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 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 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.
This article, by Stephen Zann, was distributed through the Information Clearing House, February 8, 2008
Voters on the progressive wing of the Democratic Party are rightly disappointed by the similarity of the foreign policy positions of the two remaining Democratic Party presidential candidates, Senator Hillary Clinton and Senator Barack Obama. However, there are still some real discernable differences to be taken into account. Indeed, given the power the United States has in the world, even minimal differences in policies can have a major difference in the lives of millions of people.
As a result, the kind of people the next president appoints to top positions in national defense, intelligence, and foreign affairs is critical. Such officials usually emerge from among a presidential candidate’s team of foreign policy advisors. So, analyzing who these two finalists for the Democratic presidential nomination have brought in to advise them on international affairs can be an important barometer for determining what kind for foreign policies they would pursue as president. For instance, in the case of the Bush administration, officials like Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, and Richard Perle played a major role in the fateful decision to invade Iraq by convincing the president that Saddam Hussein was an imminent threat and that American forces would be treated as liberators.
The leading Republican candidates have surrounded themselves with people likely to encourage the next president to follow down a similarly disastrous path. But what about Senators Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton? Who have they picked to help them deal with Iraq war and the other immensely difficult foreign policy decisions that they’ll be likely to face as president?
Senator Clinton’s foreign policy advisors tend to be veterans of President Bill Clinton’s administration, most notably former secretary of state Madeleine Albright and former National Security Adviser Sandy Berger. Her most influential advisor – and her likely choice for Secretary of State – is Richard Holbrooke. Holbrooke served in a number of key roles in her husband’s administration, including U.S. ambassador to the UN and member of the cabinet, special emissary to the Balkans, assistant secretary of state for European and Canadian affairs, and U.S. ambassador to Germany. He also served as President Jimmy Carter’s assistant secretary of state for East Asia in propping up Marcos in the Philippines, supporting Suharto’s repression in East Timor, and backing the generals behind the Kwangju massacre in South Korea.
Senator Barack Obama’s foreign policy advisers, who on average tend to be younger than those of the former first lady, include mainstream strategic analysts who have worked with previous Democratic administrations, such as former national security advisors Zbigniew Brzezinski and Anthony Lake, former assistant secretary of state Susan Rice, and former navy secretary Richard Danzig. They have also included some of the more enlightened and creative members of the Democratic Party establishment, such as Joseph Cirincione and Lawrence Korb of the Center for American Progress, and former counterterrorism czar Richard Clarke. His team also includes the noted human rights scholar and international law advocate Samantha Power – author of a recent New Yorker article on U.S. manipulation of the UN in post-invasion Iraq – and other liberal academics. Some of his advisors, however, have particularly poor records on human rights and international law, such as retired General Merrill McPeak, a backer of Indonesia’s occupation of East Timor, and Dennis Ross, a supporter of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank.
While some of Obama’s key advisors, like Larry Korb, have expressed concern at the enormous waste from excess military spending, Clinton’s advisors have been strong supporters of increased resources for the military.
While Obama advisors Susan Rice and Samantha Power have stressed the importance of U.S. multilateral engagement, Albright allies herself with the jingoism of the Bush administration, taking the attitude that “If we have to use force, it is because we are America! We are the indispensable nation. We stand tall, and we see further into the future.”
While Susan Rice has emphasized how globalization has led to uneven development that has contributed to destabilization and extremism and has stressed the importance of bottom-up anti-poverty programs, Berger and Albright have been outspoken supporters of globalization on the current top-down neo-liberal lines.
Obama advisors like Joseph Cirincione have emphasized a policy toward Iraq based on containment and engagement and have downplayed the supposed threat from Iran. Clinton advisor Holbrooke, meanwhile, insists that “the Iranians are an enormous threat to the United States,” the country is “the most pressing problem nation,” and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is like Hitler.
Iraq as Key Indicator
Perhaps the most important difference between the two foreign policy teams concerns Iraq. Given the similarities in the proposed Iraq policies of Senator Hillary Clinton and Senator Barack Obama, Obama’s supporters have emphasized that their candidate had the better judgment in opposing the invasion beforehand. Indeed, in the critical months prior to the launch of the war in 2003, Obama openly challenged the Bush administration’s exaggerated claims of an Iraqi threat and presciently warned that a war would lead to an increase in Islamic extremism, terrorism, and regional instability, as well as a decline in America’s standing in the world.
