REFUSER NEWSLETTER MARCH 7, 2003
Refuser Solidarity Network
Dear supporter of Israel's military refusers:
Welcome to the first of many editions of the Refuser News, the Refuser Solidarity Network e-newsletter!
The conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians is many things. It is violent. It is tragic. It feels overwhelming to those who live it, and to those who work to end it from the outside. It is a conflict that deeply divides the communities involved, both from within and without.
For all of these reasons -- and many others -- it is a conflict that has spawned many movements, organizations, coalitions, protests, publications and pundits.
But there is one group of individuals who stand apart from the others. They are individuals whose courage and willingness to take action, to speak out publicly at great risk to themselves and their families, has breathed new life into the cause of peace. They are the Israeli refusers -- those men and women who refuse to serve in the Israel Defense Forces because of its current policies and actions that destroy the hopes for peace.
The Refuser Solidarity Network (RSN) is an organization of individuals from around the globe who have come together to stand with the refusers -- to provide support and to promote their efforts. By doing so, we further our ultimate goal of working for peace.
The purpose of the Refuser News is simple, like the refuser movement itself: Take Action. You will not find in the Refuser News long essays or testimonials from refusers, "FAQs" or articles on refusing to serve or general writing on the conflict in the Middle East. Most of these items are available on our website: http://www.refusersolidarity.net/. From time to time, RSN will also issue Urgent Action Alerts that will have additional information and ways to take action.
Instead of those items, each issue will feature several sections:
The Courage Index -- Current statistics about the refuser movement
RSN Update -- This section will keep you abreast of RSN general activities, strategies and actions, as well as ways you can join us!
Refuser Tour Tracker -- You will never again wonder, "Hmmm...when and where can I hear a refuser speak?" This section will provide dates, times and brief information about the refuser coming to your area. You can always, though, visit www.refusersolidarity.net and click on Refuser Tours for all the information on tours.
Refuser Movement Update -- Reports about the activities of the four refuser organizations RSN formally supports: Ometz L'Sarev ("Courage to Refuse"), Shministim ("High School Seniors"), Yesh Gvul ("There is a Limit") and New Profile.
"Two Minutes of Action"
We hope you find this a useful resource. If you have ideas, suggestions, or items/Index statistics to contribute, please contact us at:
The Refuser News Editors
Kate Sugarman and Brad Brooks-Rubin
Section I: The Courage Index
Total Number of Refusers (source:Yesh Gvul): 1089
Percentage of Israelis fit to serve in the IDF who do not do so, according to the IDF Division of Manpower (source: Moshe Reinfeld, Haaretz): 45
Number of Reservists who have signed the "Combatant's Letter" (source: Ometz L'Sarev): 525
Number of "Shministim," High School Seniors who refuse to be drafted (source: Shministim): 245
Number of Signers of RSN Refuser Support Statement (source: RSN): 1137
Number of Refusers currently in jail (source:Yesh Gvul): 9
Number of Refusers who have served jail sentences since September 2000 (source:Yesh Gvul): 200
Number of ultra-Orthodox Israelis in jail for failure to serve in the IDF: 0
Number of Shministim awaiting court martial (source New Profile): 3
Number of Days in Jail Served by Yonatan Ben-Artzi, longest-serving Shminist and nephew of Benjamin Netanyahu, now awaiting court martial (source: New Profile): 196
Number of Days in Jail Received by Israeli soldier who killed a 95 year-old Palestinian woman in 2002 (source: Gush Shalom): 35
Amount of Time the Refusers Have to Wait for Your Support: 0
Section II: RSN Update
By now, many of you have seen the report from the January 19 organizational meeting of RSN, held in NYC. Representatives from each of the four refuser groups attended, as well as individuals from around the United States, Europe and South Africa. For a complete report of this meeting, please see:
Since the meeting, we have made rapid progress. The Steering Committee held its first monthly meeting in mid-February and decided many important issues. In addition, Refuser Solidarity Network, Inc., has hired an attorney and was incorporated as a non-profit corporation in the District of Columbia in February. Our application for recognition as a tax-exempt 501(c)(3) organization should be completed in the near future.
More importantly, a successful tour recently wrapped up in New York City, with Amit Mashiah speaking to thousands of people across the city -- from synagogues to universities to the anti-war demonstrations. As you will see in Section III, several other tours are planned for the March and rest of the Spring.
In addition, RSN continues to plan additional activities -- stay tuned!
Following are four short reports/updates from each of the Israeli organizations RSN supports, The purpose of this section is to provide you with necessary and timely information direct from Israel, as well as links to where you can take the time to learn more
New Profile is a young and visible organization, the outgrowth of a belief that there is a need to question the deep-seated influence of militarism on Israeli society. The movement, comprised of feminist women, men and youth, is a volunteer grassroots organization. Our name, New Profile, reflects the long-range aim of our organization: to change the Profile of Israeli society, from a militarized society of war and might, to an actively peacemaking community in which the rights of all its citizens are protected and promoted equally, and the human rights of all people residing inside and outside Israeli borders are respected.
