THE HANDSTAND

may 2005


Copyright Victor Babanin.

Misha Hadar, 19, from Ramat HaSharon, has been sentenced on 6 April to 21 Days in Prison, which he now spends at military Prison No. 6. He is due to be released from prison on 22 April, and is highly likely to be imprisoned again soon afterwards.

Misha was born in England, and immigrated to Israel as a child. In a letter to the Minister of Defence, explaining his refusal to serve in the Israeli military, he wrote:

  • I believed, for quite a long time, that what I object to are specific, singular events that happen in the occupied territories, and that I would therefore be able to do my army stint within the green line, in a role in which I would not feel that I was doing something immoral. As time passes, I understand more and more how mistaken that was – that opposing "singular" events is like opposing the symptoms rather than the disease itself. It is the occupation as such that is immoral, and it will infect anyone who touches it with the same immoral sickness. That is why I also refuse to enlist in order to be "the good soldier", who is there to make sure that no one on his shift will commit those "singular" acts. That would be ignoring the larger picture and I am not willing to do so. The occupation itself, too, is a symptom – the product of nationalist, violent, chauvinist values from which I keep away as from a raging fire – a fire that will not only burn me but will spread through my bones and become part of me. Such values will not be part of my life.


A seminar for adolescents opposed to the presence of the military in high schools

"Where is it written in the Constitution, in what article or section is it contained, that you may take children from their parents and parents from their children, and compel them to fight the battles of any war in which the folly and wickedness of the government may engage itself? Under what concealment has this power lain hidden, which now for the first time comes forth, with a tremendous and baleful aspect, to trample down and destroy the dearest right of personal liberty? Who will show me any Constitutional injunction which makes it the duty of the American people to surrender everything valuable in life, and even life, itself, whenever the purposes of an ambitious and mischievous government may require it? ... A free government with an uncontrolled power of military conscription is the most ridiculous and abominable contradiction and nonsense that ever entered into the heads of men." -- Daniel Webster (1782-1852), US Senator Source: Speech in the House of Representatives, January 14, 1814

1.What happened next is not in dispute: a woman soldier pointed her rifle at us all, and then after the briefest of hesitations threw not one, but two percussion grenades right at the children. "No, No!" was shouted before she threw. "There are children here!" But to no avail.
2.
One of the masked men approached the Qawawis shepherd and began to tell him in fluent Arabic that he was a bad man for being there. This eighteen year old boy from the outpost treated this elderly shepherd as if he were a child, telling him what he could do and where he could go, calling myself and another international woman 'bitches' and demanding to know where we had come from and why we were there.
International Solidarity Movement, Palestine


A seminar for adolescents opposed to the presence of the military in high schools will convene this Friday in Tel Aviv for two days of lectures and discussions.

It is being organized by a group of young activists New Profile, which opposes what it calls "the militarization of Israeli life" and supports adolescents who refuse to serve in the army. New Profile runs weekly seminars in various cities for what it defines as "draft debaters" – draft-age youngsters who are debating whether to serve in the army.

Friday's seminar, however, is intended for adolescents from across the political spectrum who are opposed to what the organization views as the IDF's overly strong influence within the education system, and specifically to "The Next Generation" program. Administered by the Education Ministry in collaboration with the IDF, the program – which has recently introduced high-ranking IDF officers into 74 high schools – aims to expand into a countrywide program to acquaint adolescents with the army and military values.

Gilad, a New Profile member who is one of the organizers of the seminar, said the organizers also invited representatives of an organization that supports military service, as well as an army officer who will explain why the IDF's presence in schools is important.

Still, he said he expected many participants to come from the 250 high-school students or graduates who recently signed a letter of refusal to serve in the IDF, based on their opposition to the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. On Sunday, the letter was delivered to the offices of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz, Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Moshe Ya'alon, and Education Minister Limor Livnat.

"We wish to live in a society which pursues justice, upholding equal rights for every single citizen. The occupation and repression policy is an obstacle to the realization of this vision, therefore we refuse to take part in it. We wish to contribute to society in an alternative way, which does not involve harming other human beings," the letter stated.

Alex Cohn, 18, one of the letter's organizers, believes that the government's inability to justify to teenagers why they should be endangering their lives in the army is the motivating force behind the creation of "The Next Generation" project.

"This program is a sign that the army can no longer recruit adolescents in normative ways because of the decrease in motivation to serve, and this lack of motivation has to do with the occupation," Cohn said.

When Cohn reports to the IDF induction center on Tuesday, he will be carrying a letter declaring himself a conscientious objector and will ask to be exempted from service.

