Contents: The Sir! No Sir! blog is an information clearing house, drawing on a wide variety of sources, to track the unfolding history of the new GI Movement, and the wars that brought the movement to life.
Where applicable, parallels will be drawn between the new movement and the Vietnam era movement which was the focus of the film Sir! No Sir!
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This article, by Tal Rabinovsky, was posted to ynetnews.com, July 21, 2009.
A week after activist group "Breaking the Silence" published testimonies of IDF soldiers who said they were urged by commanders to shoot first and worry later about sorting out civilians from combatants, the Rabbis for Human Rights organization called on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak to launch an external investigation into the army's conduct during the recent offensive in Gaza.
"Since February our organization, along with a number of other human rights groups, turned to Attorney General Menachem Mazuz a number of times and asked that he order an investigation (into the Gaza op)," said Rabbis for Human Rights Director Rabbi Arik Asherman on Tuesday.
"We regret that he chose not to do so while claiming that the military probes were sufficient."
The petition was also signed by authors Amos Oz and David Grossman, as well as by former leftist Knesset members Shulamit Aloni, Yossi Sarid and Naomi Chazan.
"There is no doubt that we have a right to defend ourselves, and there is no country in the world that would allow rocket attacks on its civilian population if it had the power to prevent them. We hoped the soldiers' testimonies would stir existential feelings (among Israelis) in the face of the military's denial," Rabbi Asherman said.
According to him, "there is no doubt that some of the soldiers who had testified were afraid to reveal their identity to the army, but 'Breaking the Silence' has already announced that it would ask the witnesses to reveal their identity in case an independent investigation is launched.
"They have all of the names and details; there's no censorship or anything of that nature; it's just a matter of preventing acts of revenge by certain elements," he said.
Several months have passed since the end of Operation Cast Lead in Gaza, and many israelis are still not aware of what really happened there. For lack of basic facts, we are forced to accept unconditionally the positions of the official bodies, which assure us that in spite of any doubts, the idF’s conduct was faultless and public accountability is uncalled for. this publication includes the testimonies of around thirty combatants who took part in the operation in early 2009. the testimonies that appear here were gathered over the past few months from soldiers who served in all sectors of the operation. the majority of the soldiers who spoke with us are still serving in their regular military units and turned to us in deep distress at the moral deterioration of the idF. although this publication does not claim to provide a broad, comprehensive review of all the soldiers and the units who carried out the operation, these narratives are enough to bring into question the credibility of the official IDF versions.
There are many significant gaps between the testimonies we gathered. These testimonies describe use of the ‘neighbor procedure’ and of white phosphorus ammunition in densely inhabited neighborhoods, massive destruction of buildings unrelated to any direct threat to israeli forces, and permissive rules of engagement that led to the killing of innocents. We also hear from the soldiers about the general atmosphere that accompanied the fighting, and of harsh statements made by junior and senior officers that attest to the ongoing moral deterioration of the society and the army. during the operation, the military rabbinate made its own contribution to these expressions when it introduced controversial religious and political interpretation under the auspices of the idF and with its blessing. Although certain features characteriz introducyed this operation as a whole, significant differences can be found among the various geographic areas and units. such variation is also addressed in this publication.
In the past few months, the idF spokesperson has gone to great lengths to prove that if there were any moral problems with the war at all, they were merely on the level of the ‘delinquent soldier,’ rather than a widespread, systemic issue. the stories of this publication prove that we are not dealing with the failures of individual soldiers, and attest instead to failures in the application of values primarily on a systemic level. the idF’s depiction of such phenomena as ‘rotten apple’ soldiers is a tactic used to place the responsibility solely on individual soldiers on the ground and to evade taking responsibility for the system’s serious value and command failures. the testimonies of the soldiers in this collection expose that the massive and unprecedented blow to the infrastructure and civilians of the Gaza strip were a direct result of idF policy, and especially of the rules of engagement, and a cultivation of the notion among soldiers that the reality of war requires them to shoot and not to ask questions.
This collection of testimonies offers a brief glance at Operation Cast Lead, and what occurred during the operation at the hands of the idF on behalf of israeli society. We believe that the existence of a moral society clearly requires a profound, honest discussion, of which the voice of soldiers on the ground is aninseparable part.
That this voice was missing from public discourse around the fighting in Gaza obliged us to hasten publication of these testimonies them. Because of time pressure and the complex process of verifying the testimonies, we are not able to publish here all the materials in our possession. the testimonies in this book are categorized by subject and appear in the exact language of the soldier speaking. Military terminology is explained in parentheses.
Those who break their silence in this publication describe in their testimonies how actions defined as anomalous yesterday become the norms of tomorrow, and how the emissaries of israeli society continue, along with entire the military system, to slide together down the moral slippery slope. this is an urgent call to israeli society and its leaders to sober up and investigate anew the results of our actions.
