence of occupation. By refusing to enlist the young women and men of the Shministim are paying a personal price in order to get this message through to politicians and to the public and to demand an alternative.

Presenting such alternatives is not easy in Israel, though, especially when it comes to delicate issues like the mandatory draft. As the Israeli establishment promotes a glorifying notion of the army, presenting it as a "people's army" and a "ticket into society", many young people find themselves confused and afraid in facing the draft, and feel they have no one to turn to with questions. While the Shministim have already found their own answers, the majority of youths have no safe space for discussions, as almost all schools and many families place the basic imperative of the draft beyond discussion. Nevertheless, today, slightly over half of all Israelis do not serve as expected of them, and the numbers are gradually growing. While declared conscientious objectors who go to prison are but a tiny minority in this general movement, thousands of young people find alternative ways of avoiding military service each year. Their reasons are countless, varying from objection to the occupation, through religious motives, to a feeling of detachment from the State which no longer sees itself responsible for the social security of its citizens but still expects so much of them.

This massive movement of "grey refusal" is a cause of alarm to the militarized establishment, not so much because it lacks the manpower to enforce its policies, but because of the long term damage to the notion of a "people's army" which it tries to maintain. To counter this effect, the army, supported by politicians and like-minded civilians, is using many different tactics. In the past few years more and more threats have been made towards those avoiding service, implying social sanctions and denial of civilian and political rights. The army also targets those few who make their refusal known, and sentences them to long periods of prison. This persecution reached one of its heights in the army's decision to put me and my friends on a public court martial four years ago, sentencing us to some two years in prison.

Naturally, the tension between a movement of thousands who feel uneasy about accepting army service as an unquestionable given and the official stand on the matter creates an empty space. This space is filled by New Profile, an NGO of which I am a member, working for the last ten years on the demilitarization of society. Through weekly meetings of youth groups spread throughout the country and a yearly alternative summer camp, New Profile allows youths a safe haven for open discussions, offering many of them a unique chance to deal with "forbidden" issues extending far beyond military service to include, among others,  feminism, gender, sexual preference, capitalist globalization and the environment. The youth activity of New Profile contains a certain tension at it core. On the one hand – New Profile promotes the cancellation of the mandatory draft, and supports those who choose not to enlist. On the other hand – in its interactions with young people who are asking questions, who
are still unsure as to their plans, New Profile wishes not to encourage refusal but to offer youths a chance to think for themselves, without pressuring them one way or the other. This tension is in a way at the focal point of two articles published recently, the links to which are attached below. The first, from the Christian Science Monitor, deals with the Alternative Summer Camp (and has me speaking a little more in it), and the second, from the Jerusalem Post, is an in-depth piece on New Profile.

This complexity is not seen favorably by the establishment. A few months ago a petition was made to the High Court of Justice by an Israeli NGO promoting strict enforcement of the draft, demanding that New Profile be stripped of its NGO status because it incites draft-avoidance and refusal. While that petition is just in its initial stages, just last week the attorney general decided to launch a criminal investigation against New Profile, making similar accusations. Rela Mazali, one of the founders of New Profile and an active member since, edited last week's post on the subject (at http://jewishpeacenews.blogspot.com/2008/09/israel-state-war-on-youth.html).

To sum up, Israel is now facing a fascinating phase in a struggle between militarism and occupation on one side and, on the other, a civilian society in search of alternative ways of managing itself and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, ways unlike those offered us until now.

As a guest editor I would like to thank the regular JPN editors for inviting me write here, and especially to Rela Mazali who helped greatly in the process of writing itself.-Haggai Matar


The Shministim letter of 2008:

We, high-school graduate teens, declare that we shall work against the Israeli occupation and oppression policy in the occupied territories and the territories of Israel. Therefore we will refuse to take part of these actions, which are being done under our name as part of the IDF.

Our refusal comes first and foremost as a protest on the separation, control, oppression and killing policy held by the state of Israel in the occupied territories, as we understand that this oppression, killing and routing of hatred will never lead us to peace, and they are all contradictory to the basic values a society that pretends to be democratic should have.