Cohn, of Tel Aviv, belongs to a group of friends who are active in a range of left-wing organizations.

"We have brothers in the army, we've been to the territories and seen the reality there, and the things that are not shown to the Israeli public left us indignant," he told The Jerusalem Post on Monday. "We came to the conclusion that we cannot be part of the occupation."

Last week, at a meeting to gather more signatures, the group decided to send the letter.

"There was no special event that led to sending it, other than the fact that I and another member of our group will probably shortly enter prison for a long period," Cohn said.

President Moshe Katsav earlier this week admitted Israelhad somehow failed in the process of shaping its young generation. He said he believed the process to be reversible over time and through dialogue with those objecting to military service.

Minister-without-Portfolio Matan Vilna'i condemned the letter, as did former police inspector-general Shlomo Aharonishky. In an unusual act of cooperation, the heads of Likud, Labor, Shinui and the National Religious Party's youth organizations joined in signing a joint statement expressing their strong opposition to any refusal to obey army orders of any kind.

Cohn said the decision to object to military service was not easy, and came after months of hesitation. He also said that despite commonly voiced objections that refusal to serve endangers citizens and may promote further terror attacks, what concerns him most is the way democracy is endangered by "the sovereignty of one people over another."

"It is this policy," he said, "that is most dangerous to our security, because it breeds a sense of total despair which serves to fuel terror."

Cohn also said that he does not believe that soldiers opposed to the disengagement plan should be forced to evacuate settlements.

The Education Ministry responded by saying that it "strongly deplores any manifestation of refusal to serve in the army," and that it plans to extend the "Next Generation" program to additional schools

         "We, boys and girls, citizens of Israel, who believe in the values of democracy, humanism and pluralism, hereby declare that we will refuse to take part in the policy of occupation and repression for which the Israeli government has opted. We come from a variety of backgrounds, but all are agreed that the following values are the basis of a just society. Every person is entitled to basic rights: the right to life, equality, dignity and freedom. It is our conscientious and civic duty to act in defence of  these rights by refusing to take part in the policy of occupation and repression.

 

The occupation entails forfeiting human dignity and massive loss of human life. It affects the basic rights of millions of persons and causes daily killing and suffering. It leads to land confiscation, mass demolition of homes, arrests and extra-legal executions, ill-treatment and the murder of innocents, hunger, deprivation of medical care, collective punishment, construction and expansion of Jewish settlements and prevents any possibility of a normal life in the occupied territories and in Israel. This flagrant deprival of human rights runs counter to our entire philosophy, as well as international conventions which Israel has signed and confirmed.

The occupation does not contribute to the security of the state and its citizens, it merely harms them.  It exacerbates despair and hatred among the Palestinian people, sustains terrorism and expands the cycle of violence. True security will be achieved only by ending the occupation, dismantling the Apartheid wall and working for a just peace agreement between the state of the Israel and the leadership of the Palestinian people and the Arab world overall. The present policy does not stem from defence needs, rather, from a nationalist and messianic world view.

 

The occupation corrupts Israeli society, rendering it militarist, racist, chauvinist and violent. Israel is wasting its resources on perpetuating the occupation and repression in the occupied territories, at a time when hundreds of thousands of Israeli citizens live in shameful poverty. The state's citizens have experienced a decline of all public systems in recent years. Education, health care, infranstructure, pensions, social benefits and everything to do with the welfare of Israel's citizens - are neglected in favour of supporting settlements that a majority wants to see dismantled. We cannot stand by in view of this situation, which constitutes the "focussed liquidation" of the principle of equality.

 

We want to see the society in which we live pursuing justice, upholding equality for every person and citizen. The policy of occupation and repression is an obstacle to realisation of that vision, and we shall refuse to take part therein. We wish to contribute to society in an alternative way, which does not involve harm to human beings.

 

We call upon all young people awaiting induction, and all the soldiers of the Israeli army, to reconsider whether to risk their lives in taking part in the policy of repression and destruction.

 

We believe there is a different way."

A Jewish woman in the Peace camps visits Deir Yassin
Holding Back Tears by Hanna from IWPS
April 8, 2005


I tend to say I'm the most stable person I know, I tend to stay emotionally separated from the situations I'm involved in, at least in the moment that they're happening.  This week has made that more difficult.  This week has seen tragedies, frustrations, and  discussions of past tragedies and frustrations.  There are only two  of us in the house at IWPS now, so the stress level is high and neither of us really has the option to check out and choose not to participate.  All week I've been holding back tears of sorrow and anger, and all week I've been wondering how Palestinians continue to live this way, tragedy on top of tragedy, and remain calm, collected, and on top of everything, nonviolent.  Where does the anger go?