We would like to take this opportunity to thank our many volunteers and supporters who enabled the publication of this booklet on such short notice. Without their extensive assistance and support, this publication would not have reached your hands.
Some of you have already heard:
The attempt to criminalize New Profile, begun in September 2008 with the Israeli Attorney General’s announcement of a criminal investigation of the movement, has now been accelerated. On April 26th, a day before Israel’s Memorial Day, Israeli police produced a hyperbolic piece of political theater. As if facing down a dangerous organized crime “family”, they “raided” – to quote their press release – the homes of six activists in different parts of Israel, who were summoned for interrogation. Exploiting the ritual emotions of a day of mourning for military dead, this police action singled out and branded anti-militarist activists as non-members of the legitimate community, implying that they (we) are fair game.
New Profile issued a press release the same day and the US-based Jewish Voice for Peace followed up immediately with an urgent appeal for action.
The activists detained have meanwhile been released on bail under restraining orders; their personal computers currently remain impounded. As of this writing, police have summoned ten additional activists for interrogation.
In the paragraphs below, we provide our analysis of the government’s campaign of suppression along with our request for support. Your support and solidarity is deeply important to us. CONTEXT FOR THE TARGETING OF NEW PROFILE
The attempted criminalization of New Profile amounts to no less than a state war on youth. Rising numbers of young Jewish Israelis (as well as members of the Druze minority also subject to conscription) find themselves unable or unwilling to accept the over-used Israeli dictate: “There’s no other choice”. Despite the ongoing draft, more than half of all eligible Israelis no longer serve or complete their obligatory service in the military. Though Israeli law offers virtually no legal provision for Conscientious Objection, young people have found their own way to vote with their feet.
Officials initiated the New Profile investigation “because of growing concern at the defense establishment of a growing trend of draft evasion. In July 2007 Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi declared publicly that they would fight the trend.” (Ha’aretz, 4/27/2009). Clearly, it’s not New Profile that they’re worried about. New Profile is an easy, visible scapegoat through which they hope to sow fear and intimidate future draft resisters, whom they stigmatize as “shirkers”. The state has declared a war against the many thousands who openly resist or dodge the draft and refuse to place their bodies, their minds, their morality at the disposal of vision-less politicians.
Israel’s war on its youth is being fought within a broader context of spiraling repression of political dissent. Activists were detained by the hundreds for protesting Israel’s attack against Gaza last January, most of them Palestinian citizens of Israel, some of whom still remain in detention. Non-violent protesters against the land-gobbling dragon of Israel’s separation wall are regularly targeted by lethal fire. Weeks ago Bassem Ibrahim Abu Rahma of Bil’in was killed by soldiers, becoming the 18th Palestinian killed while protesting the separation barrier.
In most cases, the repressive measures applied to Jewish activists still bear no comparison, in terms of arbitrariness and brutality, to the means employed against Palestinians. And yet, the political theater of repression now being played out against New Profile is of great importance—
First, because every act of repression is important and should be resisted.
Second, because when it is applied to a group of relatively privileged, middle class, largely middle aged, feminists – it tends to be more visible to mainstream Israeli society, more easily exposing its fabric of lies and ludicrous, trumped-up charges, in turn allowing decent but uninformed people a concrete grasp of the reality of repression.
Third, because in the balance, yet again, lie the future of freedom and rights for everyone in Israel/Palestine.
Fourth, because what is at stake are the lives of Israeli youth against whom the state is waging this war.
Many of you have readily recognized the gravity of this turn of events and written us to express support and solidarity. You have also asked how to offer material help. Networks of sustained, resilient and persistent support-and-protest are vital for resisting and reversing the destructive anti-democracy now openly governing Israel/Palestine. We appreciate any small or large action you can take and truly need you, now and over the months and years to come. WHAT YOU CAN DO Here is a list of things you can do:
Join the appeal of Jewish Voice for Peace (see also the statement and form for sending letters of protest from War Resisters’ International).
Write a short letter of protest to Israeli officials; see list of officials and their contact information below.
Reach out to journalists from your community, provide them with material and suggest they interview New Profile activists in your local or national media. To coordinate interviews, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org .
Organize a parlor meeting or a community meeting to discuss, learn about and publicize the current escalation in Israel in the politicized use of police and courts as a means of gagging dissent—most brutally among Palestinian citizens of Israel (for instance, see here) and among Jewish peace activists;
Use technology to bring us to your meeting, via video (on “Skype” for instance) or conference call; this is a very effective method for us to communicate with you and your group directly.
Write a short letter of protest to Israeli media, in your own language or in Hebrew if you’re able. See list of media contacts, below. Please send us copies of anything you write and any answers you receive to: email@example.com
Distribute our Press Release and the appeal from Jewish Voice for Peace among friends, family, acquaintances, other activists, at work places, community centers, schools, colleges, activist groups and ask people to disseminate them further.