Although our activities address a wide range of issues and questions, we are currently engaged in two consistent actions in direct support of the refusers:
Weekly vigil at the home of the Chief Military Prosecutor to the repeated imprisonment of refusers
Collection of testimonies of the women refusers, describing their process of refusal, their ideas and also their experience with the conscience committee.
To learn more about New Profile's objectives and activities, log on to: http://www.newprofile.org.
Ometz L'Sarev ("Courage to Refuse")
Lt. David Zoneshine, author of the Combatant's Letter and lead plaintiff in the Ometz L'Sarev Supreme Court case, reports that the Ometz activities continue to grow and gain momentum in Israel. Zoneshine, one of the founders and leaders of the organization recently wrote to the Refuser News editors, following his release from a jail sentence re-imposed by the Israeli Supreme Court:
Ometz is working hard to solidify its organizational base. Along with the recently-hired Activities Manager, who works daily to provide support to refusers in jail, Ometz should soon have an office and official spokesperson.
The Ometz L'Sarev goals remain simple and clear: Legitimize refusal as an accepted act of courage and response to the current crisis of Zionism, and gather as many refusers as possible to join the 523 brave individuals who are already part of the movement.
Working closely with the Refuser Solidarity Network is an important priority for Ometz. We thank RSN for its invaluable work and will continue to arrange more tours of refusers to North America and in Europe, both to support your efforts and encourage more people outside of Israel to stand with us.
For details on David's case, including the Ometz brief filed with the Court and subsequent opinion, as well as Ometz L'Sarev activities generally, log on to: http://www.seruv.org.
From the recent RSN Urgent Action Alert:
Jonathan Ben-Artzi ("Yoni" to friends and family) is a 20 year-old young Israeli who will soon become the first Israeli conscientious objector in three decades to be tried before a military tribunal. There he faces a sentence of up to three years in prison for refusing to serve. Over the past eight months, he has been repeatedly sent to jail by military commanders, who punish him based on disciplinary charges.
Yoni is one of the founders of the Shministim, the group of high school seniors who wrote a letter addressed to Prime Minister Sharon announcing their refusal to be drafted. The group's entire leadership is now behind bars. One of the co-founders of the group, Haggai Matar, also may soon face a court martial trial.
Yoni's trial has great significance for the entire refusal movement in Israel. According to his lawyer, Michael Sfard: "This trial is very important for the force of conscience in the Israeli legal system. If we win this trial it means the Israeli legal system has allowed respect to the human conscience." The converse means another blow will be struck against Israeli democracy and Jewish values.
To learn more about the Shministim, log on to: http://www.shministim.org/
Following is a summary of the 2002 Yesh Gvul Report of Activities.
This past year, we kept up an intensive array of activities. This brief report comes as a reminder, inviting you to share our experience, as well as join and contribute to our future actions, so that we can expand and improve our campaign.
Please also watch out for the visit of Ishai Menuchin, founder of Yesh Gvul, to the United States in March and April. Ishai's tour coincides with his receipt of the Oscar Romero Human Rights Award in Houston.
Yesh Gvul's 20th anniversary
We celebrated our anniversary with the rock-concert/protest rally Yesh Gvul in the Harbour,with a number of popular Israeli performing artists volunteering their services. Of course, under pressure and intimidation, a few singers backed down at the last moment offering weird pretexts. Copies of a booklet designed for the event by Israel Prize laureate, David Tartakover, and video by Eran Turbiner (including additional footage from a prison vigil) are available.
Yesh Gvul kept up its traditional support of jailed refuseniks, organising a monthly vigil at the military prisons, with the participation of the other three refuser groups.
Two months ago we held an event (The Right to Say No!) in support of the repeatedly-jailed shministim likeYonatan Ben Artzi, who has served cumulative sentences of over 6 months. A number of Israel Prize laureates Shulamit Aloni, Natan Zach, Yirmiyahu Yovel, Hannah Meron, Menasheh Kadishman, Aryeh Shapira, Meir Wizeltir, Dan Meron attended and addressed the audience.
Direct Support to Potential Refusers
We now operate a telephone hotline offering counseling to individuals considering refusal. A survival kitbooklet with similar advice is available from us, or can be downloaded from our website.
This year we launched the Yesh Gvul Public Forumwith four events to consider topics like refusal, freedom of expression and the International Criminal Court, and an evening with the renowned Slovenian philosopher Prof. Slavoy Z`izek on Civic Responsibility. The forums are held at Bet Shmuel (Jerusalem) and admission is free.
We handed out many thousands of fliers to soldiers, urging them to give thought to the actions the Israeli army carries out in the occupied territories.
For more about Yesh Gvul, including information on refuser "adoption" groups, please visit http://www.yesh-gvul.org.
Section V: Two Minutes of Action
First Action: SUPPORT RSN!
You can do this very simply by logging on to the website and signing the RSN Statement of Support. Once you have done this, consider making a contribution to our efforts.
Second Action: Tell someone about what you have done.
Do you have friends, family or colleagues who should know more about the refusers and RSN? If so, tell them and ask them to join the effort!
Post RSN materials on a listserv or on a community bulletin board at a local school, synagogue or community center.
If you know people in areas where a refuser will be visiting, let them know about the events and encourage them to attend.