Last week I had a conversation with Abu Rabia (our landlord) in which, for the first time, I heard a complete account of the story of his brother Issa's shooting and paralysis.  For the first time I heard about the tear gas the army was constantly throwing into that part of the village during those weeks.  For the first time I heard about the system of gathering the people and taking them to safety when the army showed up, and despite that, about Um Rabia's 8-month pregnancy that she lost.  For the first time I heard that Abu Rabia had slept on the roof the night before Issa was shot, and that another brother of his had called him to say, "Don't sit up, the soldiers are pointing guns at you."  For the first time I heard about how Abu Rabia climbed down the side of the house in the morning and went to work in Salfit, only to get a call a few hours later that his brother had been shot and that soldiers would not let anyone (including cars or ambulances) approach him.  For the first time I heard that Abu Rabia thinks the bullets may have been meant for him.

The soldiers had been scattered in the olive groves, and Issa was trying to help the kids get out of the street so no trouble would arise.  Suddenly two soldiers came walking down a different street on foot and shot directly at Issa.  He fell, and the soldiers essentially left him to die, not letting anyone approach him.  He lived, but was paralyzed from the waist down, unable to continue his career as a strength trainer.  He remembers going to the doctor once or twice in his life before his injury, and now goes a few times a month.  His wife has been transformed into a nurse, his son who was born only a few months before is now 4 years old and does not remember nor will he ever remember seeing his father walk.

I sat on Abu Rabia's couch listening to him speak, unable to open my mouth for fear the tears would just start flowing.  I wanted to ask how they're able to continue with their lives.  I didn't have to.  The next sentence out of his mouth was, "When I think back about that time, I don't know how we continued with our lives and with our nonviolence." And yet they continue.

The next day I went down to visit Abu and Um Rabia again, only to find a tearful woman in their house asking Abu Rabia for help.  Her husband has been dead for years, and the older of her two sons (who had some mental disabilities) was shot and killed by an Israeli soldier in 2002.  Last week, on the day I saw her in Abu Rabia's house, her younger son, who also has mental disabilities, had gone to his older brother's tomb to visit.  When he reached down to place a flower on the spot, a dumdum bullet that had presumably been left there by soldiers (intentionally or not) exploded and entered his hand and his leg.  He was rushed to a hospital in Qalqilya, where the doctors began operations that are going to cost far more money than this woman has.  She had come to Abu Rabia for help because of his connections with the Palestinian Authority.

A few more days pass, and we come to the biggest tragedy of the week.  I was outside our house, saying goodbye to Issa as he was getting ready to leave for an appointment at the hospital, and trying to understand as a woman took me aside and told me a member of the family had just been arrested at the entrance of Hares.  And then Abu Rabia called: "There were people shot in Deir Ballut," he said.  Deir Ballut is a beautiful village in the Salfit district, widely known for its variety of crops and its wonderful people.  The Wall is currently being built through their land, and they've held demonstrations against the Wall, but there had been no demonstration that morning.  "People were shot?" I asked.  Through phone calls and a visit, we began to piece together the story, at least from the perspective of the Palestinian witnesses: Apparently, several families (all part of the same larger family) were working on their land.  Five of the men walked down a few meters from where their families were, and they could see the bulldozers destroying their land below, as they do everyday.  The men yelled up to the guards, who were standing on a hill at least 300 meters away, something along the lines of, "This is our land, why are you destroying it?"  The private security guards opened fire, and four of the five men were hit - in the chest, shoulder, butt, and leg. 

They range in age from 24-58.  Everyone swears there was not one stone thrown (not that it could have reached so far anyway), and people were completely in shock that these guards, most of whom they knew from previous days, had fired directly at them.  There were no soldiers or police present at the time.  [As I write, two days later, the village is demonstrating, and as far as I know, all four men are still alive, two in hospitals in Israel, and two in hospitals in Ramallah. The fact that two were taken to Israel means that Israeli authorities know they did something wrong.]

We showed up on the scene to find a few of the older women wailing, others trying to comfort them (or, at times, force them to stop - it seemed they didn't want to show any weakness in front of the soldiers who were now there).  Some of the women had made it to the rocks below, or hadn't left since the incident happened a few hours earlier, but the soldiers were blocking everyone else from going down to that group.  They were playing games, telling people to move back from one rock to the next, to be 5 meters away, 10 meters away, and so on.  If someone wanted to go down below, the soldier in charge would say, "If you get one person to come back, you can go down."  One of the women said, "What are you doing here? This is our land."  One of the soldiers, who seemed to be having a good time and was actually laughing most of the time the women were crying, responded, "No, this is our land."  "The government says it's our land, so it's our land," said the soldier in charge. "I do what my government tells me."  "You can think for yourself," I replied.  "When I take off this uniform and put down this gun, I can think for myself," he responded. "Not now."

