By Kenneth J. Theisen
On October 12, 2009 Israeli youth held an unusual press conference in Israel. At the press conference they announced that they were refusing to serve in the Israeli military due to Israel’s record of oppression in the occupied Palestinian territories.
Israel requires most youth to serve in the military after graduation from high school. Unless exempted, those who do not serve face prison sentences for their failure to perform military service.
The youth at the press conference issued a letter signed by 84 high school students who declared they would not serve as a protest of the Israeli policies toward the West Bank and Gaza. The West Bank and Gaza have been occupied since 1967 by Israel. Gaza was subject to attack by Israel in December 2008 and January 2009. The U.N. is currently looking into the war crimes committed there. The letter stated, “We cannot ignore the truth – the occupation is a violent, racist, inhumane, illegal, undemocratic, immoral and an extreme condition that presents a mortal danger to both peoples.”
At the news conference 4 of the signers stated that they knew their actions would result in them going to prison, but said they had to honor their values. Nineteen-year-old Or Ben-David said, “We were born into the reality of the occupation and many in our generation see it as something ‘natural’. But I opened my eyes to what was around me and became critical of the Israeli society. I visited in the West Bank and met with Palestinians, it changed my view of things."
Another student expressed that he was acting contrary to his parent’s wishes. Student Effie Brenner stated, “My parents reacted really badly when I told them I wouldn’t join the army. They threatened to kick me out of house. One of the reasons I refuse to join is because I want the Palestinians to know that not all Israelis are in favor of the occupation and that some people are willing to make a sacrifice to end it. Palestinians who have heard of what I’m doing have expressed thanks and encouragement.”
The U.S. is the major supporter of Israel. Each year Israel receives billions of dollars in aid from the U.S. government. In 2006, the U.S. government cut a deal with Israel to supply it with $30 billion in military equipment and weapons. Much of the aid supplied by the U.S. is used to suppress the Palestinians in the occupied territories. Since its creation in 1948, the settler state of Israel has repeatedly made war on its neighbors. Since the 1967 war, Israel has illegally settled much of the territory captured in that war. This is a violation of international law, but despite this the U.S. continues its massive support of Israel. This support continues under the Obama administration, despite occasional noises being made by the administration about the continuation of building even more Israeli settlements in the West Bank.
These courageous youth are setting an example for people world-wide by their open defiance of their government’s occupation of the territories. We in the U.S. should learn from them and also support their actions and resist our own government’s actions that support Israel’s war crimes and crimes against humanity.