"As a Jew, an American and a mother, the invasion of Gaza filled me with unbearable sadness. While Hamas’ attacks on Israeli villages are deplorable, Israel’s disproportionate response is unconscionable… In loving memory of our ancestors and for the future of our—and Palestinian—children, more American Jews should speak out and reach out."
~ Medea Benjamin, CODEPINK co-founder
The High Holy Days are a time to review the past year, to acknowledge our moral strengths and weaknesses, and to turn toward the New Year with a renewed commitment to living our values. One part of that process of “teshuvah ve tzedakah”, turning and returning, is to tell the stories that powerfully illustrate the Jewish values of devotion to life and justice. During this period of intense reflection, two courageous young Israeli women who refused to serve in the Israeli army will share their stories in a national tour called, "Why We Refuse: A National Tour of Israeli Young Women for Peace," from September 11 to October 11.
Maya Wind and Netta Mishly (right), both 19, are part of a group of Israeli high school seniors called the Shministim (“twelfth-graders”) who went to prison for their principled refusal to join the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) upon graduation because of their opposition to Israel’s policies toward Palestine and occupation of its territories. About 100 Israeli youth, including Maya and Netta, have signed the 2008 Shministim letter articulating their reasons for refusal including "Israeli ‘defense’ methods: checkpoints, ‘targeted’ killing, roads for Jews only, sieges and more, which serve the land seizing policy, annex more occupied territories into Israel and trample on Palestinian human rights… It is impossible to harm and imprison in the name of freedom, and thus it is impossible to be moral and serve the occupation.”
Netta, at the age of sixteen, was an organizer for an alternative education project. It was in this project that the idea of the 2008 Shministim letter was born. In 2009 she was sent to jail for 20 days after refusing to serve in the Israeli army. Since her release, she has been involved in immigrant and refugee struggles as well as anti-occupation actions.
Maya works for Rabbis for Human Rights, and guides political tours in East Jerusalem and the West Bank for the Israeli Committee against House Demolitions. She also co-leads the Jerusalem dialogue youth group of New Profile, the feminist movement for the demilitarization of Israel.
"We believe it is important to spread information about the Israeli occupation and about and the movements that work against it," said Maya, who grew up attending religious Jewish schools. She joined the Shministim in December 2008 and spent 40 days in prison before her release in March. "We feel it is important to expose the American people, specifically the Jewish community, to the role they play in maintaining the occupation. We hope to empower people our age to take responsibility by taking a more active role in the resistance movements."
Many more American Jews have begun to question and speak out against the Israeli occupation since the January 09 assault on Gaza. According to a March 2009 poll of American Jews, 60 percent oppose the expansion of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, and 72 percent favor America’s assuming an active role in the peace process, even if it means having the U.S. take tough positions such as publicly disagreeing with both the Israelis and Arabs or exerting pressure on both parties to make compromises. In the same poll, 59 percent of American Jews felt that Israel’s military action on Gaza had no effect on Israel’s security (41 percent) or made Israel less secure (18 percent), while only 41 percent felt it made Israel more secure. What these young conscientious objectors have to say about the occupation and the militarization in Israeli society is of critical importance for us.
Maya Wind and Netta Mishly refuse to rule over an occupied people. They refuse to contribute to a deadly cycle of violence with their neighbors. They refuse to confiscate land, to demolish homes, to detain Palestinians without charge. They refuse to guard checkpoints, to enforce a siege, to usher in a humanitarian disaster.
"Last year Jewish Voice for Peace sent over 40,000 letters of support to the Shministim as they were going to prison," said Sydney Levy of Jewish Voice for Peace. "We must continue to let the world know that for the sake of both Israelis and Palestinians, Israel’s occupation must end, and that a new generation of young people is willing to go to jail to stand up and say NO."
Whatever our position on the many issues of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, we have a unique opportunity to learn as we listen to Maya and Netta discuss their personal experiences of growing up in Israel and becoming conscientious objectors, and how Americans can become part of a movement away from constant conflict and insecurity, and toward a durable peace with justice.
For more info on the tour, organized by CODEPINK and Jewish Voice for Peace, please visit www.whywerefuse.org or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
“This new generation of young Israeli kids is standing up to the government – they call ‘em ‘Shministim.’ … They believe in a better, more peaceful future for themselves and for Israelis and Palestinians, and they are refusing to join the Israeli army. They’re in jail, holding strong against immense pressure from family, friends and the Israeli government.” – Ed Asner, “The Shministim”