"What will you say to your wives and children when you go home?" screamed one woman in desperation.  Another yelled, "If our sons die, they will be martyrs, they will go to heaven!  If you die you will go to hell!"  Most of the soldiers didn't speak Arabic, and most of the villagers didn't speak Hebrew, so when the soldiers wanted to communicate with the people they would pull aside one of the Hebrew-speaking men and ask him to translate for the group.  This man, the brother of one of the people shot, was himself covered in blood from having carried his brother to the ambulance.  He looked dazed and exhausted, and when the soldiers told him, "If you care about these people, tell them to move back," he did as told.

When I finally made my way down to the scene of the shooting, I found women praying, kissing the ground, sitting and crying.  At first I didn't see the blood.  Then Anna pointed to a rock, and then another one, and suddenly everywhere I looked I saw drops of blood, or puddles of blood on the scarves and jackets the women were clutching.  I started to feel sick, wanting desperately to know where the security guards were now, what they were thinking, what they had been thinking as they opened fire on the small group of unarmed Palestinian men.

A few minutes later the press showed up - people from Reuters, AP, and French Press.  All the journalists were Palestinian, and apparently they had been held up for a few minutes at the top of the hill by soldiers who told them, "You're Palestinians first, then you're journalists."  They were finally allowed down, and the women picked up the blood-soaked clothing one more time for the photographs. We headed back to the village, people still waiting to hear news from their family members, and Anna promised she'd be back later to sleep in the village that night.

If there's any positive story I can tell this week, it's a bittersweet one. It is positive in its current implications, but a commemoration of a tragedy: the massacre at Deir Yassin.  On April  9, 1948, members of two different Jewish Zionist terrorist groups broke into Palestinians' homes in the middle of the night and killed between 110-140 people.  This was not the only massacre of the time, and probably not the biggest, but it was the one people heard about, the one that caused so many thousands of Palestinians to flee their homes in fear, not realizing that 57 years later, they still would not be allowed to return.

Zochrot, one of my favorite Israeli organizations, planned this trip to Deir Yassin with a group of refugees called Deir Yassin Remembered.  Most of the village's land has been taken by the modern Jewish religious neighborhood Har Nof, and the remaining buildings have become part of a hospital in the neighborhood.  We walked towards the land, with survivors, organizers from the sponsoring groups, and Mordecai Vanunu (the Israeli who disclosed Israel's nuclear weapons program and spent almost 20 years in jail) leading the crowd.  We carried white flowers, one to represent each of the 93 victims' names that are known.  The names were written in Arabic and Hebrew on placards.  At first I thought there were crowd was a only a few Palestinians in the crowd, but as I started hearing Arabic spoken all around me, I realized I had only been counting head scarves. The Jews and Palestinians.mix of Israeli citizens and internationals, and the Israeli citizens were a mix of

We were watched by the young orthodox Jewish children from their playground as we approached the area set aside for us.  Speeches began, and singing - mostly songs whose lyrics were Mahmoud Darwish's poetry.  Translation was constant, Arabic to Hebrew and  vice versa on stage, and massacre was there, and she began to tell stories, personal stories about many of the then Hebrew to English in the audience for a small group of us sitting in the back.  One survivor of the killings.  She talked about the good relations the Palestinians and Jews had previously, how they had could have done to the Jews to make them do been friends, how she doesn't know what the Palestinians this to her family.  She talked about off the roofs of houses; seven young boys sleeping in bed who were rounded up, pregnant women being sliced through the stomach and killed; old men thrown taken outside, lined up, and shot; a few members of her family (herself included) who were given the choice of whether they wanted to be shot or stabbed to death, only to be saved at the last minute by one soldier who said, "Don't kill them, let them go."  This is how she escaped, where they'd along with the other survivors of the village who were put on a truck and shipped out, away from their village been for so many centuries.  Still they cannot go back.  Even as we looked down towards what was Deir Yassin, the modern-day hospital was enclosed by a fence that we could not go through.