Senator Clinton, meanwhile, was repeating as fact the administration’s false claims of an imminent Iraqi threat. She voted to authorize President Bush to invade that oil-rich country at the time and circumstances of his own choosing and confidently predicted success. Despite this record and Clinton’s refusal to apologize for her war authorization vote, however, her supporters argue that it no longer relevant and voters need to focus on the present and future.
Indeed, whatever choices the next president makes with regard to Iraq are going to be problematic, and there are no clear answers at this point. Yet one’s position regarding the invasion of Iraq at that time says a lot about how a future president would address such questions as the use of force, international law, relations with allies, and the use of intelligence information.
As a result, it may be significant that Senator Clinton’s foreign policy advisors, many of whom are veterans of her husband’s administration, were virtually all strong supporters of President George W. Bush’s call for a U.S. invasion of Iraq. By contrast, almost every one of Senator Obama’s foreign policy team was opposed to a U.S. invasion.
During the lead-up to the war, Obama’s advisors were suspicious of the Bush administration’s claims that Iraq somehow threatened U.S. national security to the extent that it required a U.S. invasion and occupation of that country. For example, Zbigniew Brzezinski, national security advisor in the Carter administration, argued that public support for war “should not be generated by fear-mongering or demagogy.”
By contrast, Clinton’s top advisor and her likely pick for secretary of state, Richard Holbrooke, insisted that Iraq remained “a clear and present danger at all times.”
Brzezinski warned that the international community would view the invasion of a country that was no threat to the United States as an illegitimate an act of aggression. Noting that it would also threaten America’s leadership, Brzezinski said that “without a respected and legitimate law-enforcer, global security could be in serious jeopardy.” Holbrooke, rejecting the broad international legal consensus against offensive wars, insisted that it was perfectly legitimate for the United States to invade Iraq and that the European governments and anti-war demonstrators who objected “undoubtedly encouraged” Saddam Hussein.
Another key Obama advisor, Joseph Cirincione of the Carnegie Endowment, argued that the goal of containing the potential threat from Iraq had been achieved, noting that “Saddam Hussein is effectively incarcerated and under watch by a force that could respond immediately and devastatingly to any aggression. Inside Iraq, the inspection teams preclude any significant advance in WMD capabilities. The status quo is safe for the American people.”
By contrast, Clinton advisor Sandy Berger, who served as her husband’s national security advisor, insisted that “even a contained Saddam” was “harmful to stability and to positive change in the region,” and therefore the United States had to engage in “regime change” in order to “fight terror, avert regional conflict, promote peace, and protect the security of our friends and allies.”
Meanwhile, other future Obama advisors, such as Larry Korb, raised concerns about the human and material costs of invading and occupying a heavily populated country in the Middle East and the risks of chaos and a lengthy counter-insurgency war.
And other top advisors to Senator Clinton – such as her husband’s former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright – confidently predicted that American military power could easily suppress any opposition to a U.S. takeover of Iraq. Such confidence in the ability of the United States to impose its will through force is reflected to this day in the strong support for President Bush’s troop surge among such Clinton advisors (and original invasion advocates) as Jack Keane, Kenneth Pollack, and Michael O’Hanlon. Perhaps that was one reason that, during the recent State of the Union address, when Bush proclaimed that the Iraqi surge was working, Clinton stood and cheered while Obama remained seated and silent.
These differences in the key circles of foreign policy specialists surrounding these two candidates are consistent with their diametrically opposed views in the lead-up to the war.
Not every one of Clinton’s foreign policy advisors is a hawk. Her team also includes some centrist opponents of the war, including retired General Wesley Clark and former Ambassador Joseph Wilson.
On balance, it appears likely that a Hillary Clinton administration, like Bush’s, would be more likely to embrace exaggerated and alarmist reports regarding potential national security threats, to ignore international law and the advice of allies, and to launch offensive wars. By contrast, a Barack Obama administration would be more prone to examine the actual evidence of potential threats before reacting, to work more closely with America’s allies to maintain peace and security, to respect the country’s international legal obligations, and to use military force only as a last resort.
Progressive Democrats do have reason to be disappointed with Obama’s foreign policy agenda. At the same time, as The Nation magazine noted, members of Obama’s foreign policy team are “more likely to stress ’soft power’ issues like human rights, global development and the dangers of failed states.” As a result, “Obama may be more open to challenging old Washington assumptions and crafting new approaches.”
