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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Refusenik

Ishai Menuchin is a refusenik.

As an Israeli soldier the law requires him to follow orders. He was ordered to serve in the occupied territories. He refused.

He refused to take part in destroying homes, seizing property, and killing Palestinian civilians. Consequently he spent 35 days in a military prison.

Now he is on his way to UMass Boston where on April 3rd he will talk about the “To Defy or Occupy?” dilemma faced by soldiers in the Israeli army today. The talk, sponsored by the University of Massachusetts Boston Human Rights Working Group, begins at 12:30 in a location that will be posted in this space in the next edition of The Mass Media and on http://site.www.umb.edu/human_rights (the UMBHRWG’s web site).

Since Ishai went to jail for refusing to serve in the occupied territories, 200 other Israeli soldiers have also been imprisoned for following his example. Clearly they are lawbreakers. But then so was Rosa Park, the black civil rights activist, who precipitated a major civil rights demonstration in Montgomery, Alabama when she refused to give up her seat on a bus to a white man. And so was Mahatma Gandhi when he resisted British rule in India. And so was Martin Luther King when he refused to leave a white’s only lunch counter in 1963. And so would be a soldier in the United States army today if s/he refused an order to invade Iraq.

Lawbreakers, yes. But heroes as well. Heroes willing to risk persecution and imprisonment in order to adhere to a higher law than a law which would have them commit an immoral act.

Remember the defense of the Nazi leaders at Nuremberg following World War II: “I was only following orders.” It is the same defense that U.S. Lieutenant William Calley used when charged with murdering unarmed men, women, children and babies at My Lai in Vietnam: “I felt then–and I still do–that I acted as directed, I carried out my orders, and I did not feel wrong in doing so.” But the message the Israeli refuseniks are sending the world by their actions is that there are some orders so repugnant to our sense of right and wrong that any individual with high moral standards is compelled to disobey them regardless of what the laws of the country s/he lives in dictate.

Just who are these refuseniks, what are the directives they refuse to follow, and what has been the consequence of their refusal? The Israeli refuseniks are soldiers in the Israeli Defense Forces who have signed a statement, which reads in part:

“We, reserve combat officers and soldiers of the Israel Defense Forces…who were issued commands and directives that had nothing to do with the security of our country, and that had the sole purpose of perpetuating our control over the Palestinian people….We, whose eyes have seen the bloody toll this Occupation exacts from both sides…We, who know that the Territories are not Israel, and that all settlements are bound to be evacuated in the end. We hereby declare that we shall not continue to fight this War of the Settlements. We shall not continue to fight beyond the 1967 borders in order to dominate, expel, starve and humiliate an entire people. We hereby declare that we shall continue serving in the Israel Defense Forces in any mission that serves Israel’s defense. The missions of occupation and oppression do not serve this purpose – and we shall take no part in them.”

The refuseniks have helped spur a growing peace movement among Jews in Israel. It includes, in additional to members of the Israeli Defense Forces, high school students known as the Shministim (a word which loosely translated means “twelfth graders”). In August 2001 the Shministim addressed a letter to Ariel Sharon, the Prime Minister of Israeli, which stated:

“We, the undersigned, youths who grew up and were brought up in Israel, are about to be called to serve in the IDF [Israeli Defense Force]. We protest before you against the aggressive and racist policy pursued by the Israeli government’s and its army, and to inform you that we do not intend to take part in the execution of this policy.

We strongly resist Israel’s pounding of human rights. Land expropriation, arrests, executions without a trial, house demolition, closure, torture, and the prevention of health care are only some of the crimes the state of Israel carries out, in blunt violation of international conventions it has ratified.

These actions are not only illegitimate; they do not even achieve their stated goal – increasing the citizens’ personal safety. Such safety will be achieved only through a just peace agreement between the Israeli government and the Palestinian people.

Therefore we will obey our conscience and refuse to take part in acts of oppression against the Palestinian people, acts that should properly be called terrorist actions. We call upon persons our age, conscripts, soldiers in the standing army, and reserve service soldiers to do the same.

The peace movement in Israel also includes Yesh Gvul or There is a Limit, an organization founded and headed by Ishai Menuchin. Yesh Gvul’s aim according to its web site, “is to combat the misuse of the IDF (Israel Defense Force) for unworthy ends, and terminate the occupation. The group is united on the ‘two-state’ solution, as the key to peaceful resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, in the interests of both peoples.”

And what besides inspiring the peace movement in Israel, has the courage of Ishai Menuchin and other refuseniks accomplished? It has drawn attention in the rest of the world to the dedicated and growing opposition within Israel to the oppressive policies of the Sharon government.

You can find out more about the refuseniks and the peace movement in general by going to www.refusersolidaroty.net. You can find out more about Ishai Menuchin and Yesh Gvul at www.yesh-gvul.org/english. You can find out more about Ishai Menuchin’s scheduled visit to UMass Boston by going to the UMass Boston home page at www.umb.edu, scrolling down to the shortcuts and clicking on “human rights” or by going directly to http://site.www.umb.edu/human_rights. Finally, a good place to visit for a historical overview of the conflict in Palestine is the web site of Jews for Justice for Palestinians: www.jfjfp.org.

The next meeting of the University of Massachusetts Working Group is on Friday, March 14 from 12:30 to 2:00 in room 138 on the 4th floor of Wheatley. All are welcome and encouraged to attend.