Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Israeli resisters make a difference

Good article from Truthout:

Resistance Is Not Futile

Wednesday, 06 August 2014 10:51By Rory Fanning, Truthout | Op-Ed
2014 806 udi swUdi Segal, a 19-year-old Israeli from Kibbutz Tuval in north Israel, was sent to jail for refusing to enlist in the Israeli military. (Screengrab via Vimeo)The numbers are small, but there are Israeli military resisters actively fighting the occupation of Palestine within the borders of Israel. These draft age teenagers face enormous pressure from their government, family and peers to perpetuate state racism and the siege of the occupied territories. Despite the pressure, these brave Israelis adhere to their conscience and stand for justice in a society that increasingly rejects it. In addition to supporting the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement, resisting the Israeli occupation of Palestine from outside Israel involves standing in solidarity with those Israelis who find the courage to say, "I refuse." It is also the responsibility of US conscientious objectors like myself, to see the struggle of Israeli military resisters as part of our own struggle against US imperialism here at home.
Udi Segal, a 19-year-old Israeli from Kibbutz Tuval in north Israel, was sent to jail last week for refusing to enlist in the Israeli military. Segal is tall and skinny, with intense, blue eyes and a long angular face. In an interview with +972 Magazine, his last before being sent to jail, he appeared composed and resolute in his decision, despite his confessed fear of his imminent jail sentence.
"We are using refusal as a tool against the occupation, to end the occupation," Segal said. He was referring to 50 other sarvanim - Hebrew for "refuseniks" - who are members of the group Breaking the Silence, that wrote a letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in early March 2014. In the letter, they expressed their collective "opposition to the military occupation of Palestinian territories," where "human rights are violated, and acts defined under international law as war-crimes are perpetuated on a daily basis." There are now over 130 signatories to the letter, according to Segal.
Segel revealed more about his decision in a prior interview, where he said he refuses to serve not only because of the Israeli occupation of Palestine, but because the military supports a nationalist and capitalist system which benefits only a few at the expense of the majority. Segel called on other "soldiers and reservists to refuse orders and not participate in the massacre."
Segal went to a mixed Jewish-Palestinian grade school and Israeli public high school. He said the transition from grade school to high school was difficult. His high school in Kibbutz Tuval has one of the highest percentages of graduates in the country who go on to enlist as combat troops in the IDF. His decision to refuse service was met with silence by his friends and harassment by his peers.
When asked how he felt about conscientiously objecting during Operation Protective Edge, Segal said, "I think that in these times, as the government and the media attempt to silence any critical voice that deviates even slightly from the belligerent mainstream, I think now, specifically, it is important not only to refuse, but to act against the occupation. Especially now when the destructive results of the occupation can be seen on TV right before our eyes."
According to +972 Magazine, when Segal reported to the draft office last week to declare his intentions, he was greeted by chants: "Go to Gaza! You're all traitors! Gaza is a cemetery! Go get f**ked in the a**!" He was also told that this was his "gay coming out party," and was called a "son of a whore," in front of his mother who was there with him. This response to Segal is revealing, particularly in light of Israel's claims that it is a "haven for the LGBTQ community."
Israel requires all citizens with the exceptions of Palestinians and Orthodox Jewish women to serve in the IDF. Men are required to serve three years, and women must serve two. Like the conscription requirements during the Vietnam era in the United States, Israelis can dodge the draft if they are enrolled in higher education.
Refuseniks are rare in Israel: There are only a handful each year, which is a testament to the high levels of propaganda Israelis are fed and the pressure they face to defend militarism in a country with a mandatory draft. Yonatan Shapira, a former Israeli captain and Air Force pilot, was one of the organizers of a 2003 letter signed by 27 Air Force pilots who refused to participate in Israeli military operations against Palestinians. In an interview with Democracy Now! Shapira said:
Today, we are a minority of a minority of activists in Israel. Of course there are more and more people, but we are still a very, very small minority. We have people that are going to jail. I have a friend who is going to jail for refusing to enlist with the army. . . . But overall, there is a disease in my country, and the disease is spreading very fast, and it's called fascism and racism. Fascism and racism is now the biggest threat of the Jewish people in the Middle East.
The Israeli government distinguishes between pacifists who reject the use of force for any reason and those with "selective conscience," or those who specifically refuse to fight because of the occupation in Palestine. The latter are treated much more severely and are more likely to receive a prison sentence.
We know that not all war resisters come to full consciousness of war, empire and occupation - which is why we should stand with all who resist war in the name of peace and justice, even as they sort out their sometimes contradictory rationales. Nevertheless, we can glean much from the way Israel distinguishes between mere pacifists and resisters who vocally oppose the occupation of Palestine in solidarity with the occupied.