This article, by Gideon Levy, was posted to Haaretz, May 4, 2009.
Yitzhak Laor, our best protest poet, may soon face arrest. On Independence Day eve he published a poem in Haaretz's literary supplement with the lines: "Perhaps shame prevents me from getting up to embrace my son / And warning him of those who want to enlist him." Arresting Laor for having written such lines may sound like fiction, but something similar has already happened. Last week nine activists from New Profile, a feminist-pacifist organization formed in 1998 that aims to demilitarize Israeli society, were arrested on suspicion of incitement and assisting draft dodgers. The police raided their homes and confiscated their computers. The military advocate general requested the raid, the attorney general obliged and the police carried it out.
The public reacted to the raid with typical indifference; it came just as we were busy enjoying the cheesy Independence Day holiday, complete with songs of self-praise about Israel being the only democracy in the Middle East. But a democracy that raids the homes of political activists is no democracy. Democracies are tested by how they treat the fringes of society.
Locking up three and a half million Palestinians in the occupied territories and denying them basic human rights has already undermined Israel's pretentions of democracy, but now dangerous cracks are appearing in our Jews-only democracy. They aren't new - they first appeared in the early years of independence - and now they're back. Those who make light of the recent arrests may soon find themselves dealing with a new regime instead of New Profile.
New Profile is a legally registered association that believes it's possible to live in a state that "doesn't consist of soldiers." That's its right, perhaps even its duty. "We do not encourage, incite or preach in favor of draft dodging," Smadar Ben-Natan, the organization's lawyer, wrote in a letter to the deputy attorney general after the raid. "We offer a stage where ideological questions concerning objections to serving in the army [are raised], and offer information and support to anyone interested."
Last year, when an organization with the sickening motto "a true Israeli doesn't dodge the draft" was founded, New Profile responded with another: "Think before you're drafted." Yes, it's okay to think before you enlist, even in Israel. Yes, you're allowed to think that military service in an army turned into an army of occupation is immoral. Yes, you don't have to want to become a soldier automatically, even in Israel. And you can even support someone who believes that way.
New Profile isn't the first movement to deal with the issue of refusing to enlist. It was preceded by other left-wing movements, as well as some from the right. After Israel's pullout from Gaza, the right also began preaching against enlisting in the army. But no right-wing rabbi has been arrested, no computer confiscated.
The hunting season on New Profile exposes a double standard in the way the legal authorities treat the left and right, a standard all too common. Protesters against the separation fence in the West Bank town of Bil'in are routinely shot at, sometimes fatally. But the Israel Defense Forces has never shot and killed settlers during a protest, even though they are much more violent than anti-fence protesters. (In Bil'in, even High Court decisions are ignored.)
The police have limited the activities of the leftist organization Anarchists against the Wall and raided the homes of its members. At a time when fascist-like crusades against artists who did not serve in the army are considered normal, it might be good to remember that a quarter of army-aged young people in Israel receive the army's permission not to enlist, claiming that Torah is their craft.
It's time we appreciated opinionated youths - from the left and right - who decide not to serve in the army for ethical reasons and are willing to pay the price of their convictions. The IDF is strong enough without them. Israel is strong enough to tolerate those who think differently, even subversively. Maybe in due time they will be praised as the true heroes of our time.
Words don't kill, but police raids on political activists undermine our legal and moral basis. We must not keep quiet over the raid. Those who are silent now should not be surprised if one day they wake up and see the police outside the home of a poet whose message is forbidden.
This report was published by the Heral Sun (Australia), February 23, 2009
ISRAEL has ordered hundreds of Palestinians to leave their homes in annexed east Jerusalem, warning their houses are illegal, officials and residents said today.
"The owners of 80 houses in the al-Bustan neighbourhood have received eviction notices saying that the structures will be destroyed because they are illegal," said Hatem Abdel Kader, an official responsible for Jerusalem affairs in the Palestinian government.
He said 1500 people were living in the threatened houses in the neighbourhood abutting the Old City.
He said several of the houses served with demolition orders were built before 1967, when Israel captured east Jerusalem from Jordan during the Six Day War but numerous extensions have been built since.
"The (Jerusalem) municipality used this as a pretext to issue the demolition orders despite appeals by the residents," he said.
No comment was immediately available from the city authorities.
Mr Abdel Kader said: "For the first time, the municipality offered (those affected) relocation to the neighbourhood of Shufat" in the north of the city's Arab eastern sector.
But he said the move still "amounts to a transfer of population from central Jerusalem".
"The reason (for the notices) is not legal, but political," he said. "Israel wants to create a demographic disequilibrium in the city."
A resident of the neighbourhood, Mahmud al-Abbas, said he received a demolition notice after failing to get a building permit from the Israeli authorities.
"I built my house a year-and-a-half ago," he said. "I asked for a permit but never received authorisation."
