Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Cooperative resistance and criminal repression

In this posting:
1) Refusing to serve the killing wall and the killing fields;
2) Israeli leaders preparing for possible charges for war crimes


Refusing to serve the killing wall and the killing fields

In many cases, the English version of Haaretz fails to feature even the highly selective and watered down reports that the Hebrew paper or website carry on oppositional actions inside Israel. The following item, however, according to New Profile activist Haggai Matar, who is quoted in it, was published in English only and will not be printed in Hebrew.

Less visible at present than the recent wholesale killing of children by Israel's military in Gaza is the ongoing shooting and, often, killing, of activists-- including youth and children--in the occupied West Bank. Many such shootings occur in the context of forceful military suppression of resistance to the separation wall, which continues to protect the theft of Palestinian lands, to deny Palestinian livelihoods and basic rights. And yet, in face of violent repression, the movement resisting the wall continues to create and maintain close ties and cooperation between Palestinians and Israelis.

Many of the younger Israeli activists against the wall are also draft resisters, refusing to comply with the law requiring them to serve in the military that forcefully imposes the policies and measures they are struggling to stop. Some of these young people are imprisoned for their refusal and JPN has reported on the most recent group of high school seniors ("Shministim") who are currently taking this stand.

The item below sketches this web of connections, offering a bleak and, at the same time, hope-inspiring picture of a stubborn, complex popular, non-violent resistance movement of both Palestinians and Israelis.

Rela Mazali


w w w . h a a r e t z . c o m

Last update - 18:33 21/01/2009

View from Ramallah / Israeli refuseniks confront the IDF, from Ni'lin to Tel Aviv

By Jesse Rosenfeld

I had just returned to Tel Aviv from a demonstration in the West Bank village of Ni'lin last July, when I caught word that the Israeli military had shot 11-year old Ahmad Musa in the head during a protest against the separation wall. Twenty minutes later, three Israeli anarchists and I were speeding back to the West Bank to see what had happened.

Soon we were again in the West Bank, where Israeli suburban-like settlements interrupt Palestinian farmland and villages. Apart from the occasional phone call by the activists to spread the word, we drove mostly in a stifling silence of despair.

As we were waved through a military checkpoint by an Israeli soldier with an M16 dangling carelessly around her neck, activist Yonatan Pollack kicked the glove compartment. "Fucking child killers," he spat out.

On November 7, Haaretz reported that the army had requested that the Shin Bet - Israel's domestic spy network and internal security service - provide information on left-wing Israeli activists traveling to the West Bank.

The stated goal was to make it easier for the army to issue restraining orders to prevent the activists from entering.

Since the beginning of the anti-wall campaign in Ni'lin last May, village residents have been joined by Israeli and international activists in non-violent attempts to block the army's bulldozers.

At the same time, the youth in the town have responded to the army's use of tear gas, rubber bullets and live ammunition with stone throwing. Their collective effort has created heavy delays in construction, and the wall - scheduled for completion last June - is still unfinished.

The struggle has not only generated robust participation by Israel's small radical left, it has also regalvanized the military refusal movement after two years of relative quiet.

Inspired by the resistance of Ni'lin villagers and horrified by the brutality Israel has used to repress the village uprising, the "refuseniks" - as they are locally known - are back in the news.

"If the army backs off in Ni'lin it will be an example to the refusal movement and Israeli society. It will show that the army can't break us," explains Omer Goldman, a Ni'lin solidarity activist who went to military prison this past September at age 19 for refusing to enlist on her conscription date.

Because military tribunals usually hand out numerous consecutive small sentences for refusal rather than dealing with drawn out public trials, Goldman received a second sentence immediately following her first.

Army service is compulsory for all 18-year-old Jewish and Druze Israelis, with men serving three years and women two, and it has long been seen as a sacred cow in Israeli society. The refusenik movement first emerged during Israel's invasion of Lebanon in 1982 and was re-launched at the height of the second Intifada with a refusal letter of 200 high-school graduates in 2001.