The survivor sang a song, and the lyrics went something like this: "They put a mountain between us. I wish it could become sand and disappear."  Between whom? I wondered.  Jews and Palestinians?  Palestinians and their family members?  Both?  "We need everyone in the world to know what happened in Deir Yassin," she closed by saying, and added that she still had the newspaper articles from the time about her family members who were killed. She said this with such urgency, trying to convince a world that has deliberately remembered certain massacres and forgotten others, that we can forget none.  That the way to peace is not to forget the past and move on, but to acknowledge the past and move on.  As if to begun to tear up the booklets that said "Remember Deir Yassin."  I spite her, the group of Israeli kids from Har Nof, instructed by an adult, had tried to take a picture and one said, "Are you going to put this in the paper?"  He then covered his face with a torn booklet, put his middle finger up in front of it, and said, "Put this in the paper."  [It's not in the paper, but you can see it with my other photos online.]

I was sad to see the boys' reaction, to see them laughing at others' pain, to see them denying the biggest catastrophe that has ever happened to the Palestinian people.  At the same time, I think it's good that they were exposed to this, good that they saw Palestinians who were from the place where they now lived, who not so long ago were kicked off their land by some of these kids' grandparents.  As disappointing and disgusting as the incredible.  First the tragedy needs to be exposed, then acknowledged, boys' reaction was, the fact that so many Jewish Israelis were there to remember and acknowledge the sordid history of Zionism was just as and then hopefully, someday, dealt with justly.  If any people should know the importance of this, it is certainly we Jews.


Officers worried by rising number of soldiers in debt

New Profile has long been aware of the phenomenon of social refusal (see article by sociologist Meir Amor on our website www.newprofile.org) and, in several cases, has offered legal aid and moral support to social refusers. Conscripts' so-called "salaries" are so low in the Israeli army that families actually pay to maintain a son, daughter, brother, partner, etc. in his or her term of mandatory military service. First, many of the poorer families lose the vital income provided by young conscripts who took part in family support before becoming soldiers. In addition, conscripts need family support for transportation to and from home on weekend leave, for recreation while on leave, for various 'extra' equipment items that ease field conditions, etc. Maintaining a family member in the military accordingly involves a tax, although a hidden, unrecognized one. While this is true of all conscripts, those stationed close to home are sometimes allowed to work after hours, a solution that is not generally open to combat soldiers. Consequently, structural inequalities are worsened further by military service due to the current overrepresentation among combat troops of working classes (a majority of whom are Mizrachi Jews of Middle Eastern, Asian and North African descent) and newly immigrated communities (mainly from the former U.S.S.R. and Ethiopia). The following item from today's Haaretz is reflection of this reality. R.M.

w w w . h a a r e t z . c o m
By Amos Harel, Haaretz Correspondent

Commanders of army battalions recently have reported a worrying increase in the number of soldiers getting themselves deeply into debt due to gray market loans.

The commander of an infantry battalion stationed in the territories told Haaretz Wednesday that in his battalion alone, he knows of more than 10 soldiers who have fallen into debt in such a way.

A senior source in the Israel Defense Forces' General Staff confirmed that this is a known phenomenon in a large number of combat units.

The infantry battalion commander said that in one case, a soldier was found to owe more than NIS 50,000. For soldiers in elite combat units, who are not allowed to hold civilian jobs during their army service and are paid just a few hundred shekels a month by the IDF, this is a tough amount to pay back.

The commander believes that other soldiers, in addition to the ones mentioned by the battalion commanders, are finding it difficult to pay back similar loans, but are reluctant to tell their unit about their financial woes.

When commanders do find out about their soldiers' money problems, they usually do all they can to assist them, both through providing their families with groceries and through allowing the soldiers to work on the weekends. The battalion commander said that he had worked out a sort of "business plan" for one soldier who found himself heavily in debt in an attempt to help him gradually pay back the money.

Some soldiers find themselves in debt due to their personal expenses, such as high cell phone bills. Most turn to the gray market for loans because their parents, who are themselves heavily in debt, find it difficult to help them.

Combat unit commanders say that "the economic upswing the finance minister talks about is still not being felt by the families of our soldiers." Many of them describe "situations close to starvation" in some soldiers' families. This can be attributed partly to the large percentage of combat unit soldiers who are new immigrants (25 percent, compared to 15 percent of new immigrants in the overall population).

Of the infantry battalion's 500-plus soldiers serving in the territories, more than 100 of them (around a fifth) receive some kind of financial assistance from the army. The battalion helps by distributing vouchers to the families ahead of the festivals, but the amount allocated by the General Staff (some NIS 15,000 in vouchers every three months) does not meet these pressing needs.

The family's financial situation is one of the most influential factors in a soldier's decision to leave combat duty and ask for a posting close to home, or to quit active duty completely.

In addition, commanders are also reporting an increase in the number of soldiers asking for help in finding alternative housing due to violence at home.