Israel, which considers the whole of Jerusalem its "eternal, undivided" capital, rarely grants building permits to Arab residents of east Jerusalem, which the Palestinians want to make the capital of their promised state.
According to the Israeli B'Tselem human rights organisation, Israeli authorities have demolished about 350 houses in east Jerusalem since 2004, saying they were built without permits.
This article was sent to Debbie Ducro, a American-Jewish journalist with the Kansas City Jewish Chronicle. She published it, and was fired the next day. (Submitted by David Zeiger, February 10, 2009)
Quest for justice
By Judith Stone
I am a Jew. I was a participant in the Rally for the Right of Return to Palestine. It was the right thing to do.
I've heard about the European holocaust against the Jews since I was a small child. I've visited the memorials in Washington, DC and Jerusalem dedicated to Jewish lives lost and I've cried at the recognition to what level of atrocity mankind is capable of sinking.
Where are the Jews of conscience? No righteous malice can be held against the survivors of Hitler's holocaust. These fragments of humanity were in no position to make choices beyond that of personal survival. We must not forget that being a survivor or a co-religionist of the victims of the European Holocaust does not grant dispensation from abiding by the rules of humanity.
"Never again" as a motto, rings hollow when it means "never again to us alone." My generation was raised being led to believe that the biblical land was a vast desert inhabited by a handful of impoverished Palestinians living with their camels and eking out a living in the sand. The arrival of the Jews was touted as a tremendous benefit to these desert dwellers. Golda Meir even assured us that there "is no Palestinian problem".
We know now this picture wasn't as it was painted. Palestine was a land filled with people who called it home. There were thriving towns and villages, schools and hospitals. There were Jews, Christians and Muslims.
In fact, prior to the occupation, Jews represented a mere seven per cent of the population and owned three per cent of the land.
Taking the blinders off for a moment, I see a second atrocity perpetuated by the very people who should be exquisitely sensitive to the suffering of others. These people knew what it felt like to be ordered out of your home at gun point and forced to march into the night to unknown destinations or face execution on the spot. The people who displaced the Palestinians knew first hand what it means to watch your home in flames, to surrender everything dear to your heart at a moment's notice. Bulldozers levelled hundreds of villages, along with the remains of the village inhabitants, the old and the young. This was nothing new to the world.
Poland is a vast graveyard of the Jews of Europe. Israel is the final resting place of the massacred Palestinian people. A short distance from the memorial to the Jewish children lost to the holocaust in Europe there is a levelled parking lot. Under this parking lot is what's left of a once flourishing village and the bodies of men, women and children whose only crime was taking up needed space and not leaving graciously. This particular burial marker reads: "Public Parking".
I've talked with Palestinians. I have yet to meet a Palestinian who hasn't lost a member of their family to the Israeli Shoah, nor a Palestinian who cannot name a relative or friend languishing under inhumane conditions in an Israeli prison. Time and time again, Israel is cited for human rights violations to no avail. On a recent trip to Israel, I visited the refugee camps inhabited by a people who have waited 52 years in these 'temporary' camps to go home. Every Palestinian grandparent can tell you the name of their village, their street, and where the olive trees were planted. Their grandchildren may never have been home, but they can tell you where their great-grandfather lies buried and where the village well stood. The press has fostered the portrait of the Palestinian terrorist. But the victims who rose up against human indignity in the Warsaw Ghetto are called heroes. Those who lost their lives are called martyrs. The Palestinian who tosses a rock in desperation is a terrorist.
Two years ago I drove through Palestine and watched intricate sprinkler systems watering lush green lawns of Zionist settlers in their new condominium complexes, surrounded by armed guards and barbed wire in the midst of a Palestinian community where there was not adequate water to drink and the surrounding fields were sandy and dry. University professor Moshe Zimmerman reported in the Jerusalem Post (30 April, 1995), "The [Jewish] children of Hebron are just like Hitler's youth."
We Jews are suing for restitution, lost wages, compensation for homes, land, slave labour and back wages in Europe. Am I a traitor of a Jew for supporting the right of return of the Palestinian refugees to their birthplace and compensation for what was taken that cannot be returned?
The Jewish dead cannot be brought back to life and neither can the Palestinian massacred be resurrected. David Ben Gurion said, "Let us not ignore the truth among ourselves...politically, we are the aggressors and they defend themselves...The country is theirs, because they inhabit it, whereas we want to come here and settle down, and in their view we want to take away from them their country...".
Palestine is a land that has been occupied and emptied of its people. Its cultural and physical landmarks have been obliterated and replaced by tidy Hebrew signs. The history of a people was the first thing eradicated by the occupiers. The history of the indigenous people has been all but eradicated as though they never existed. And all this has been hailed by the world as a miraculous act of God. We must recognise that Israel's existence is not even a question of legality so much as it is an illegal fait accompli realised through the use of force while supported by the Western powers. The UN missions directed at Israel in attempting to correct its violations of have thus far been futile.