The refuseniks have now been thrown back into the national spotlight following the imprisonment of five Israeli draft dodgers - including Goldman last August and September. The jailings began after an open letter from graduating high school students refusing to enlist was published in the August 15 edition of Yedioth Aharonoth. Over 60 high-school students signed the letter, declaring their intention to evade conscription, once again taking aim at Israel's 41 year occupation of the West Bank and Gaza.

"Our refusal comes first and foremost as a protest of the separation, control, oppression and killing policy held by the State of Israel in the occupied territories," reads the published letter that was also sent to both IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi and Defense Minister Ehud Barak.

"We cannot hurt in the name of defense or imprison in the name of freedom; therefore we cannot be moral and serve the occupation," concludes the letter.

Goldman, whose father was a deputy head of the Mossad foreign intelligence agency, echoes the sentiment. I first met her hiding out in a Ni'lin medical clinic as the army invaded the village spraying live bullets.

As we sit in a trendy Tel Aviv cafe talking about both her political influences and activist experiences, it becomes clear that what drives the admirer of the 1968 Paris student revolt is both philosophical and visceral: she refuses to participate in what she has seen the military do in Ni'lin and rejects what the army represents.

"Ni'lin's [struggle] is a window that shows an example of Israeli-Palestinian solidarity," Goldman explains.

It is a perspective that grinds against the Israeli mainstream. For Defense Ministry spokesman Sholomo Dror, the issue of military refusal is one of a small minority of Israelis breaking the law and not fulfilling their national obligations.

Dror argues that Israelis have a "democratic" responsibility to serve in the state's armed forces.

"If you want to oppose the government's policies, then serve in the army and oppose the policies afterwards," he says in a phone interview from his Tel Aviv office. "I don't think serving in the army is violating people's rights."

According to Dror, refuseniks represent a fringe movement that poses no real threat to the military or challenge to Israeli society. "We have more people volunteering for elite unit enlistment being turned down," he says.

The war on draft dodging

Despite this claim, Defense Ministry statistics show that 25 percent of Israeli's avoided military service in 2007. While 11 percent of those were exempt for religious reasons, the majority falls into what is commonly referred to as "grey refusal." This category refers to those exempt for mental or physical health reasons, or marriage, in the case of women.

In response to these statistics, Defense Minister Barak and IDF Chief Ashkenazi called for a "war on draft dodging" - an operation to publicly shame those avoiding service.

A vigorous television and billboard campaign was launched across Israel last year, under the slogan "A real Israeli doesn't evade the army."

The ads featured a group of Israelis on a post-army tour of India - a rite of passage so popular it has almost become a social institution - trying to impress a group of Swedish travelers with tales from the battlefront. The Israeli who avoided military service is the one who doesn't end up with a beautiful blond.

Following publication of high school refusenik's open letter, Attorney General Menachem Mazuz last September launched a criminal investigation into the New Profile organization - which provides support and information for people planning on or actively refusing military service.

Haaretz reported then that the inquiry into whether the organization was guilty of "incitement to draft dodging" was launched in the wake of a February request by the military.

The "incitement to draft dodging" law has never before been investigated, but New Profile organizer Haggai Matar said the group is careful to ensure that all its work is legal.

"We are trying to offer an alternative to Israel's security discourse, to ask who's secure and whose security we are talking about," he explains. "We argue that perhaps we should talk about a different kind of security - social security, equality and security from needing."

During our chat after a refusenik demonstration at a Tel Aviv military base, Matar talks about the importance of the support he received from New Profile during his own army refusal in 2001. The bushy-bearded, strawberry blond radical was a leader in the first high school refusal letter of the Second Intifada, faced a high profile public trial for rejecting enlistment and spent two years in jail as a result. The case is now taught as precedent in law schools across Israel.

"New Profile helped me a lot when I was refusing, and therefore, all I can do is offer the support that I got," Matar smiles.

He is part of a small minority of the 25 percent of Israelis who avoid the draft by publicly opting out. Public refusal continues to receive prominent national attention and vicious social backlash.

Like Goldman and Matar, refusenik, Sahar Vardi, received national media coverage when she was jailed for the first time on August 25 for refusing her military induction.

