Shministim follow in South African footsteps...
Shministim are conscientious objectors. We are Israeli high-school graduates who refuse conscription into the military, and are repeatedly imprisoned as a result. We will not take part of the occupation of another people, the Palestinians, particularly when doing so goes against human values and cannot be explained on grounds of security. I am now 19 and have been jailed three times for my refusal, usually in solitary confinement because I refuse to wear military uniform in prison.
My friends and I have been conducting speaking tours through the United States and South Africa. Our South African hosts are the End Conscription Campaign [ECC], as they celebrate 25 years since the launch of their campaign against apartheid military conscription.
The contrast in reaction and media coverage is fascinating. In the
The explosive reaction to our stay in
Michael Ben-Yair, a former attorney-general of
In the wake of such categorical statements, it is vitally important to acknowledge the dual nature of Israel, as much a haven for Jews fleeing persecution before, during and after the Second World War, as the colonising international law-breaker that acts with impunity and uses Jewish suffering as an excuse.
Those of us who refuse to serve in the army have all seen the system of control and process of dispossession with our own eyes. Most Israelis have not. Like most white South Africans, even today, most of us are unaware what life is like an hour from our homes.
One of my first contacts with Palestinian life over six years ago was a visit to a small Palestinian community south-east of
They were not different in any way to the people I knew from home. We even hated the same subjects in school. But, I had the right to come to their homes, meet with them and go back home. They not only did they lack the right to visit me in my home, but didn’t even have the legal right to live in their own houses, as these had been built without permits and were therefore under constant threat of demolition.
The shock was not from the brutality of the occupation or of a specific soldier, but from witnessing the ordinary day to day situation of going through checkpoints, fearing the demolition of their homes and knowing that every 18-year old soldier has the power to control their life. I could not bring myself to be that soldier and to hold such power of people who are my equals.
A week before coming to South Africa I made my way with some friends from the centre of Tel Aviv, a city that never sleeps, to the lightless streets of Bil’in, a village that has been fighting the separation fence stealing 40% of its land for over five years. This village has become a symbol for this struggle not only because it continues to fight for what is right even as soldiers arrest the organisers and shoot the protesters, not only because they have chosen an unarmed struggle, but because they have chosen to make it a joint struggle.
The fact that we Israelis sleep in our Palestinian comrades houses to prevent their arrests and that together with them we march demanding the return of their land has, in effect, beaten the purpose of that wall we struggle against: separation. Activists like Mohamed Khatib and Ezra Nawi, from opposite societies, both under constant threat of arbitrary arrest and harassment, show that a different future is possible.
We also learnt about other heroes. Neil Aggett was a young white doctor at
Mary Manning was a shop attendant in
Kriel helped to unite the oppressed people, Aggett showed that whites and blacks could find each other in friendship, and Mary Manning proved that the world cared because injustice touches on all of humanity. We have called for a similar boycott of Israeli goods linked to settlements and the military.
Speaking to young people was the highlight of our time in
If our generation wants to see a new reality between Israelis and Palestinians it is going to take the support of the whole world, including Jews, Muslim, Christians, atheists, and every other religion, colour and creed.
Sahar Vardi, 19, is a Jewish Israeli conscientious objector who has been imprisoned three times for refusing to enlist in the Israeli military. As part of the Shministim she recently visited