In Hertzl's 'The Jewish State' the father of Zionism said: "We must investigate and take possession of the new Jewish country by means of every modern expedient." I guess I agree with Ehud Barak (3 June 1998) when he said, "If I were a Palestinian, I'd also join a terror group." I'd go a step further perhaps. Rather than throwing little stones in desperation, I'd hurtle a boulder.
Hopefully, somewhere deep inside, every Jew of conscience knows that this was no war; that this was not G-d's restitution of the holy land to it's rightful owners. We know that a human atrocity was and continues to be perpetuated against an innocent people who couldn't come up with the arms and money to defend themselves against the western powers bent upon their demise as a people.
We cannot continue to say, "But what were we to do?" Zionism is not synonymous with Judaism. I wholly support the rally of the right of return of the Palestinian people here.
This article was published by Agence France Presse, January 25, 2009
JERUSALEM (AFP) – US peace envoy George Mitchell will find a region in disarray when he arrives this week on his first visit to try to cement a fragile ceasefire between Israel and Hamas militants.
The Jewish state is busy with an election campaign and the Palestinians are divided more deeply than ever in the wake of the deadly three-week Gaza war.
Mitchell is due to meet Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas in Ramallah on Wednesday to review "how to relaunch the Israeli-Palestinian peace process," an official said.
But Abbas is a weakened figure whose writ no longer runs in the Gaza Strip where the Islamist Hamas movement retains power, despite the Israeli army assault that left more than 1,300 dead.
Abbas faces a battle with Hamas, which has declared victory in surviving the Israeli offensive, just to control international relief efforts. His calls for a Palestinian unity government have gone unheeded.
And Israel's leading parties are squabbling over who is best placed to work with US President Barack Obama and his "aggressive" push for peace.
Mitchell is to arrive in Israel on Tuesday night and hold talks over the following two days.
Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni charged that a government led by election favourite Benjamin Netanyahu could cause a "clash" with the United States.
"Israel and the United States can head toward full cooperation over common goals such as fighting terror, stopping Iran and Hamas and Hezbollah," she said.
"Israel and the United States can also reach a clash. It depends who will be here. If whoever is here stops the peace process and thinks that the world will be with him, will find himself in a head-on collision with the United States in 20 seconds."
Deputy prime minister Haim Ramon added his own warning: "Anyone who today wants to continue the settlements and annexe all the (occupied) territories will bring a major catastrophe on Israel.
"All that will cause a confrontation not just with the United States but the whole world," he said.
Livni leads the ruling centre-right Kadima party for the February 10 ballot which pollsters are predicting will result in a coalition government of Netanyahu's Likud, the far-right Yisrael Beitenu and conservative Jewish religious parties.
A Likud party official scoffed at Livni's comments.
"She is under pressure, because the polls predict that Kadima will lose. Benjamin Netanyahu is the best placed Israeli leader to handle our relations with Washington and defend Israel's interests," he said.
Netanyahu had already tried to cool fears of a drift to the far-right, saying: "If I win the elections, I won't form an extreme right wing government."
To add to the complications, Kadima Prime Minister Ehud Olmert faces corruption charges and is standing down from politics at this election.
But Mitchell, an Arab-American, is no stranger to the challenges of the six-decade Israel-Palestinian conflict.
He led a fact-finding mission into the causes of the 2000 second intifada or Palestinian uprising against occupation. The 2001 Mitchell report called for a halt to all violence and a freeze of Israeli settlements on Arab territory.
Obama appointed the 75-year-old on Thursday and dispatched him to the region to ensure a "durable" and "sustainable" ceasefire in Gaza after Israel's offensive.
Israel and Hamas declared unilateral ceasefires on January 18 and Israel completed its withdrawal from the territory on January 21.
However Israel has warned it will not hesitate to bomb the strip again if arms smuggling resumes and Hamas, which retains the capacity to send rockets to southern Israel, has demanded that the Gaza borders be fully open.
Mitchell arrives while both sides are negotiating in Egypt to try to consolidate the ceasefire.
On the ground in Gaza, residents were still picking through rubble, with major reconstruction efforts blocked because of closed borders.
Israel has kept the crossings shut, saying it will cooperate with rebuilding efforts only if Hamas, which Israel brands a terror outfit, does not control them.
War damage is estimated at 1.9 billion dollars (1.4 billion euros).
This article, by Maya Lecker, was published in ynet news.com, January 20,2009
An IDF officer was arrested on Monday for refusing to take part in Operation Cast Lead.
Noam Livneh, a lieutenant in an Engineering Corps' reserves unit, told Ynet prior to his arrest that he had also refused to serve in the West Bank city of Nablus some eight years ago for "ethical reasons".
