On November 26, 2008 Howard Zinn sent his letter of protest to the Ministry of Defense in Israel, supporting the Shministim and their right to peacefully object military service. Read a copy of Howard Zinn’s letter below that asks people to join him and sign a letter of support for the Shministim.
In the early 1970’s, a small group of high school students wrote a letter to then Prime Minister Golda Meir. It was only several years after the Six Day War of 1967, and a sense of euphoria was felt throughout Israel. The popular belief was that now, after tripling its size, Israel had proved to the world that it was undefeatable, and that no one would ever dare to wage war against it again.
Yet the young people who wrote the letter to the Prime Minister felt differently. For them it was obvious that the latest acts of occupation would necessarily lead to new wars and bloodshed– unless peace initiatives were to take the place of blunt militarism. They told this to Meir, warning her that if she chose to ignore Egypt’s calls for peace in exchange for the occupied lands – their own blood, as soldiers-to-be, would be on her hands. Meir ignored the letter, and the 1973 Yom Kippur war came to prove the young prophets right.
This letter became the first in a long tradition of similar letters, all taking the name of “Shministim” – which is the Hebrew for “High School Seniors”. The potency of these letters, in which young people articulated what others have thought, was the use they made of the threat of refusal. In a country where the army and mandatory conscription are held as sacred, the voice of young people who state they will refuse to join the army, or in any other way serve the occupation, was and still is a voice that gets a lot of attention.
And so the letters followed each other. The well known ones came out in 1982 – in response to the (first) Lebanon War; 1991 – in response to the (first) Intifada; and in 2001, 2002 and 2005 – in response to the second Intifada. Hundreds of high school students signed these letters each round, declaring that they would refuse to serve the occupation in any way they saw fit, each time getting a unique platform to voice a radical message, bringing attention to the human rights violations Israel commits against the Palestinians in its citizens’ names.
In 2002 the movement grew so strong that the army felt that extra measures need to be taken. While all refusers spent varying periods of time in jail (usually two to three months), this time it was different. Five of the signatories of the letter were singled out and court-marshaled, resulting in a sentence of two years in prison. However, while the army tried to make a showcase out of the five and use the political trial for its own good, the effect was very much the contrary, as the five refusers were given an even greater platform to give testament to the reality in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
And now, 2008, a new group emerges. Unlike the majority of Shministim letters, this one returns to the origins of the movement, and like the 1970’s letter, serves as a warning to a society which believes it is working towards peace, while its government and army proceed with a violent occupation. While Israelis forget about the occupation because of the relative lack of visible violence, the new Shministim are activists who go to the West Bank, see the building of the Separation Wall, which many Israelis and Palestinians call an Apartheid Wall, and learn from their Palestinian partners the true meaning of day-to-day life under the military regime of Israel. This is why they too choose to speak out, refuse, and offer an alternative to cooperating with an enabling the Occupation.
Yuval Ophir-Auron, a signatory of the 2008 high school seniors refusal letter, was sentenced on Monday, 24 Nov., to 14 days in military prison for his refusal to serve in the Israeli military.
Yuval is 19 years of age. He lives in the Arab-Jewish village Neveshalom / Wahat al-Salaam. He has spent the past few years in high school, where he majored in History and Theatre, and after graduation volunteered for a year’s civilian service, living in a commune in Yavne. As a volunteer he worked with Ethiopian youth and youth from other disempowered communities. In edition, he volunteered in a nursery for children of refugee and migrant workers in south Tel Aviv.
Yuval refuses to join the Israeli military as it is an occupying force. You can read the full text of his (very eloquent) declaration of refusal here. He is due to be released from prison on 5 Dec. His prison address is:
ID number 201205580
Military Prison No. 6
Military Postal Code 01860, IDF
Since the prison authorities often block mail from reaching imprisoned
objectors, we also recommend you to send your letters of support and
encouragement to the imprisoned (and otherwise detained) objectors via
e-mail to email@example.com,
Name: Maya Yechieli Wind
Why I am one of the Shministim: “At first, like many other Israeli citizens, I too could not bring myself to confront or criticize the Israeli military’s immoral actions. I realize that this difficulty originated from my sense of identification with soldiers my own age, to whom I could relate. Today it is precisely this realization that leads me to refuse to serve. I cannot recognize the humanity of Israelis but not that of Palestinians. Continue reading »