All the members of this group believe in developing the value of social work. We are not refusing to serve the society we live in, but are protesting against the occupation and the ways of actions which the militaristic system holds as it is today- crushing civil rights, discriminating on a racial base and acting opposing international laws.

We oppose the actions taken in the name of the "defense" of the Israeli society (Checkpoints, targeted killing, apartheid roads-available for Jews only, curfews etc.) that serve the occupation and exploitation policy , annex more conquered territories to the State of Israel and tramples the rights of the Palestinian population in an aggressive manner. These actions serve as a band-aid covering a bleeding wound, and as a limited and temporary solution that will accelerate and aggravate the conflict further.

We expostulate the plundering and the theft of territories and source of income to the Palestinians in exchange to the expansion of the settlements, reasoning to defend Israeli territories. In addition, we oppose any transformation of Palestinian cities and villages to ghettos without minimal living conditions or income sources enclosed by the separation wall.

We also protest the humiliating and disrespectful behavior of the military forces towards Palestinians in the West Bank; violence towards demonstrators, public humiliations, arrests, destruction of property regardless to any safety or defense needs, all of which violate global human rights and international law.

The wall and blockades surround the Palestinian Territories and serve as a halter around the Palestinian's neck. The soldiers who commit crimes under the patronage and protection of their commanders reflect the image of the Israeli society; a destructive and surprising society that is incapable of accepting its neighboring nation as a partner and not as an enemy.

In order to hold an effective dialogue between the two societies, we, the well-established and stronger society, have the responsibility of establishing and strengthening the other. Only with a more socially and financially established partner could we work towards peace rather than one-sided retaliation acts. Rather than supporting those citizens who have hope for peace, the military cast sanctions and pushes more and more people towards acts of extreme violence and escalation.

We hereby challenge every citizen who wonders if the military's policy in the occupied territories is conducive to the progression of the peace process, to discover by himself/ herself the truth and to lift the veil which distorts the reality of the situation; to verify statistical data; to look for the humane side in him/her and in the society which stands in front of him/her, to disprove the myths that were routed within us regarding the necessity of the IDF's in the Palestinian Occupied Territories, and to stand up against every action which he finds irrational and illegal.

In a place were there are humans, there is someone to talk to. Therefore, we ask to create a dialogue that goes beyond the power struggle, the retaliation and one-sided attrition actions; to disprove the "No Partner" myth, which is leading to a lose-lose situation of an ongoing frustration, and to move to more humane methods.

We cannot hurt in the name of defense or imprison in the name of freedom; therefore we cannot be moral and serve the occupation


An e-mail circulated recently on the sentencing of the three young COs:

http://www.newprofile.org/showdata.asp?pid=1244

Three Objectors Sentenced for Refusal to Enlist
- Please distribute widely -
Dear Friends,

Yesterday morning, three women COs - Omer Goldman, Tamar Katz and Mia Tamarin - all signatories of the 2008 high school seniors refusal letter, reported at the military Induction Base and refused to enlist into the Israeli military (all three can be seen on the right, photographed by the media at the demonstration organized for the occasion). Of the three, Omer was sentenced to 21 days in prison on the same day. Tamar and Mia were both given a conditional sentence of 7 days in prison, kept in the Induction Base until this morning (23 Sept.), and then, upon refusing to enlist, were sentenced to five days of confinement to base. They should be tried again on Sunday. Apparently the military authorities are trying to avoid sending all three to prison together.

The three signatories of the same letter, on whose imprisonment we have reported last month have finished their first prison terms, and are now awaiting the decision of the military authorities in their cases. We will, naturally, update when there are any significant developments.

This update will focus on the case of Omer Goldman, who is in prison at the moment. Fuller updates on Tamar Katz and Mia Tamarin will follow once they are sentenced again, early next week.