"I received an emergency draft order two weeks ago, and when I reported for duty I told the company commander that I refuse (to serve in Gaza) for ethical reasons," Livneh recounted.
"I left at the end of the day and told my commanders to call if they needed me. Later I received a phone call saying I have been declared AWOL. I told them I was standing behind my statement."
Asked to lay out the reasons for his refusal to participate in the fighting, Livneh said "has Israel explored all the other possibilities before resorting to violence? The answer is no. Israel is bombing one of the most densely populated areas in the world and is killing women and children while preventing their evacuation.
"I hear reports of infants dying in the arms of their dead mothers; sick people who are not receiving treatment; people living without the most basic supplies. This is a humanitarian disaster," he said.
According to Livneh, the IDF generally elects not to deal with insubordinate soldiers in order to strengthen its claim that the phenomenon is negligible. The group "Courage to Refuse" was also surprised by Livneh's arrest, saying that such measures are rare.
'Betraying all of my beliefs'
Another soldier who refused to fight in Gaza, Staff-Sergeant (Res.) Yitzhak Ben-Muha, said he was transferred to another company. "I waited at the base for two days until they told us that our job was to pitch tents for the fighting forces. I refused and was sent home the following day," he said.
Ben-Muha said he does not consider himself a pacifist and understands the importance of a strong army. "However," he said, "this army should defend – not attack and conquer." According to him, the army's policy in the past few years has been not to put insubordinate soldiers on trial so as not to stir controversy.
Jerusalem resident Maya Yehieli, 19, was set to be recruited last week but refused for "moral reasons" following the launching of the military offensive in Gaza.
She was sentenced to 14 days in a military prison, but was eventually released to her home because the prison was overcrowded.
"Bombing Gaza won't bring security to Israel's southern region," she said, "I would be betraying all of my beliefs by joining a conquering army," she said.
David Zonenschein of "Courage to Refuse" said that as opposed to Operation Defensive Shield (in the West Bank), when some 100 insubordinate soldiers were put on trial, "currently most of these cases end with a talk with the company commander".
The IDF Spokesperson's Unit said in response that "all cases of insubordination and defection during times of war are dealt with harshly. Noam Livneh is under arrest, and, following an investigation, the Military Police's recommendations will be turned over to the Military Advocate General's office for review."
This article, by Jess Rosenfeld, was published in Haaretz, January 21,2009
I had just returned to Tel Aviv from a demonstration in the West Bank village of Ni'lin last July, when I caught word that the Israeli military had shot 11-year old Ahmad Musa in the head during a protest against the separation wall. Twenty minutes later, three Israeli anarchists and I were speeding back to the West Bank to see what had happened.
Soon we were again in the West Bank, where Israeli suburban-like settlements interrupt Palestinian farmland and villages. Apart from the occasional phone call by the activists to spread the word, we drove mostly in a stifling silence of despair.
As we were waved through a military checkpoint by an Israeli soldier with an M16 dangling carelessly around her neck, activist Yonatan Pollack kicked the glove compartment. "Fucking child killers," he spat out.
On November 7, Haaretz reported that the army had requested that the Shin Bet - Israel's domestic spy network and internal security service - provide information on left-wing Israeli activists traveling to the West Bank.
The stated goal was to make it easier for the army to issue restraining orders to prevent the activists from entering.
Since the beginning of the anti-wall campaign in Ni'lin last May, village residents have been joined by Israeli and international activists in non-violent attempts to block the army's bulldozers.
At the same time, the youth in the town have responded to the army's use of tear gas, rubber bullets and live ammunition with stone throwing. Their collective effort has created heavy delays in construction, and the wall - scheduled for completion last June - is still unfinished.
The struggle has not only generated robust participation by Israel's small radical left, it has also regalvanized the military refusal movement after two years of relative quiet.
Inspired by the resistance of Ni'lin villagers and horrified by the brutality Israel has used to repress the village uprising, the "refuseniks" - as they are locally known - are back in the news.
"If the army backs off in Ni'lin it will be an example to the refusal movement and Israeli society. It will show that the army can't break us," explains Omer Goldman, a Ni'lin solidarity activist who went to military prison this past September at age 19 for refusing to enlist on her conscription date.
Because military tribunals usually hand out numerous consecutive small sentences for refusal rather than dealing with drawn out public trials, Goldman received a second sentence immediately following her first.
Army service is compulsory for all 18-year-old Jewish and Druze Israelis, with men serving three years and women two, and it has long been seen as a sacred cow in Israeli society. The refusenik movement first emerged during Israel's invasion of Lebanon in 1982 and was re-launched at the height of the second Intifada with a refusal letter of 200 high-school graduates in 2001.
