This summer I spent two weeks in Israel and Palestine, mostly in the West Bank. The group I traveled with, Interfaith Peace Builders, met with people from all sides of the conflict there, and had first-hand experience of the way people are treating each other. It left me somewhat radicalized, but not necessarily in the ways you might imagine. I didn’t end up more “pro-Palestinian,” or more “pro-Israeli.” In fact, I came to the conclusion that those terms are outdated.
What I am, if we have to put a label on it, is anti-occupation. I think the occupation is damaging everyone involved, Israelis as well as Palestinians. It is the nature of oppression that it oppresses everyone, even the oppressors, and this oppression must end, for the good of all.
This is a short video of the Shministim, who are young Israelis refusing to serve in the Israeli military on grounds of conscience. They are going to jail because of it. Below the video is an online petition that you can sign if you feel so moved.
Gandhi said that he believed in the goodness of the British people and wanted to show them their own injustice, believing that when injustice is sufficiently exposed, people stand up against it. In retrospect, he was right. I believe in the goodness of the Israeli people as well, and in fact, many do stand against the occupation, as I do.
Shalom and Salaam,
Anne Russ says
Just wanted to share that yesterday at church in London, our pastor preached an decidedly anti-occupation sermon. I’ve never heard anything like it in the States. Thought you might like to know that there are some prophetic voices in the pulpits.
jim bier says
Thanks for sharing here. I posted this, and interfaith peace builders, and PEG and your blog on my facebook. archived in boxes tab.
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Kenny Legendre says
Thanks Dave, for the link, and thanks to Brian and Teri for your comments. My thoughts are racing so fast that it’s better for me to leave it at that for now…
Thanks so much for writing. Actually, I think it’s *great* to argue the points. That’s what democracy looks like. To paraphrase William Coffin, we need more conflict, not less— conflict is necessary on the way to justice, and the work of peacemaking is trying to do that conflict constructively rather than destructively, so I very much appreciate your respectful disagreement.
I’m afraid the numbers you present are inaccurate, though. Women are required to serve two years in Israel, while men serve three. Unlike the US military, they are not provided with free housing while they serve, and the stipend payment is small. The hardship is not to be underestimated. But the length of the service is not the issue. If one is taking a stand of conscience rather than convenience, nine months of participating in something one abhors is nine months too many.
I’m actually not opposed to compulsory national service on principle, which seems to be what you’re mostly arguing for. On the whole, I’m with you, and I think it’s a good idea and I like the way it’s practiced in Germany, for instance, where non-violent service is certainly an option. I am not aware of the non-violent option in Israel, though. Is that the case? I’d be happy to be educated about it.
Compulsory service as it exists in Israel can’t be equated with compulsory service in Germany, to be sure. For one thing, among Israeli citizens, only Jews, Druze and Cherkessians are required to serve in the military, not Arab Israelis. I find that deeply disturbing on its face. Imagine if there were official policy that the military would be made up of only Christians in the US! The repercussions of such a system are staggering to consider, and the inherent racism is repugnant to me.
I also question your contention (if I understood you correctly) that if these young people were serving in the Israeli military, they would at least ‘witness first hand the suffering of Palestinians and the suffering of the Israelis in military service who encounter and commit violence every day in a struggle they may not believe in.’ I’m not sure that’s a desirable outcome when compared to the potential power of exposing that suffering and injustice by refusing to participate in it.
And there is a great deal of indoctrination going on. Modern Israeli society, based both on what I’ve read and what I observed and experienced first-hand this summer, has become militaristic in general. I sat at the home of the founder of New Profile this summer, and I recommend them as a resource to study the issue (their website – http://www.newprofile.com is somewhat jumbled visually, but has some good information). As a starting place, though, I would recommend this article: http://www.gilasvirsky.com/militarism.html
The overwhelming pressure to participate in the injustice when everyone around you is doing so has been thoroughly studied and documented, and again, I don’t think that’s desirable.
But the fundamental decision these students are making is to refuse to participate in a large machine that they fundamentally disagree with. Speaking for myself, I make a lot of ethical compromises simply by paying my taxes. Given the billions of dollars in military aid that the U.S. government provides to the Israeli government each year, that means I am directly paying for the very things I decry here. These students are, in my view, taking a firmer stand, and a more ethically defensible one.
Thanks again for being a part of the conversation, Brian. I’d love to hear more of what you’re thinking if you care to keep it going.
Everything I have seen says the minimum term in the military is 2 years, sometimes longer if your training was “lengthy”…this is borne out by my friends in the Middle East. I’m also disturbed that Arab Israelis aren’t conscripted–the suggestion behind that is powerful. I also can’t find much about the idea of serving in a non-combat job–everyone I know in Israel/Palestine says it’s military or jail, and that seems suggested by the various articles I’ve seen on quick (not extensive) google searches.
I am concerned that there is no way for these young people to opt out of a violent system with which they disagree. Maybe they would be out serving their communities, etc, or getting an education, or being peacemakers, but instead they are in prison. And, from all accounts, they are kept in military prisons which are worse than your average jail. Forced military service is not going to solve the problems in Israel/Palestine–it’s creating a society where every single person of Jewish ethnicity is a military veteran. I don’t see how that can be good.
David, i don’t mean to be argumentative. In fact, i think it’s quite brave to resist something if you feel compelled, and oppression certainly hurts all involved. However, my understanding, through research, is that you must serve for just over 9 months in the military OR a little over 12 months in a non-combat job, such as a nurse or doctor or technician. There are a lot of things to defend whole-heartedly and with passion, but i’m not sure that resistance to mandatory service to the community is one i could get behind. And certainly a first hand look at the people on both sides of the conflict is beneficial to a young person. Maybe the first step towards peace is awareness instead of shirking the responsibility of a non-combat option to serve their people.
In the movie Lambs for Lions, two young men in college who are against the war in Afghanistan and Iraq come up with a program in which US students would be required to give a year of service to their country. We often think of service as military, but it included the possibilities of volunteer service in programs like the Peace Corp. i think this world could benefit from more service to the community, rather than less. At the very least, these kids going to jail could witness first hand the suffering of Palestinians and the suffering of the Israelis in military service who encounter and commit violence every day in a struggle they may not believe in.