By Joan Trevor
Six high-school students are being court-martialed in Israel for refusing the draft. Their defence rests on the idea that they are conscientious objectors (CO). If they are unsuccessful, they face long prison sentences.
Many such draft refusers have already sat in military jails for hundreds of days for the crime of refusing.
One of the six students is a pacifist, pure and simple, the others have refused to serve in the Israeli Defence Force because it is making life hell for Palestinians in the Occupied Territories. They are being supported by the Shministim (Hebrew for “high-school”) youth refusal movement.
So far, 320 girls and boys have signed the protest letter that Shministim has addressed to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon:
“When the elected government tramples over democratic values and the chances for a just peace in the region, we have no choice but to obey our conscience and refuse to take part in the attack on the Palestinian people. As youth about to be called to serve in the military we pledge to do all that we see fit so as not to serve the occupation. Some of us will refuse to serve beyond the green line, others will avoid military service in other ways—we view all these means as legitimate and necessary, and we call on other youth, conscripts, soldiers in the standing army, and reserve service soldiers to do the same.”
We urge readers to back the stand of these students and other ‘refusers’: make links with their organisations, write letters of support, raise funds.
Women refuse too
Men refuseniks in Israel get most attention because they are uniformly denied CO status and risk long prison sentences. Girls and women who refuse are usually—eventually—granted CO status. However, they still need support, and more information on how to refuse if they want to. One organisation providing this information is New Profile:
Israeli-Palestinian action for peace
From Gush Shalom
On 28 June 200 Israeli and Palestinian peace activists gathered in the city of Ramallah on the West Bank to attend the founding conference of the “Joint Action Group for Israeli-Palestinian Peace.”
Getting there had not been easy for Israeli participants, avoiding army roadblocks at the entrances to Ramallah. A few hours later, when they were exiting the city, soldiers wrote down names and ID numbers, threatening the Israelis on their way home with prosecution for having broken the military order forbidding Israelis from entering the Palestinian cities (“Area A”).
“We welcome the increasing move towards Hudna (cease-fire) and the chance to break the cycle of violence, bloodshed and killing of innocent Israelis and Palestinians—but a cease-fire can be no more than one step in the right direction. A stable and lasting peace cannot be achieved without putting a complete end to the occupation which is the root cause of the hatred and bloodshed. Leaders, politicians and diplomats cannot be relied on to do the job alone. There is needed a daily struggle for peace, a grassroots struggle, a joint struggle of committed citizens from both sides, acting together.” This statement summed up the aims of the organisation.
Uri Avnery mapped out a plan of action for the new body:
- setting up a committee of experts to prepare within three months a detailed draft peace agreement, dealing with all the difficult issues;
- a “Truth and Reconcilation Commission” on the model of the South-African body chaired by Bishop Desmond Tutu, with the ail of looking at the history of the past century and trying to formulate a version which both peoples can recognize;
- a joint media bureau, which would actively engage the Israeli, Palestinian and international media;
- an operations committee, charged with preparing demonstrations, campaigns and struggles, for example against the Separation Wall which is systematically depriving Palestinian of their lands, or against the roadblocks which severely disrupt daily life.
One of the tasks the organisation must perform, according to one of the organisers, Naim el-Ashab, is to “monitor the actual implementation of the roadmap, see to it that it does get to its official stated purpose—end of the occupation and creation of a viable Palestinian state which is the only way to achieve peace.”
Former Knesset Member Tamar Gozanski said: “Sharon and Bush are trying to sell old merchandise in a new packing. They both know that the great majority even of Israelis is weary of war, occupation and bloodshed. Both of them know that it is impossible even to contemplate a solution without talking of ‘creating a Palestinian state’.
“But their using this concept is emptying it of the original content. Sharon means to create Bantustans and call them a state. We have to start using new language, and take care to be very precise about what we mean and not give up for example on the ’67 borders.”