One of the goals of the Sir! No Sir! blog is to provide articles and announcements that can be copied wholesale and used by resisters and activists on their blogs or in zines and newsletters. A second, and equally important theme for this blog, is to highlight acts of resistance that illustrate how the growing GI movement against the war in Iraq is not unique to that conflict. Instead, it is part of a wider network of resistance among active duty soldiers across the globe. In that light, I shall be including information from the Israeli Refuser Network. While this may strike some readers as stepping out of the boundaries of the American GI movement, I believe that resistors are empowered to act when they know: first, that they will not be hung out to dry and second, that they are not alone in their struggle. The following announcements were originally published in the January 2008 Refuser Solidarity Network Newsletter.
BREAKING THE SILENCE COMES TO THE U.S.!
This spring, Americans will have the opportunity to see and hear Breaking the Silence, an exhibit of over 100 photographs and video testimonies by current and former Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) soldiers documenting their experiences in the Occupied Territories. In February, the exhibit will premiere in Philadelphia, and in March, it will travel to Cambridge, MA, where it will be shown at Harvard's Center for Government and International Studies. Several members of Breaking the Silence will be present in Philadelphia and Cambridge to engage the public on the content and meaning of the exhibit. BTS is looking for additional venues--synagogues, Jewish community centers, schools, house parties, etc--in the Boston or Philadelphia area (or anywhere in between) to host additional presentations by BTS members. In addition, members will provide guided tours for organizations interested in visiting the Boston or Philadelphia exhibit site. The Refuser Solidarity Network believes strongly in the BTS message and exhibition and urges you to support this effort. To donate online, please visit the RSN website, www.refusersolidarity.net, click on the "Donate Now" button below and specify "Breaking the Silence Exhibit" in the RSN Project field. To schedule a tour or a speaking engagement, contact Ben Murane, email@example.com; phone 646-419-2016.
The BTS tour is sponsored by Americans for Peace Now (www.peacenow.org); Brit Tzedek v'Shalom (www.btvshalom.org); Hashomer Hatzair (www.hashomerhatzair.org); Meretz USA (www.meretzusa.org), and the Union of Progressive Zionists (www.upzshalom.org).
The Combatants for Peace movement was started jointly by Palestinians and Israelis who have taken an active part in the cycle of violence-Israelis as soldiers in the Israeli army (IDF) and Palestinians as part of the violent struggle for Palestinian freedom. Since 2005, CFP has organized meetings between Israeli and Palestinian veterans in which both sides tell about the violent actions that they have taken part in and about the turning point that led them to understand the limits of violence. These combatants' meetings allow each side to understand the other's narrative through reconciliation rather than conflict.
Combatants for Peace continues its participation in Abir Aramin's Garden, a memorial to 10-year-old Abir, who was killed last January by Israeli soldiers near her school in Anata. Abir was the daughter of Bassam Aramin, one of the founders of Combatants for Peace. The project is designed to give the children of Anata the opportunity to play safely in an organized playground and is a cooperative effort by the Aramin family, Combatants for Peace, The Rebuilding Alliance (www.rebuildingalliance.org) and Women of a Certain Age. You can donate to Abir's Garden by visiting the Combatants for Peace Website, www.combatantsforpeace.org, clocking on "Projects," and following the links to Abir Aramin's Garden. You can also read an opinion piece by Bassam Aramin recently published in the Jewish Daily Forward, www.forward.com/articles/a-plea-for-peace-from-a-bereaved-palestinian-fathe, and a transcript of an interview broadcast on the BBC last October, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/programmes/from_our_own_correspondent/7064104.stm.
Members of CFP have been spreading their message in the United States. In August, two members of CFP spoke in St. Louis, MO at the annual convention of Veterans for Peace, a 7000-member organization dedicated to abolishing war. Israeli Yonatan Gur and Palestinian Raed Al-Haddar were featured prominently in an article in the VFP newsletter, which you can find at www.veteransforpeace.org (click on "Newsroom," then on "newsletter," in the upper right corner, then on "October, 2007," and go to page 2).
In November, Zohar Shapira and Sulaiman Khatib accepted an award on behalf of CFP from Search for Common Ground, an organization that works with local partners for the peaceful resolution of conflicts around the world. Other awardees at the gala New York City ceremony included Ismael Beah, author of the best-selling book A Long Way Gone: Memories of a Boy Soldier and veteran TV newsman and Public Television host Charlie Rose. Charlayne Hunter-Gault of PBS and NPR presided, and Peter Yarrow of Peter, Paul & Mary had the crowd singing and cheering. At a separate ceremony, Bassam Aramin of Combatants for Peace was presented with the Eliav-Sartawi Media Award at Columbia University for his op-ed in the Jewish Daily Forward (see link, above).