The refuseniks have now been thrown back into the national spotlight following the imprisonment of five Israeli draft dodgers - including Goldman last August and September. The jailings began after an open letter from graduating high school students refusing to enlist was published in the August 15 edition of Yedioth Aharonoth. Over 60 high-school students signed the letter, declaring their intention to evade conscription, once again taking aim at Israel's 41 year occupation of the West Bank and Gaza.
"Our refusal comes first and foremost as a protest of the separation, control, oppression and killing policy held by the State of Israel in the occupied territories," reads the published letter that was also sent to both IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi and Defense Minister Ehud Barak.
"We cannot hurt in the name of defense or imprison in the name of freedom; therefore we cannot be moral and serve the occupation," concludes the letter.
Goldman, whose father was a deputy head of the Mossad foreign intelligence agency, echoes the sentiment. I first met her hiding out in a Ni'lin medical clinic as the army invaded the village spraying live bullets.
As we sit in a trendy Tel Aviv cafe talking about both her political influences and activist experiences, it becomes clear that what drives the admirer of the 1968 Paris student revolt is both philosophical and visceral: she refuses to participate in what she has seen the military do in Ni'lin and rejects what the army represents.
"Ni'lin's [struggle] is a window that shows an example of Israeli-Palestinian solidarity," Goldman explains.
It is a perspective that grinds against the Israeli mainstream. For Defense Ministry spokesman Sholomo Dror, the issue of military refusal is one of a small minority of Israelis breaking the law and not fulfilling their national obligations.
Dror argues that Israelis have a "democratic" responsibility to serve in the state's armed forces.
"If you want to oppose the government's policies, then serve in the army and oppose the policies afterwards," he says in a phone interview from his Tel Aviv office. "I don't think serving in the army is violating people's rights."
According to Dror, refuseniks represent a fringe movement that poses no real threat to the military or challenge to Israeli society. "We have more people volunteering for elite unit enlistment being turned down," he says. The war on draft dodging
Despite this claim, Defense Ministry statistics show that 25 percent of Israeli's avoided military service in 2007. While 11 percent of those were exempt for religious reasons, the majority falls into what is commonly referred to as "grey refusal." This category refers to those exempt for mental or physical health reasons, or marriage, in the case of women.
In response to these statistics, Defense Minister Barak and IDF Chief Ashkenazi called for a "war on draft dodging" - an operation to publicly shame those avoiding service.
A vigorous television and billboard campaign was launched across Israel last year, under the slogan "A real Israeli doesn't evade the army."
The ads featured a group of Israelis on a post-army tour of India - a rite of passage so popular it has almost become a social institution - trying to impress a group of Swedish travelers with tales from the battlefront. The Israeli who avoided military service is the one who doesn't end up with a beautiful blond.
Following publication of high school refusenik's open letter, Attorney General Menachem Mazuz last September launched a criminal investigation into the New Profile organization - which provides support and information for people planning on or actively refusing military service.
Haaretz reported then that the inquiry into whether the organization was guilty of "incitement to draft dodging" was launched in the wake of a February request by the military.
The "incitement to draft dodging" law has never before been investigated, but New Profile organizer Haggai Matar said the group is careful to ensure that all its work is legal.
"We are trying to offer an alternative to Israel's security discourse, to ask who's secure and whose security we are talking about," he explains. "We argue that perhaps we should talk about a different kind of security - social security, equality and security from needing."
During our chat after a refusenik demonstration at a Tel Aviv military base, Matar talks about the importance of the support he received from New Profile during his own army refusal in 2001. The bushy-bearded, strawberry blond radical was a leader in the first high school refusal letter of the Second Intifada, faced a high profile public trial for rejecting enlistment and spent two years in jail as a result. The case is now taught as precedent in law schools across Israel.
"New Profile helped me a lot when I was refusing, and therefore, all I can do is offer the support that I got," Matar smiles.
He is part of a small minority of the 25 percent of Israelis who avoid the draft by publicly opting out. Public refusal continues to receive prominent national attention and vicious social backlash.
Like Goldman and Matar, refusenik, Sahar Vardi, received national media coverage when she was jailed for the first time on August 25 for refusing her military induction.
"I'm going to tell the recruitment officer that I'm not serving because of the occupation," Vardi said, just before entering the Tel Aviv military base for new conscripts. "I've seen Palestinian kids get shot and beaten by the army in the West Bank and this is something that I'm not going to be a part of." She seemed calmed and defiant, wearing a "courage to refuse" t-shirt with the graphic of a broken M-16.
In spite of facing both jail time and public backlash for their actions, refusenik activists are headstrong in their determination.
On December 18, the refuseniks rallied in front of Defense Ministry base in Tel Aviv - which also serves as a central army base - to present to Barak 20, 000 letters of international support calling for the release of jailed draft dodgers and commending their actions.
The action was organized by a coalition of Israeli and American anti occupation groups supporting military refusal, with most of the letters coming from supporters in the United States.