Uriel Ferera, a 19-year-old student and social activist, with Orthodox sidelocks dangling below his ears, was jailed in May for refusing to enlist because of his objection to Israel's treatment of Palestinians.
After being released from prison (he expects to be sent back again soon) Ferera said:
Prison was difficult for me. They isolated me. The other prisoners didn't know why I was in here, and I didn't receive any letters - they probably didn't want me to know about all the support on the outside.
I didn't want to put on a [prison] uniform even though they yelled at me for "putting on a show." I couldn't stand up and began shaking; the only thing I could do was pray and recite from the Book of Psalms by heart. Despite everything, I didn't stop praying. They laughed at me. They claimed that God won't hear me because he was too busy to get me out of there. There I realized that if they are able to humiliate a Jewish person like them, one can only imagine what they do to Palestinian teenagers in the occupied territories.
There are a few organizations in Israel that support such refusers: New Profile is a leading organization and movement of feminists inside Israel struggling to demilitarize the country and end the occupation of Palestine. The group was formed following the second intifada in 2000, when 500 Palestinian and Jewish citizens of Israel stood united on the Wadi Road, where only a few weeks prior Israeli soldiers killed a group of Palestinians. The group of feminists marched despite warnings from Israeli officials who claimed the area was dangerous. Not a single Hebrew or English-language media outlet covered the protest. Through 2006, the group organized at least a dozen marches where thousands of Israelis and Palestinians took to the streets to protest the occupation and militarized Israel. The media turned a blind eye to every march.
In Israel the most vocal critics of the occupation have been feminists. New Profile realizes that liberating women in a militarized Israeli society is directly connected to the liberation of all Palestinians. Thus women aspiring to refuse conscription turn to New Profile to gain the confidence to move forward with their decision. You can support and learn more about the group here.
Yesh Gvul was established in 1982 in response to the Israeli invasion of Lebanon. According to their website, Yesh Gvul was created as a result of "growing numbers of soldiers [who] grasped that the campaign, with its bloodshed and havoc, was an act of naked and futile aggression in which they wanted no part." In 1982, 168 Israelis were jailed for refusing to invade Lebanon. The actual number of refusals was much greater, but the Israeli government hid these numbers out of fear of giving the resisters a platform that would inspire other Israelis to reject military service.
Yesh Gvul counsels soldiers who are struggling with the possibility of becoming a war resister. Those who do conscientiously object get moral and financial support. The group also holds vigils at the military prisons where the soldiers are held. On their Facebook page, they report on the often-muted stories of draft age Israeli men and women who reject service in the IDF.
Courage to Refuse is another Israeli organization that supports military resisters. The group was formed in 2002 after 51 soldiers and reserve officers drafted a letter that decried the Israeli occupation of Palestine. The letter was run in the Israeli daily Haaretz and would become known as "The Combatants Letter." By 2005, the number of signatories of "The Combatants Letter" had reached over 600. The founders of the group said they would always refuse to participate in any military action outside of the borders that existed prior to the 1967 Six-Day War. "We shall not continue to fight beyond the 1967 borders in order to dominate, expel, starve and humiliate an entire people. We hereby declare that we shall continue serving in the Israel Defense Forces in any mission that serves Israel's defense. The missions of occupation and oppression do not serve this purpose - and we shall take no part in them."
Breaking the Silence, the organization that drafted the letter that Udi Segal signed, also supports Israeli military resisters. The members of this group served in the Israeli military since the start of the second intifada in 2000. Their mission is to explain the brutal conditions the Palestinians are living under in the occupied territories, conditions the soldiers have witnessed firsthand, to the Israeli public. They have over 100,000 followers on Facebook.
The US government subsidizes the Israeli military with more than $3 billon in aid each year. The occupation of Palestine and the recent massacres in Gaza would not be possible without US support. As a former member of the US Army Rangers, I can personally attest that the US military trains with and greatly admires Israeli soldiers. Israeli soldiers have gotten so good at door-to-door combat that the US military flies troops to Israel to learn from soldiers in the IDF.
We know that ending war is possible. The Vietnam War came to an end as a result of the anti-war movement at home and abroad, the resistance of the Vietnamese, and US soldiers refusing to fight. As we struggle to end the Israeli occupation of Palestine we look to the boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement, and the resistance inside Palestine. What we need is large numbers of Israeli soldiers to put down their weapons the way US soldiers eventually did in Vietnam. This is why we should raise up and support the small minority of Israelis who do resist.
US soldiers who oppose occupation and colonialism, and stand for human rights and self-determination, should refuse to train with Israeli soldiers. There needs to be a broader realization that the occupation of Palestine in Israel is much the same as the US occupation of Afghanistan or Iraq. If we hope to stop these horrific massacres, endless occupations and the slow death of those living in occupied territories and countries, we must join together with Israeli soldiers who refuse to fight.
Copyright, Truthout. May not be reprinted without permission.