Previous recipients of the Common Ground Award, which was established in 1998, include former President Jimmy Carter, former Senator George Mitchell, South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Israeli conductor Daniel Barenboim. You can watch a brief video highlighting past recipients and describing Search from Common Ground at http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-6433282651809828481. Learn more about the organization at www.sfcg.org.
Finally in CFP news, "On the Objection Front," a 2005 film by Shiri Tsur, will soon be broadcast in Israel for the first time. The film whose Hebrew title, "Ratziti Lihiyot Gibor," literally means "I Wanted to Be a Hero," features interviews with signers of the original Combatants Letter, the Israelis who first refused to serve in the Occupied Territories for reasons of conscience. The film has been shown at numerous film festivals in the U.S., Canada and Europe before finally airing on Israel's YES cable TV channel. The film's website is www.objectionfront.com; click on "English," at the bottom, to watch a trailer with English titles.
Yesh G'vul ("There is a limit!") is an Israeli peace group campaigning against the Occupation by backing soldiers who refuse duties in the Occupied Territories. Yesh G'vul arose in response to the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon. It offers counseling to soldiers who wrestle with the painful choice between serving policies they find abhorrent and defying military discipline. The organization provides moral and material backing for those who elect to refuse, ranging from financial support for families of jailed refuseniks to vigils at the military prisons where they are held. The oldest of the refuser groups, Yesh G'vul continues to oppose illegal military actions in the Occupied Territories.
During 2007 Yesh G'vul focused on the ongoing campaign to end judicial impunity for Israeli officials, army officers and soldiers and bring to trial those responsible for committing war crimes. The legal procedures that YG began more than five years ago, following the targeted killing of Hamas leader Salah Shechade in Gaza city, along with 14 civilians (nine of whom were children), culminated this June, when the Israeli High Court of Justice strongly recommended that the state appoint an independent commission to investigate this incident. In September the state agreed to this recommendation. For more information, go to http://yeshgvul.org/articles_e.asp?id=87a4ba17a1619273bd6356b7c2986841 This judicial process is not over yet, since the state has not named the members of this committee, nor defined its scope or jurisdiction. YG, together with leading Israeli human-rights lawyers Avigdor Feldman and Michael Sfard, demand that the members of this committee not be linked to the Israeli military establishment and that its jurisdiction allow members to examine top-rank officers and politicians who were responsible for this operation.
Along with its legal activism, YG mounted a public campaign about the implications of the International Humanitarian Law (IHL) for suspected Israeli war criminals, focusing on the Shechade case. YG organized a petition of well known authors, artists, academics and human rights activists calling for an independent investigation. At the end of October YG held a press conference featuring former Minister of Education Yossi Sarid, Israel Air Force Reserve Brigadier-General Yiftach Spector, the poet Natan Zach and Advocate Michael Sfard. To see a video recording of the press conference (in Hebrew), go to http://www.tv.social.org.il/medini/yes-gvul-mesiba-29-10-07.htm. Yesh G'vul is currently looking for Hebrew speakers to help with the translation into English; volunteers can contact YG at firstname.lastname@example.org.
YG activists have also continued to distribute the YG guidebook about war crimes and the IHL to soldiers on their way to service in the Occupied Territories. Thousands of copies of this guidebook were distributed this year and an updated version will be published at the beginning of 2008.
You can see the guidebook at: http://www.yeshgvul.org.il/docs/YGwarcrimes%20booklet.doc.
This year, YG plans to expand this project to include a public education campaign and a war crimes data base and to continue working with Israeli, Palestinian and international partners to create an effective lobby for ending immunity from prosecution.
Although the number of jailed refuseniks decreased dramatically in 2007, YG still operates its 24-hour hot-line, as it has for the past 25 years. YG activists counsel soldiers, both in conscript and reserve service, who are contemplating refusal.
YG also continues to distribute its fifth book about refusal, a collection of essays, photos and art titled "Occupation and Refusal," edited by YG spokesman Ishai Menuchin. The fourth book about refusal, "Refusenik," a collection of letters and statements by Israeli refuseniks from the last thirty years edited by YG activist Pertetz Kidron, was published this year in Turkey and Brazil, after having already been published in Israel, Japan, Greece, England, Italy and Belgium.