The crowed of 150 chanted "from Iraq to Palestine, choose refusal, stop the crimes," while several draft dodgers attempted to deliver the 20,000 letters. They were stopped by police, at the gate of the base.
"They're the army, they don't deal with these sort of things," said a police officer preventing the delivery of letters.
Since the beginning of Israel's offensive on Gaza three weeks ago, the refuseniks have been furiously organizing anti-war action, demonstrating at army bases and joining in mass demonstrations demanding an end to the war.
For many Palestinians, especially activists in Ni'lin, Israeli military refusal is an important act of solidarity for joint struggle against occupation.
"Despite being a small part of Israeli society, [the refuseniks] give us hope that even inside Israel there are people who are really rejecting occupation," says Hindi Mesleh, an energetic 25-year old activist with Ni'lin's popular committee who regularly engages with Israeli solidarity activists. His family is currently fighting to save their own farmland from being confiscated by the separation wall.
Mesleh speaks about the refuseniks with same glint of the admiration that comes out when discussing Palestinian prisoners. "It's hard for Palestinians to conceive of someone serving on a checkpoint one day and going to demonstrate in Ni'lin the next," he explains, two weeks after Musa's death.
According to eyewitness reports, Musa was fatally wounded by an M-16 sticking out of a rifle slit at the back of an Israeli jeep, as he turned to flee troops. His corpse in the Ramallah morgue, with his skull split diagonally in two on the cold metal table, corroborate his cause of death.
The anger that arose in response to the shooting was exacerbated at his funeral the next day when 17-year old Youseph Amira was killed by two rubber bullets to the head during a checkpoint clash.
That day in July, as we arrived in Ni'lin on the eve of Musa's funeral, Pollack jumped out of the car and walked towards the barricade lines, hugging the store front walls to avoid the army's rubber bullets.
Evaluating the situation, he turned to group of local children, and asked them in Arabic what needed to be done.
This article was published in The National (United Arab Emirates), January 26, 2009
George Mitchell will travel to Jerusalem this week amid a tense ceasefire in the Gaza Strip and a fierce electoral battle in Israel. As Barack Obama’s Middle East envoy, a role he held under the Clinton administration, he will seek to bolster the tenuous ceasefire and set the stage for a renewed push for peace. In anticipation of Mr Mitchell’s visit, the rhetoric from Israel’s myriad political parties is focused on the stagnant peace process. With the exception of some far right parties, each is portraying their candidates as the best suited to work with the Obama administration for peace.
Anyone who follows the seemingly impenetrable world of Israeli politics will not find any of this novel. What is new is the increasingly vocal and unified push from Arab nations, led by Saudi Arabia, for the peace process to be put on a more productive track. The move comes as a result of a rare show of unity at the inaugural Arab Economic Summit in Kuwait in response to Israel’s deadly assault on Gaza and the failure of the United States or the international community to stem the slaughter.
The core of the Saudi-led diplomatic push is the Arab Peace Initiative. The plan envisions a grand bargain for Middle East peace. It calls for Israel to withdraw to borders demarcated in 1967, a Palestinian state with a capital in East Jerusalem and a resolution to the Palestinian refugee situation. In return, the Arab world offers full diplomatic relations and a formal end to the 60 years of conflict, ostensibly opening a massive regional market for Israeli goods and services. For a country that relies heavily on the tourism industry, this is no small offer.
However, the initiative has struggled to gain traction. It was not until support for the plan was reaffirmed in 2007 that the Arabs began to receive a tentative positive response from Israeli politicians. Both the defence minister, Ehud Barak, and the president, Shimon Peres, have shown interest in negotiating a deal based on the Arab Peace Initiative.
But in the wake of the Gaza assault Arab governments are finding it increasingly difficult to justify dialogue with an Israeli state that appears to pay little more than lip service to peace. The difficulty facing the Arab leadership is convincing Israel that opening relations with perceptively hostile neighbours is in its best interest, a difficult task when Israelis are not the ones doing most of the dying. Short of a sudden outbreak of altruism in Israel’s halls of government, there is little to indicate that the country will change its policy of delay tactics in any peace talks.
Instead the Arab world must focus its diplomatic efforts on the US. Despite perceptions in this region that the US and Israel are inseparable allies, an image bolstered by the Bush administration, the US has interests in the Middle East that rely heavily on Arab support. The country’s efforts in Iraq, Iran and even Afghanistan would suffer should its relations weaken with the Arab world. Without continued co-operation from Arab states to control the inflow of foreign insurgents, Iraq’s tenuous calm could end along with US hopes of a peaceful withdrawal. Diplomatic pressure on Iran would weaken if Arab states ceased their co-operation with the embargo. And attempts to secure Afghanistan would falter without the availability of Arab airspace and bases.
The Arab Peace Initiative remains the most practicable path to peace and Palestinian statehood. But Arabs will never convince Israel of this: only the US has the power to push for its adoption.