"I'm going to tell the recruitment officer that I'm not serving because of the occupation," Vardi said, just before entering the Tel Aviv military base for new conscripts. "I've seen Palestinian kids get shot and beaten by the army in the West Bank and this is something that I'm not going to be a part of." She seemed calmed and defiant, wearing a "courage to refuse" t-shirt with the graphic of a broken M-16.

In spite of facing both jail time and public backlash for their actions, refusenik activists are headstrong in their determination.

On December 18, the refuseniks rallied in front of Defense Ministry base in Tel Aviv - which also serves as a central army base - to present to Barak 20, 000 letters of international support calling for the release of jailed draft dodgers and commending their actions.

The action was organized by a coalition of Israeli and American anti occupation groups supporting military refusal, with most of the letters coming from supporters in the United States.

The crowed of 150 chanted "from Iraq to Palestine, choose refusal, stop the crimes," while several draft dodgers attempted to deliver the 20,000 letters. They were stopped by police, at the gate of the base.

"They're the army, they don't deal with these sort of things," said a police officer preventing the delivery of letters.

Since the beginning of Israel's offensive on Gaza three weeks ago, the refuseniks have been furiously organizing anti-war action, demonstrating at army bases and joining in mass demonstrations demanding an end to the war.

For many Palestinians, especially activists in Ni'lin, Israeli military refusal is an important act of solidarity for joint struggle against occupation.

"Despite being a small part of Israeli society, [the refuseniks] give us hope that even inside Israel there are people who are really rejecting occupation," says Hindi Mesleh, an energetic 25-year old activist with Ni'lin's popular committee who regularly engages with Israeli solidarity activists. His family is currently fighting to save their own farmland from being confiscated by the separation wall.

Mesleh speaks about the refuseniks with same glint of the admiration that comes out when discussing Palestinian prisoners. "It's hard for Palestinians to conceive of someone serving on a checkpoint one day and going to demonstrate in Ni'lin the next," he explains, two weeks after Musa's death.

According to eyewitness reports, Musa was fatally wounded by an M-16 sticking out of a rifle slit at the back of an Israeli jeep, as he turned to flee troops. His corpse in the Ramallah morgue, with his skull split diagonally in two on the cold metal table, corroborate his cause of death.

The anger that arose in response to the shooting was exacerbated at his funeral the next day when 17-year old Youseph Amira was killed by two rubber bullets to the head during a checkpoint clash.

That day in July, as we arrived in Ni'lin on the eve of Musa's funeral, Pollack jumped out of the car and walked towards the barricade lines, hugging the store front walls to avoid the army's rubber bullets.

Evaluating the situation, he turned to group of local children, and asked them in Arabic what needed to be done.

Jesse Rosenfeld is a freelance journalist based in Ramallah and Tel Aviv.


Israeli leaders preparing for possible charges for war crimes

Israeli officials are in a frenzy of activity to forestall legal actions abroad over their involvement in the recent Gaza offensive.
Apparently, Tzipi LIvni's trip to Brussels was almost cancelled based on a rumor (revealed later to be a hoax) that she might be arrested. This is an indication of how seriously worried Israeli authorities are.

Racheli Gai.


Israel's Leaders Are Frantically Trying to Prevent War Crimes Proceedings for Their Gaza Atrocities

By Jonathan Cook, AlterNet. Posted January 26, 2009.

Mounting fear in Israel that the country's leaders face war crimes charges over their involvement in the recent Gaza offensive pushed officials into a frenzy of activity at the weekend to forestall legal actions abroad.

The urgency was underlined after rumors last week that Belgian authorities might arrest Tzipi Livni, Israel's foreign minister, if she attended a summit of European counterparts in Brussels on Wednesday. In an indication of how seriously the matter is judged, Ms Livni's advisers were on the verge of cancelling her trip when the story was revealed to be a hoax.

Nonetheless, officials are braced for real attempts to arrest senior political and military figures following a warning from the country's chief law officer, Menachem Mazuz, that Israel will soon face "a wave of international lawsuits".

In response, the government is setting up a special task force to work on legal defenses, has barred the media from naming or photographing army officers involved in the Gaza attack, and has placed restrictions on overseas visits. Today, ministers were expected to approve an aid package to help soldiers fight warrants abroad for their arrest.