Rory Fanning is a conscientious objector who walked across the United States for the Pat Tillman Foundation in 2008 to 2009, following two deployments to Afghanistan with the 2nd Army Ranger Battalion. He is a housing activist living in Chicago, Illinois and the author of the forthcoming book, Worth Fighting For: An Army Ranger's Journey Out of the Military and Across America (Haymarket, 2014). Follow him on Twitter @RTFanning.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Global Youth Peace Summit

The Amala Foundation's annual Global Youth Peace Summit is taking place next week, near Austin, and includes youths representing some 28 countries. Check out this lovely video for more information about this people-to-people event.

Friday, August 1, 2014

50 Israeli Reservists declare their refusal to fight in Gaza

This was the most encouraging news of the week:

Open Letter by 50 Israeli Army Reservists on Why They Refuse to Fight in Gaza

Fifty reservists express opposition to the Israeli military apparatus, the war in Gaza and the conscription law.

Whenever the Israeli army drafts the reserves—which are made up of ex-soldiers—there are dissenters, resisters, and AWOLers among the troops called to war. Now that Israel has sent troops to Gaza again and reserves are being summoned to service, dozens are refusing to take part.
We are more than 50 Israelis who were once soldiers and now declare our refusal to be part of the reserves. We oppose the Israeli Army and the conscription law. Partly, that’s because we revile the current military operation. But most of the signers below are women and would not have fought in combat. For us, the army is flawed for reasons far broader than “Operation Protective Edge,” or even the occupation. We rue the militarization of Israel and the army’s discriminatory policies.
One example is the way women are often relegated to low-ranking secretarial positions. Another is the screening system that discriminates against Mizrachi (Jews whose families originate in Arab countries) by keeping them from being fairly represented inside the army’s most prestigious units. In Israeli society, one’s unit and position determine much of one’s professional path in the civilian afterlife.
To us, the current military operation and the way militarization affects Israeli society are inseparable. In Israel, war is not merely politics by other means—it replaces politics. Israel is no longer able to think about a solution to a political conflict except in terms of physical might; no wonder it is prone to never-ending cycles of mortal violence. And when the cannons fire, no criticism may be heard.
This petition, long in the making, has a special urgency because of the brutal military operation now taking place in our name. And although combat soldiers are generally the ones prosecuting today’s war, their work would not be possible without the many administrative roles in which most of us served. So if there is a reason to oppose combat operations in Gaza, there is also a reason to oppose the Israeli military apparatus as a whole. That is the message of this petition:
*      *      *
We were soldiers in a wide variety of units and positions in the Israeli military—a fact we now regret, because, in our service, we found that troops who operate in the occupied territories aren’t the only ones enforcing the mechanisms of control over Palestinian lives. In truth, the entire military is implicated. For that reason, we now refuse to participate in our reserve duties, and we support all those who resist being called to service.
The Israeli Army, a fundamental part of Israelis’ lives, is also the power that rules over the Palestinians living in the territories occupied in 1967. As long as it exists in its current structure, its language and mindset control us: We divide the world into good and evil according to the military’s categories; the military serves as the leading authority on who is valued more and who less in society—who is more responsible for the occupation, who is allowed to vocalize their resistance to it and who isn’t, and how they are allowed to do it. The military plays a central role in every action plan and proposal discussed in the national conversation, which explains the absence of any real argument about non-military solutions to the conflicts Israel has been locked in with its neighbors.
