“Il faut que les femmes et les hommes de ce pays se redonneront le droit de rêver à un monde plus juste! (Women and men of this country must allow themselves the right to dream of a fairer world!)” – Françoise David, 2011 (cited in HERSTORY 2012, The Canadian Women’s Calendar, p. 104, Saskatoon Women’s Calendar Collective; here)
Françoise David is a social-justice activist. Do you remember, or know of, her in recent Canadian history? (Click here for more info.) One of the many dreams that she has realized in her life, thus far, was the 1995 March of Women Against Poverty – known in French as the “Du pain et des roses” march to a rally in Québec. The reference to “Bread and Roses” recalls the 1912 textile-workers strike in Lawrence, Massachusetts during which immigrant workers (many of them, women) called for fair wages and dignified working conditions (click here, here, and here). [Click here for an international news report titled, “The Cry for ‘Bread and Roses’ Continues”, regarding International Women’s Day (2012) and citing Palestinian women’s efforts at the Qalandiya Checkpoint area between Ramallah (in the occupied West Bank) and occupied East Jerusalem; see the 5-9-minute mark of the video.]
I regard Françoise David’s observation as a reminder that we, as Canadians, need to permit ourselves to realize our right to dream of a fairer world… At this turning of the year – from 2012 to 2013 – and as we begin a new era of world history (part of ‘the great turning’, click here), we look in our collective mirror and realize that we are losing touch with our dream of participating as ‘peaceful’ citizens in the global village…
Under the current federal government, Canada is growing increasingly militarized (listen to this interview here). And in this way, we begin to resemble ‘our best friend’ (here): Israel.
“There is a saying in Israel, passed from one generation to the other: ‘Don’t worry, by the time he will be eighteen, He won’t have to go to the army. We will have peace by then.’ And then you have another war. -Eran Shakine 2009” (click here and here)
Israeli society is highly militarized; from kindergarten age, children are prepared for the mandatory draft into the Israeli Defense Force (IDF). New Profile (Movement for the Civil-ization of Israeli Society; click here) is a group that helps Israelis to see how they are being socialized toward militarism (e.g., in consumer ads) (click here). In the recent Israeli government’s attack on Gaza (November 2012), 75,000 reservists were ordered to report for duty; about 50,000 showed up.
Throughout Israel’s 65th year of existence (here), many people have sought refuge there with a dream of home. Yet, a proportion of Israelis have seen that dream dashed as they watch their government and army shift from one of defence to one of occupation. Of those Israelis, some have leaned into their right to dream anew, of peace. They have acted on that new dream by refusing to serve in the IDF. See these links for helpful overviews of the ‘refuser’ movement (here and here). A recent chapter of this dream has been led by high-school students in Israel. Starting in 2001, the Shministim (high school seniors) Israeli Youth Refusal Movement began, and continues, most recently with this young leader: “Natan Blanc, 19 years old from Haifa, arrived, Sunday, 22 Dec. 2012 , to the Induction Base in Tal-hashomer, where he again declared his refusal to serve in the Israeli Army. He was sentenced to 14 days of imprisonment for his refusal in the military prison No. 6 near Atlit.” (This is Natan’s third imprisonment; see more information and how to take action here. See additional articles here and here regarding other conscientious objectors in 2012.)
In early 2011, I had an opportunity to meet Sahar, a few times. She was the first woman in the 2008 group of Shministim to be imprisoned. Here is part of her story, as I recorded it. See this link for her own statement of refusal.
Sahar was born in August 1990. She was aware as a 12 or 13 year old of the movement against the occupation. Her father was an activist with the Second Intifada which started in 2000 (here). He took her tree planting (a peaceful form of activism; here) and she asked to go to more serious events. She was young. She did go to Bi’lin (a village in the occupied West Bank) for two years for the weekly demonstrations. She met those who refused to serve with the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) in 2005; she attended demonstrations supporting them.
In 1979, the first group of Shministim refused to serve in the occupied Palestinian territories (oPt). At that point in time, the term, Shministim, gained the connotation of refusenik. In 2001, Shministim was used as a term again. In 2001-2003, a few dozen Shministim were involved. A high-profile trial occurred. Five students went to jail for two years (the maximum sentence). That was the only time that a court martial of Shministim refusers has occurred. In all other cases, the IDF has used “administrative proceedings”; it’s a mechanism of the army.
Sahar was aware of the Shministim refuser movement prior to high school. She knew that she would be drafted in 2008 and began to organize with other students in 2007. They wrote to each other and others to raise awareness. One hundred people signed their Shministim letter.
In August 2008, ten people chose to go to prison. Sahar was one of the ten and was the first woman in her Shministim year to refuse IDF service. Her draft date was 25-26 August 2008. She was in prison for two months and in detention for three months.
Note: Orthodox-Jewish boys who study in Yeshiva for a minimum number of years are automatically exempt from IDF service. Palestinians who live in Israel are exempt. Religious Jewish women/girls are exempt although they have to submit a request for exemption.
