Update from the Mosaic of Peace Conference

Resistance to the Occupation and Human Rights Work Among Israelis

We had the privilege of hearing the stories of two young men who have refused to fulfill their compulsory participation in the Israeli military (IDF).  The first young man, Khaled, belongs to a small religious minority, the Druze, and as such, he presented a unique perspective.  Druze were historically offered some degree of special treatment by the Israeli government in order to earn their loyalty and to prevent their alliance with other Palestinians. Khaled is one of a growing number of young men and women who are refusing to participate in the military. Initially, these “refusniks” are brought in and questioned for hours in military court, followed by time in jail, more questioning and more jail time.  In Khaled’s case, this cycle continued until he finally claimed mental illness as a rationale for being exempt. He feels that the momentum in the Druze community to join the refusenik movement is growing and, for him, it represented an opportunity to demonstrate his sense of identity as a Palestinian and his resistance to the military occupation. He spoke about the repercussions of his decision and the impact it has had on his family and other relationships.

Amitai, our second speaker, then spoke from the perspective of a Jewish Israeli citizen who has lived all of his life Jerusalem, growing up in a progressive home, with parents who were active in civil rights campaigns. From a young age, he felt uncomfortable with the idea of military service, and he knew people who had refused to serve in the occupied territories. When he made the decision to become a refusenik he had some support from his parents but encountered a sense of isolation from his friends,who were all serving.  His experience with the military hearings and jailing were the same as Khaled’s. He also talked about having traveled as an international student and the impact this it had upon him when he returned.  He cited a particular incident when his girlfriend from France visited and asked if it worried him that so many Israelis were walking around with guns.  It occurred to him that the presence of weapons had become so common that he really didn’t notice them or the level of militarism in Israeli society. As a result, today Amitai works to support other young people who wish to take the same bold step of non-violent resistance.

We then heard from Rabbi Arik Aschermann, with Rabbis for Human Rights, who, though he disagrees with the tactics and practices of the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF), doesn’t view the IDF as the enemy. He described his advocacy and social justice work as “holding up a mirror” to the IDF soldiers, helping them to see and understand the reality of their actions. He acknowledged the challenges, even as a Rabbi, of engaging in peaceful, respectful advocacy related to human rights in the context of the occupation.  Times are hard right now for Israelis working on human rights related issues.  Many Israelis don’t know or even acknowledge that human rights violations are occurring in the occupied territories. Back in 2008, he said, people were fine with “watch dog organizations.”  Today, many Israelis don’t see a need for their work. In fact, Rabbis for Human Rights faces opposition when people hear of their work.  In spite of this, in their ongoing work for Palestinian human rights, he said “we are not expected to do it all but neither are we allowed to give up.  We have too much at stake.”

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