The Palestinian residents of the West Bank and Gaza Strip are deprived of civil rights and human rights. They live under a different legal system from their Jewish neighbors. This is not exclusively the fault of soldiers who operate in these territories. Those troops are, therefore, not the only ones obligated to refuse. Many of us served in logistical and bureaucratic support roles; there, we found that the entire military helps implement the oppression of the Palestinians.
Many soldiers who serve in non-combat roles decline to resist because they believe their actions, often routine and banal, are remote from the violent results elsewhere. And actions that aren’t banal—for example, decisions about the life or death of Palestinians made in offices many kilometers away from the West Bank—are classified, and so it’s difficult to have a public debate about them. Unfortunately, we did not always refuse to perform the tasks we were charged with, and in that way we, too, contributed to the violent actions of the military.
During our time in the army, we witnessed (or participated in) the military’s discriminatory behavior: the structural discrimination against women, which begins with the initial screening and assignment of roles; the sexual harassment that was a daily reality for some of us; the immigration absorption centers that depend on uniformed military assistance. Some of us also saw firsthand how the bureaucracy deliberately funnels technical students into technical positions, without giving them the opportunity to serve in other roles. We were placed into training courses among people who looked and sounded like us, rather than the mixing and socializing that the army claims to do.
The military tries to present itself as an institution that enables social mobility—a stepping-stone into Israeli society. In reality, it perpetuates segregation. We believe it is not accidental that those who come from middle- and high- income families land in elite intelligence units, and from there often go to work for high-paying technology companies. We think it is not accidental that when soldiers from a firearm maintenance or quartermaster unit desert or leave the military, often driven by the need to financially support their families, they are called “draft-dodgers.” The military enshrines an image of the “good Israeli,” who in reality derives his power by subjugating others. The central place of the military in Israeli society, and this ideal image it creates, work together to erase the cultures and struggles of the Mizrachi, Ethiopians, Palestinians, Russians, Druze, the Ultra-Orthodox, Bedouins, and women.
We all participated, on one level or another, in this ideology and took part in the game of the "good Israeli” that serves the military loyally. Mostly our service did advance our positions in universities and the labor market. We made connections and benefited from the warm embrace of the Israeli consensus. But for the above reasons, these benefits were not worth the costs.
By law, some of us are still registered as part of the reserved forces (others have managed to win exemptions or have been granted them upon their release), and the military keeps our names and personal information, as well as the legal option to order us to “service.” But we will not participate—in any way.
There are many reasons people refuse to serve in the Israeli Army. Even we have differences in background and motivation about why we’ve written this letter. Nevertheless, against attacks on those who resist conscription, we support the resisters: the high school students who wrote a refusal declaration letter, the Ultra orthodox protesting the new conscription law, the Druze refusers, and all those whose conscience, personal situation, or economic well-being do not allow them to serve. Under the guise of a conversation about equality, these people are forced to pay the price. No more.
Signed by 50 Israeli Reservists and published in the Washington Post, among other news outlets

Thursday, July 31, 2014

"If not now, when?" - Jewish-American peace activists oppose war on Gaza

This encouraging piece was posted on the Waging Nonviolence and Common Dreams sites today:

‘If not now, when?’ — Jewish-American peace activists organize to oppose war on Gaza

If Not Now, When? demonstrators gathered in New York to honor Palestinian resilience. (#IfNotNow Facebook)
If Not Now, When? demonstrators gathered in New York to honor Palestinian resilience. (#IfNotNow Facebook)
Over the past few weeks as the Israeli offensive in Gaza brings more and more tragic consequences for Palestinians, there have also been large solidarity demonstrations throughout the world calling for an end to the occupation of Palestine.
Among the youngest and most remarkable of these groups protesting against the destruction in Gaza is If Not Now, When? After only making its debut on social media last Wednesday, the group marked the beginning of Tisha B’Av, the Jewish period of mourning for the difficulties the Jewish people have endured,  by reciting the Kaddish, the Jewish prayer of mourning, for all Palestinian and Israeli victims of the war so far. They also read the names of the victims in front of the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations last Monday July 28th.
Nine #IfNotNow organizers were arrested after occupying the building where the conference took place after “their request to meet with the president … was denied,” according to the #IfNotNow Facebook page. The growth of the organization itself has been astounding. In just under a week the group has gained over 1,800 likes on Facebook and has seen incredible engagement on Twitter with the use of the hashtag#IfNotNow.
Tamara Shapiro, an activist with #IfNotNow and founder of J Street U, expressed that #IfNotNow was born out of a need for a space for those in the Jewish community to express their outrage and protest what’s happening.
“The spaces that have been created to supposedly do this are not working,” said Shapiro. “People I know who are deeply connected to the Jewish community and have progressive values and people who aren’t necessarily strongly connected to the religion but feel outraged that things are happening in their name … needed a space to speak out.”
Though united by a common feeling of resentment and anger towards the war in Gaza and the occupation of Palestine, the group is diverse in how they practice Judaism, and come from various backgrounds and perspectives.
“We want this to be inclusive of people who are feeling similar things to us,” explained Shapiro. “A lot of the organizations that already exist have really hard lines on where they stand. We haven’t taken a hard line.”
Instead of taking a rigid political position, #IfNotNow has taken a much more human outlook than most groups. They call on the leaders of major Jewish institutions to stop supporting the ongoing military onslaught that is taking Palestinian and Israeli lives. They make this in their open letter which was recited in their action on Monday. The letter speaks of their grief for the amount of loss that has happened to Palestinians, and the needless loss of Israelis that have been fighting in Gaza. They recognize the immense inequality Palestinians face. They say that they are, “Outraged that so many speak of Palestinians as if their lives were worth less than our own, outraged at the justifications offered for the killing of so many.” They “reject the view that ‘we have no choice,’ that this violence is necessary and inevitable.”
#IfNotNow members are standing up as Jews to oppose the war and occupation, and to mourn the immense loss, as Shapiro said, “in a Jewish way that seems important at a time like this.” They are part of a movement of trailblazers who are not only recognizing the humanity surrounding the conflict, but also rejecting the narrative being repeated by many, and advocating that occupation and the dehumanization of Palestinians must end in order for there to be peace, freedom, and dignity for all who reside in Israel and Palestine.

Navy Sonar is deadly to whales

We received a mailing this week from the Natural Resources Defense Council with this headline:  "Navy prepared to kill nearly 1,000 marine mammals."  According to the NRDC, "the Navy is pressing ahead with its plan for five years of blasting sonar and detonating explosives up and down the Atlantic seaboard, along the Gulf Coast, off the beaches of Southern California and in the wildlife-filled waters surrounding Hawaii." There is already evidence that the Navy's use of sonar has killed and injured whales. The NRDC has stood up to the Navy before and has prevailed in the courts, so they are working again to block the Navy's 5-year plan.

This is one of the many examples of environmental damage caused by military hardware and weapons testing around the world.  Please consider this if you are thinking of enlisting.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Veterans call for no more US military involvement in Iraq

The press conference by Veterans for Peace was covered in The Stars and Stripes:

Veterans Groups: No More Troops in Iraq

Ray McGovern
WASHINGTON -- As President Barack Obama announced Thursday that military advisers would be sent to Iraq, some veterans of the Iraq War railed against more military intervention in the country, warning that it would add to the violence and destruction.