CO Omer Goldman, 19, from the Tel-Aviv suburb of Ramat HaSharon, has been, as mentioned above, sentenced to 21 days in military prison on 22 Sept. Further terms of imprisonment might well follow after this one ends. In her declaration of refusal she stated:

I refuse to enlist in the Israeli military. I shall not be part of an army that needlessly implements a violent policy and violates the most basic human rights on a daily basis.

Like most of my peers, I too have not dared to question the ethics of the Israeli military. But when I visited the Occupied Territories I realized I see a completely different reality, a violent, oppressive, extreme reality that must be ended.

I believe in service to the society I am part of, and that is precisely why I refuse to take part in the war crimes committed by my country. Violence will not bring any kind of solution, and I shall not commit violence, come what may.

Omer is due to be released from prison on 10 Oct., although due to the Jewish High Holidays an earlier date of release is also possible. Her prison address (note the different surname, as listed in official documents) is:
Omer Granot
Military ID 5398532
Military Prison No. 400
Military Postal Code 02447, IDF
Israel
Fax: ++972-3-9579389

Since the prison authorities often block mail from reaching imprisoned objectors, we also recommend you to send your letters of support and encouragement to Omer via e-mail to , and they will be printed out and delivered to her during visits. You can also use the e-mail address to send support messages to Tamar and Mia. They're not in prison yet, but are kept against their will in a military compound, which is not that much different from prison, and could use some support.

In addition, you may want to follow some of our recommendations for action below.

Recommended Action
First of all, please circulate this message and the information contained in it as widely as possible, not only through e-mail, but also on websites, conventional media, by word of mouth, etc.

Other recommendations for action:

1. Sending Letters of Support
Please send Omer letters of support (preferably postcards or by fax) to the prison address above.

2. Letters to Authorities
It is recommended to send letters of protest on Omer's behalf, preferably by fax, to:
Mr. Ehud Barak,
Minister of Defence,
Ministry of Defence,
37 Kaplan St.,
Tel-Aviv 61909,
Israel.
E-mail: or
Fax: ++972-3-696-27-57 / ++972-3-691-69-40 / ++972-3-691-79-15

Copies of your letters can also be sent to the commander of the military prison at:
Commander of Military Prison No. 400,
Military Prison No. 400,
Military postal number 02447, IDF
Israel.
Fax: ++972-3-9579389
Another useful address for sending copies would be the Military Attorney General:
Avichai Mandelblit,
Chief Military Attorney
Military postal code 9605, IDF
Israel
Fax: ++972-3-569-43-70

It would be especially useful to send your appeals to the Commander of the Induction Base in Tel-HaShomer. It is this officer that ultimately decides whether an objector is to be exempted from military service or sent to another round in prison, and it is the same officer who is ultimately in charge of the military Conscience Committee:
Gadi Agmon,
Commander of Induction Base,
Meitav, Tel-HaShomer
Military Postal Code 02718, IDF
Israel.
Fax: ++972-3-737-60-52

For those of you who live outside Israel, it would be very effective to send protests to your local Israeli embassy. You can find the address of your local embassy on the web. Here is a sample letter, which you can use, or better adapt, in sending appeals to authorities on the prisoners' behalf:

Dear Sir/Madam,

It has come to my attention that Omer Goldman, Military ID 5398532, a conscientious objector, has been imprisoned for her refusal to perform military service, and is held in Military Prison No. 400.

The imprisonment of conscientious objectors such as Omer Goldman is a violation of international law, of basic human rights and of plain morals.

I therefore call for the immediate and unconditional release from prison of Omer Goldman, without threat of further imprisonment in the future, and urge you and the system you are heading to respect the dignity and person of conscientious objectors, indeed of all human beings, in the future.

Sincerely,

3. Letters to media in Israel and in other countries
Writing op-ed pieces and letters to editors of media in Israel and other countries could also be quite useful in indirectly but powerfully pressuring the military authorities to let go of the objectors and in bringing their plight and their cause to public attention.