The concern about war crimes trials follows a series of pronouncements by Richard Falk, the United Nations' special rapporteur on the occupied territories and a professor emeritus of international law at Princeton University in the United States.

He has accused Israel of gravely violating the laws of war during its three-week offensive, which killed more than 1,300 Gazans, most of them civilians, and wounded thousands more.

There is a well-grounded view that both the initial attacks on Gaza and the tactics being used by Israel are serious violations of the UN charter, the Geneva conventions, international law and international humanitarian law," he said during the final stages of fighting.

Since they gained entry to the tiny enclave after a ceasefire declared a week ago, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have added their voice. The two human-rights organizations have censured Israel over its failure to distinguish between Palestinian civilians and combatants as well as its use of controversial weapons.

There is incontrovertible evidence, both groups say, that Israel fired white phosphorus shells over Gaza, despite its banned use in civilian areas, setting homes on fire and burning civilians caught under the shower of phosphorus.

Kenneth Roth, the director of Human Rights Watch, has also lambasted Israel for using high-explosive shells in built-up areas of Gaza, even though the artillery has a blast range of up to 300 meters.

Initial indications suggest that the army may have resorted also to an experimental weapon -- dense inert metal explosive, or Dime -- that severs limbs and ruptures the internal organs of anyone close to the blast.

The International Atomic Energy Agency, the UN's nuclear watchdog, is investigating claims forwarded by Saudi Arabia that depleted uranium shells were used in Gaza.

In addition, human-rights groups have begun documenting instances of the Israeli army's targeting of civilian buildings, including UN schools, and of soldiers taking Palestinian civilians as human shields.

A senior Israeli official told Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper: "As far as the international arena is concerned, Israel is entering what is probably its darkest era."

In a further sign of concern, an unnamed government minister was quoted last week as saying: "When the scale of the damage in Gaza becomes clear, I will no longer take a vacation in Amsterdam, only at the international court in The Hague" -- a reference to the International Criminal Court in the Netherlands that tries war crimes.

Over the past week about 300 human-rights organizations have jointly prepared a 37-page dossier of evidence to be presented to the court.

According to legal experts, it will be difficult to try Israel at the ICC because it is not a signatory to the Rome statute governing the court's jurisdiction and function. However, an ad hoc tribunal similar to the ones set up to deal with war crimes in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia may be an option. The ICC might also try to pursue individual Israeli commanders for war crimes.

A more pressing concern for Israel is that human-rights activists in Europe could use local "universal jurisdiction" legislation to initiate war crimes trials in their domestic courts against Israeli leaders.

Such actions have been launched before, most notably in 2005 when Doron Almog, the former Israeli commander in Gaza, avoided being arrested in the United Kingdom only after he was warned to remain seated in a plane after his arrival at Heathrow airport. Major Gen Almog had overseen the demolition of hundreds of homes in Gaza three years earlier.

In an attempt to make life more difficult for Israeli leaders, anonymous activists in Israel launched a website ( -- "outing" those it accused of war crimes, including Ehud Barak, the defence minister, Ehud Olmert, the prime minister, and Ms Livni. It also identified most of the senior military command.

Offering photographs and information about each official's alleged offence, the site provides contact details for the ICC and tells visitors to alert the court when "the suspect is outside of Israel's borders".

To avert the danger of arrests for war crimes, IsraeI hurriedly initiated a series of moves to protect its leaders. A special task force, overseen by the prime minister's office, will convene in the next few days to start building a defence for army commanders.

The Israeli media suggested experts on international law would seek to compile evidence that Hamas stockpiled weapons in civilian buildings, and that the army went to great efforts to warn residents to flee before bombing areas.

The military censor is excising from media reports all identifying information about senior officers involved in the Gaza operation, and officers who wish to travel abroad will be required first to seek the advice of military officials.

Jonathan Cook is a writer and journalist based in Nazareth, Israel. His latest book is "Disappearing Palestine: Israel's Experiments in Human Despair" (Zed Books). His website is

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