More U.S. intervention will only prolong the current conflict and further destabilize the country, said Matt Southworth, an Army veteran who in 2004 deployed to Tal Afar and is a member of Veterans for Peace.

"My experience taught me that any foreign military intervention, especially if led by the United States, will only harden the resolve of the radical groups and unite the less religiously motivated into one fight against what they view is an illegitimate Iraqi government with considerable U.S. support," Southworth said.
A former intelligence analyst, Southworth suggested five steps for the U.S. to quell the violence in Iraq:
  • Reject another U.S. military intervention
  • Stop unconditional military aid to Iraq
  • Convene a conference to establish an arms embargo to Iraq and Syria
  • Increase humanitarian efforts and funding to address the basic needs of Iraqis affected by war
  • Publicly support a comprehensive political settlement among the key parties in the conflict
"Since the United States started getting involved with Iraq in the 1970s, we have often been a part of the problem, not a part of the solution to Iraqi political, ethnic, religious and resource issues," Southworth said.

The veterans, speaking at the National Press Club, questioned the morality of U.S. involvement in the region.

"Any continued support for the [Iraqi] government, or military intervention in any way, is unacceptable and incredibly immoral," said Ross Caputi, a Marine veteran who fought in the second siege of Fallujah. He is a member of Iraq Veterans Against the War and is on the board of directors of ISLAH, a group focusing on reparations for Iraqis. In Arabic, "islah" means repair, or reform.

The Iraqi government has been suppressing political dissent with U.S. support, said Caputi, who said the U.S. should instead focus on humanitarian efforts for Iraqis who were injured or suffer from health issues as a result of the war.

For Tim Kahlor, the father of an Army veteran who served two tours in Iraq and has post-traumatic stress disorder, the reason not to send more troops to Iraq is simple: the U.S. should focus on its own, he said.

"On this side, our kids are coming back . . . in bad shape and we don't even have the funding to take care of them," Kahlor said. "And we're talking about spending more money on more people going into Iraq and keeping people in Afghanistan when we can't take care of the vets on the street?

"I don't know all the politics and stuff (of the Iraq War)," Kahlor said, "I just know as a parent, I see what happens when we bring them back and they're not right anymore."

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Official IVAW statement on the current crisis in Iraq

Excellent statement from Iraq Veterans Against the War:

Official Statement On the Crisis in Iraq
Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW) – an organization comprised of individuals who served or continue to serve in the US Military following September 11, 2001 – calls on Congress, the President, and his administration to reject the use of violence and militarism in response to the current outbreak of violence in Iraq.
Many of our members deployed to Iraq during the recent US occupation. Those of us who were there know first hand that US military solutions in Iraq do not serve the interests of the Iraqi people. We advocate for the self-determination of all people, in this case the people of Iraq. Any solution to this crisis must come from them.
When the United States invaded and occupied Iraq, the formerly secular country was destabilized. The United States and the Department of Defense intentionally created and agitated sectarian divisions that would not have otherwise existed. The result of this is what we see today, and Iraqi civilians are paying for it.
Iraqis have been paying with their lives for this war since March 2003. After 10 years of US occupation they were left with little relief. Their economic infrastructure was destroyed and new work to repair it has been awarded to US corporations and contractors, instead of to Iraqis. Iraqi labor unions face frequent retaliation, and an entire generation of children has been born with severe birth defects in places like Hawija. No one has been held to account. No effort has been made to clean the waste left behind.
When it comes to arming “freedom fighters” the US has a tendency to act as a fair-weather friend; today’s freedom fighter becomes tomorrow’s terrorist and justification to pursue an illegal invasion. Instead of creating more chaos, we should be solving the problems that already exist. Instead of installing another puppet president, the United States should be cleaning up environmental contamination, investigating allegations of torture, and allowing democracy to blossom in both government and labor, without US intervention.
In Solidarity,

Joyce, Maggie, Matt, and Julia
IVAW Staff