Here are some contact details for the main media outlets in Israel:
Ma'ariv: 2 Karlibach St. Tel-Aviv 67132 Israel Fax: +972-3-561-06-14 e-mail:
Yedioth Aharonoth: 2 Moses St. Tel-Aviv Israel Fax: +972-3-608-25-46  
Ha'aretz (Hebrew):21 Schocken st.Tel-Aviv, 61001IsraelFax: +972-3-681-00-12
Ha'aretz (English edition):21 Schocken St. Tel-Aviv, 61001 Israel Fax: +972-3-512-11-56e-mail:
Israel Hayom: 2 Hashlosha St. The B1 Building Tel-Aviv Israele-mail:
Jerusalem Post:P.O. Box 81 Jerusalem 91000 Israel Fax: +972-2-538-95-27 e-mail: or

Radio (fax numbers):Kol-Israel +972-2-531-33-15 and +972-3-694-47-09
Galei Zahal +972-3-512-67-20 Television (fax numbers):Channel 1 +972-2-530-15-36 Channel 2 +972-2-533-98-09 Channel 10 +972-3-733-16-66   
We will continue updating on further developments.
Thank you for your attention and action,
Sergeiy Sandler – New Profile.



The Christian Science Monitor article about the summer camp:

http://www.csmonitor.com/2008/0827/p01s04-wome.html

A summer camp for political dissenters in Israel


By Danna Harman
The Christian Science Monitor
August 27, 2008 edition

talks with csmonitor.com's Pat Murphy about who works at and who attends a camp for conscientious objectors in Israel.

Latrun, Israel - Weeks before her scheduled conscription into the Israeli army, at a time when most other 18-year-olds were gearing up for mandatory service, Saar Vardi was in the forest – talking about pacifism.

One of a small group of Israeli conscientious objectors, Ms. Vardi spent her last days of summer at a unique camp – counseling others who might follow in her activist footsteps.

'A lot of us don't get why we should give up years, not to mention maybe our lives, for what seems like someone else's wars,' explained Vardi, a facilitator at Alternative Camp, a program for 15- to 19-year-olds outside Neve Shalom, a cooperative Israeli-Arab village. 'Here, we talk about options.'

On Monday, instead of reporting for duty, Vardi exercised her option to refuse service and, as expected, was promptly marched into jail.

While the camp is not billed as a conscientious objectors' gathering, the theme hung over the forest as thick as the smoke from the environmentally friendly cookers. Most of the 30-odd counselors were draft dodgers, deserters, or declared conscientious objectors who hoped to foster a greater understanding of their desire not to fight.

For the third year in a row, close to 100 campers gathered here to take part in seminars on subjects ranging from 'gender, sexuality, and alternative lifestyles,' to 'animal rights,' and 'the alternative history of the occupation.' And all this, between vegan meals and field trips to deserted Arab villages.

`No. We are not mainstream,' shrugged counselor Hagai Matar, a redhead with thick sideburns and a full beard, who was recently released after two years in jail for refusing to serve. 'But we are as much a part of the fabric of this country as anyone else,' he said. 'Israel is more conflicted and complicated than it may seem.'

Military service is mandatory in Israel – two years for females, three for males, and more if one volunteers for certain elite units or stays on as an officer. Afterwards, most Israeli men, and some women, are required to report for reserve duty every year until age 40, and sometimes beyond.

For most of Israel's 60 year history, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) was a sacred cow, and the need for everyone to serve in it – part of the national consensus. But cracks in that consensus are apparent.

'Until the 1980s resisting the draft was practically unheard of … but kids today are thinking differently than [they once were.] Today it is easier, in some circles, to justify not serving,' said Ofer Neiman, an activist from Yesh Gvul ('There Is A Limit'), a reservists' resistance movement established at the start of the Lebanon War in 1982. That war saw both the beginning and the peak of the phenomenon, with 3,500 people eventually signing a Yesh Gvul petition pledge not to serve – and 200 ultimately sitting in jail.