Last spring, as they have done for the past decade, YG celebrated Israeli Independence Day by honoring peace and social justice activists. More than 1500 supporters attended the event. The ceremony recognized Tally Fahima, who was jailed for two years after meeting senior Fatah militants in Jenin refugee camp; film director Jad Ne-eman; Second Lebanon War refusenik Amir Paster; human rights lawyer Gabi Laski; African refugee Johnny Bayou and others.
Finally, YG assisted Palestinian farmers who face constant harassment by Israeli settlers during the olive harvest, joined a coalition of peace groups who carried out actions in June marking the 40th anniversary of the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories, and continues to participate in the coalition against the Separation Wall.
New Profile is a group of feminist women and men who oppose the militarization of Israeli society. NP works for a truly democratic civic education, teaching the practice of peace and conflict resolution, rather than training children to enlist and accept warfare.
Last month, New Profile joined more than a dozen peace and justice organizations that issued a press release calling on the Israeli government to end the siege of Gaza. These organizations have joined with the international End the Siege campaign, which calls upon the Israeli government to end the siege and stop other repressive measures imposed on the civilian population of Gaza. The campaign seeks to make the Israeli public and the international community aware of the deteriorating living conditions resulting from the siege and to mobilize governments and communities to stop the boycott of Gaza. You can read the text of this press release at http://groups.google.com/group/newprofile/browse_thread/thread/af5f2b0e848a412b (click on "Show quoted text).
New Profile has also issued a position paper supporting Daniel Ben Simon, a paramedic in the Israeli Red Cross (Magen David Adom, or MDA), who has been suspended from his job for refusing to wear military-style epaulettes that are part of the MDA uniform. Ben Simon maintains that as a profoundly civilian organization, MDA should follow the example of the International Red Cross and define itself as humanitarian, not military. Ben-Simon has appealed to the labor relations court, and New Profile intends to finance legal aid to help him in his struggle against the quasi-military culture of MDA; the cost of such legal support will be around $6,000. You can help defend Daniel Ben-Simon through the RSN web site, www.refusersolidarity.net; click on "Donate Now: and specify "New Profile" in the box marked "Projects you would like to support." Read the position paper at www.newprofile.org/showdata.asp?pid=1202&language=en.
Finally, New Profile has endorsed a public petition condemning the appointment of General Dan Halutz as director general of Kamor, the official BMW dealer in Israel. Halutz was the commander of the assassination of Salah Shechade (see Yesh G'vul news, above) and was responsible for the killing of more than 1000 Lebanese civilians during the Israeli aggression in Lebanon in 2006. You can see and sign the petition at www.al-arabeya.net/halots (scroll down for the English version).
In addition to visiting the New Profile web site, you can learn more about NP, its members and its projects at its message board, http://groups.google.com/group/newprofile. There you can also sign up for the NP mailing list.
NEWS FROM ISRAEL/PALESTINE
In a piece published in Ha'aretz, Nufar Yishai-Karin describes the brutality she witnessed among Israeli soldiers during her time in the Israeli Army. You can read this provocative article at http://yeshgvul.org.il/articles_e.asp?id=e45366a615176116bd9996a5863fff34.
Two articles in Ha'aretz focus on Public Security Minister Avi Dichter, implicated in the Shechade assassination, and explore current efforts to bring those responsible to justice: www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/932411.html and www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/931680.
A longer piece, also in Ha'aretz, features an interview with Yiftach Spector, one of the Israeli army veterans who have called for an independent investigation of the Shechade case (see Yesh G'vul news, above). This in-depth interview with Spector provides a moving account of one man's journey from enthusiastic fighter pilot to peace activist. Read it at www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/932058.html. Another interview with Spector appears in The Electronic Intifada, at http://electronicintifada.net/v2/article2093.shtml.
An article from the web site of Jews on First, an internet-based organization that mobilizes Jews to resist Christian fundamentalist attacks on the First Amendment, exposes the links between so-called Christian Zionists and the campaign for ethnic cleansing of Palestinians, with particular attention to the views of would-be Presidential candidate Mike Huckabee. Read it at www.jewsonfirst.org/08a/huckabee_christian_zionist.html.
Be sure to check out a new film, "Occupation 101: Voices of the Silenced Majority," now available for purchase on DVD; you can watch parts of this award winning film online, find out more about the filmmakers, and purchase a copy at www.occupation101.com.