Two Israeli women spoke about their experiences as conscientious objectors in the Israeli army as part of the “Why We Refuse” Tour on Wednesday. Maya Wind and Nette Mishly part of a group called Shministim, a group of high school seniors who protest Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories by refusing to serve in the Israeli army, which generally results in their arrest. At the event, hosted by Swarthmore Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), the Peace Collection, and the Peace and Conflict Studies Department, they discussed their experiences and their reasons for refusing to serve.
Wind and Mishly began the talk by identifying the various ways that Israelis avoid military service (usually for reasons of religion or by being declared mentally or physically unfit). They explained that they were conscientious objectors in that they refused to fight because they believed it was “impossible to be moral and serve the occupation.” As a result of their actions, they and others like them spent anywhere from a few weeks to a few months in prison and became members of a “very isolated part” of Israeli society. Shministim became almost a support group for the women.
Wind and Mishly explained their position by discussing the ways that the Israelis exploit and abuse the Palestinians. Wind explained that while many people believe that Israelis move into the West Bank for ideological reasons this is in fact not the case – most move in for economic reasons. In reality the Israeli government supports the movement of Israelis by providing tax breaks and incentives to those who build in the West Bank. As Wind passionately said, “This is not an extreme group – this is our government. With one hand we offer peace and with the other we keep stealing land.”
In addition, the Israelis exploit Palestinian labor, control the products moving into Palestine, and take Palestinian resources. Wind explained how Israeli companies mine resources in Palestinian territory and take it without paying Palestinians; Israel also reroutes 80% of the water that falls in the West Bank to Israeli lands, leaving only 20% for Palestinian farmers.
Wind and Mishly also discussed the existence of checkpoints and how they infringe upon Palestinian rights. Essentially, the Israelis established checkpoints that impede Palestinian movements, as they need permits to pass through. Having to pass through these checkpoints to get to school, university, work, and hospitals makes daily life for Palestinians much more difficult. The required permits are distributed by Israelis, and can be taken away. Thus, as Wind said, “Palestinians are too fearful to rebel against Israeli oppression because they need to cross for their own survival.” These checkpoints do not even separate Israelis from Palestinians – often they just separate Palestinians from Palestinians. Wind and Mishly also talked about how these checkpoints are unfair to Israeli soldiers by describing how stressful and uncomfortable manning these posts are as they constantly have to deal with the threat of attack. As a result they wear out quickly and become more aggressive.
Mishly also talked about the Red Wall, which illegally adds land to Israel. As Mishly said, “They planned the wall to protect people who haven’t moved there yet and buildings that haven’t been built, which shows the ideology that more Israelis should be in the land.”
In addition to how Israeli policies harm Palestinians, Wind and Mishly also discussed how the policies harm Israeli society. Having the focus on security rather than on internal issues is, they said, taking away from the welfare budget and now education and health care are deteriorating. Wind talked about the “anti-democratic, almost fascist” laws that are being discussed, such as laws silencing Palestinians and laws forcing people to swear loyalty to the state, restricting their citizenship if they refuse or do not serve in the military.
Despite all of these problems, both Wind and Mishly said that they have no intention of ever leaving Israel and that they want to stay and raise their families there. They do, however, have hope, and they are working towards a more moral Israel and an end to the Israeli and Palestinian conflict. As Wind said, “We’re caught up in a victim mentality where we don’t trust the people we’re negotiating with…[but] there is always someone on the other side to talk to — we just aren’t trying hard enough.”