Since then, hundreds more have resisted the call to arms on moral grounds. Some refuse to serve in the occupied territories others refuse to serve at all. And while the vast majority of these objectors are reservists, the number of 18-year-old conscripts among their ranks has also grown, despite the general social stigma.

'The occupation is weighing down on everyone,' said camp counselor Tali Lerner, who spent nine months in the air force before deserting. Eventually released on medical grounds, she became active in New Profile, an antimilitary movement that helps those who don't want to serve. New Profile – the name is a play of words on the profiling system used by the military to sort recruits into units – is an Alternative Camp sponsor.

'Israelis grow up fed the idea that serving is our ultimate responsibility to the state,' said Ms. Lerner, shaking her shaved head. 'And here we offer a weeklong break from that collective narrative.'

Between 2005 and 2007, 42 draftees – both male and female – were recognized by a special military committee as conscientious objectors and given official exemptions. Dozens of others, who were not recognized as pacifists by the IDF, eventually went to jail for refusing the order to serve.

The number of objectors is relatively small, but also hard to verify, mainly because most do not go through the process of declaring themselves objectors but rather get out of serving by feigning physical or mental incompetence.

The IDF spokesman's office confirmed that 28 percent of 18-year-old men and 43 percent of the women did not join the army this year. The vast majority of those who are not drafted are ultra-Orthodox Jews – a large population that is legally exempt. Others are exempted on medical grounds, because they have low test scores, criminal records, or are living abroad. Israeli Arabs are also exempt from service, although they can volunteer.

'It's easier to lie and pretend you are nuts or get married or say you are religious or try to leave the country, but I wanted to take a moral stand,' said Vardi, whose request for a conscientious exemption was rejected because her political activities were not deemed pacifist. 'And if you go to prison, people listen to you.'

Vardi will remain in jail until Sept. 1, when she'll be asked again to serve her term in the IDF. If she refuses, the state is expected to give her another weeklong sentence. If she continues to defy the state, Verdi could remain behind bars anywhere from 42 days to two years. Six other young Israelis are expected to choose jail time over service later this month.

When asked why they don't take their protest a step further and leave the country, the counselors at Alternative Camp were taken aback.

'I refuse to see the policy of the government and military in the territories as the sum total of society,' said Mr. Matar. 'Israel is a part of who I am.'

'Leave? Why?' wondered Lerner. 'We all belong here. Now let's talk about what kind of 'here' we want.'

Jewish Peace News editors:
Joel Beinin
Racheli Gai
Rela Mazali
Sarah Anne Minkin
Judith Norman
Lincoln Shlensky
Rebecca Vilkomerson
Alistair Welchman

Jewish Peace News archive and blog: http://jewishpeacenews.blogspot.com

Jewish Peace News sends its news clippings only to subscribers. To subscribe, unsubscribe, or manage your subscription, go to http://www.jewishpeacenews.net


 
   
 
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The Paradoxical Commandments
by Dr. Kent M. Keith

People are illogical, unreasonable, and self-centered.
Love them anyway.

If you do good, people will accuse you of selfish ulterior motives.
Do good anyway.

If you are successful, you win false friends and true enemies.
Succeed anyway.

The good you do today will be forgotten tomorrow.
Do good anyway.

Honesty and frankness make you vulnerable.
Be honest and frank anyway.

The biggest men and women with the biggest ideas can be shot down by the smallest men and women with the smallest minds.
Think big anyway.

People favor underdogs but follow only top dogs.
Fight for a few underdogs anyway.

What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight.
Build anyway.

People really need help but may attack you if you do help them.
Help people anyway.

Give the world the best you have and you'll get kicked in the teeth.
Give the world the best you have anyway.

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The age of warrior kings and of warrior presidents has passed. The nuclear age calls for a different kind of leadership....a leadership of intellect, judgment, tolerance and rationality, a leadership committed to human values, to world peace, and to the improvement of the human condition. The attributes upon which we must draw are the human attributes of compassion and common sense, of intellect and creative imagination, and of empathy and understanding between cultures."  - William Fulbright



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Establishment of Israel
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