Sahar described to me how a person may be exempted from IDF service:
1) Secular Jewish society – 12% of potential draftees are exempted based on “mental health”. In the 11th and 12th grades, students undergo physical and IQ tests. Then, the army decides each student’s unit assignment. In the midst of this process (yet before being drafted), a student can ask to see a mental-health officer. For some units, meeting with a mental-health officer is automatically part of the process. Typically, the label that is given to some of the potential draftees is “depressed”. Given the pressure of the army with its strict system and then given the access to weapons, the army considers this a bad combination (i.e., increased risk of suicide). A primary task of the mental-health officer is to determine the suicide potential of draftees, because the army is responsible if a soldier commits suicide (i.e., an inquiry must occur). Yet, this route is “an easy backdoor” for young people. In effect, the majority of the 12% seeking exemption based on mental health are exempted.
2) Conscientious Objection – The army has a Conscientious Objectors Committee (with a membership of 8-10 soldiers and one civilian). Pacifism is given as the reason for seeking exemption; applicants must convince the Committee that service in the army is amoral. Applicants will not receive exemption for political reasons.
3) Incompatibility – Only the army may decide if a person is incompatible with the purpose of the army. A person cannot request this status. A person may be deemed incompatible for such reasons as a criminal record, drug use, dropping out of school, prior service in a military prison.
In 2008, 100 students signed the Shministim letter; only 10 went to prison. Probably, the others went the mental-health route. In effect, going to prison is a choice. Personally, Sahar didn’t want out on a mental-health reason. She did not want to lie about her beliefs. She chose to use the prison to raise awareness about the issues of the occupation. And at the same time, “we decided as a group that we have no reason to sit in prison forever.” “The normal process would be to show up on Draft Day (i.e., your 18th birthday) and indicate that you refuse the draft process and that you will not go. Then, on that same day, you go to trial with one officer; you are accused of refusing an order because you are a soldier as of that day. We were sentenced as soldiers. Usually, you would get between a week and a month; that depends on the officer in charge. [Sahar was initially given one week and then was released.] Then, you get a letter requesting that you return to base, because you are still a soldier. You go back and refuse again. They you try, again.” Sahar spent one week in prison, then one week in detention. Then she was AWOL [away without leave] for two weeks, at home. Then, she was in prison for three weeks. In total, she was in prison or detention for five months. She was exempted/released in January 2009.
As a group, the intention isn’t to fight the army and to sit in prison. The idea is to try and get out. All 10 of the refusers in 2008 hoped to get out on a charge of incompatibility because they perceived that as a path of integrity. Since 2005, none of the Shministim refusers have been released on incompatibility. Rather, they’ve been released on mental-health reasons. For Sahar, on her forth visit with the Mental-Health Officer, she was given a medical profile (i.e., “Profile 21”).
After being released, people live in three types of bubbles:
(1) In Tel Aviv which is a secular Jewish city with the lowest enlistment rate.
(2) Abroad (e.g., in Europe).
(3) In an activist bubble – Sahar lives half-time in Jerusalem (which she describes as not very left-oriented, politically) and half-time in a developing town (where the Israeli government puts new immigrants; which she describes as being very far from left-oriented).
Sahar notes that, in Israeli society, individuals who refuse to serve in the IDF may continue to experience marginalization. For example, for a 20-year old upon release from the army, a typical question is not “How old are you?” but “What did you do in the army?” For 18-20 year old refusers, getting work can be hard due to huge social discrimination based on “We need workers after the army”. Legally, employers are not allowed to discriminate based on army service though job application forms may well ask about army service. For some refusers, getting a driver’s licence may be difficult due to their ‘mental-health’ refusal status.
What will Israeli society choose in the upcoming elections on 22 January 2013? Here are a few links to articles to help sort through the various players in these elections (here, here, here, here, and here). Recently, the Israeli Central Elections Committee tried to disqualify MK (Member of the Knesset) Hanin Zuabi’s candidacy for the 19th Knesset; she is the only Palestinian woman member of the Knesset and participated in the Freedom Flotilla to Gaza in 2011. Concern exists that this was an attempt to silence the minority Palestinian voice within the state of Israel (i.e., Palestinians with Israeli citizenship, though it is a marginalized, second-class status; they live in Israel, not in the occupied territories). On 30 Dec. 2012, the Israeli Supreme Court declared that MK Zuabi would be permitted to participate in the upcoming elections (here and here); this is a hopeful sign.
As Canadians, we have some obligation to follow these elections given that the Canadian federal government is so closely tied to the current Israeli government (see an article here). How will we respond to this ‘best friend’ (here)? How might we be conscientious observers?
We have a right…to dream… To dream and act conscientiously. See this video (here) for an instance of young Israelis daring to dream, and act in support, of a fairer world – to end the Israeli government’s occupation of Palestine; Sahar appears at the 2-minute mark of the video. By dreaming, we imagine the possibilities…
Listen – can you hear voices singing the words of the poem and song, “Bread and Roses”… “Hearts starve as well as bodies – give us bread and give us roses…” (here, here – Mimi Fariña wrote the song, and here ).
Let’s dream of, and thereby, realize a peaceful and beautiful world…at home and globally… in 2013…