Friday, November 04, 2011

Young Israeli Women Challenge former Israeli Foreign Minister on Gaza and Occupied Territories policies

September 28, 2009

This week, in the unlikely location of Hawaii, two young Israeli women who refused Israeli mandatory military service, Maya Wind and Netta Mishly, provided a dramatic counterpoint to one of Israel's war architects, former Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni.

Livni was invited to Hawaii by Governor Linda Lingle to keynote the International Women's Leadership Forum, an annual one-day conference organized to provide international role models for women of Hawaii. Governor Lingle, one of two Jewish U.S. state governors, made her first trip to Israel in May, 2004 for the 56th anniversary of Israel's independence, when she led a 27-member trade delegation. Travel and accommodation costs for Lingle and two other delegation members were paid by the Israeli government, while other delegation members paid for their own expenses. Livni was the Israeli government's Minister of Immigration Absorption during Lingle's visit.

5 years later, Livni, as Israel's former Foreign Minister, received an invitation to travel to Hawaii at the expense of the Leadership forum which is funded by several corporate groups in Hawaii, including the Sheraton Resort where the conference will be held. The Governor's office had a direct role in the invitation of conference speakers.

As Foreign Minister of Israel, Livni was deeply involved in the decision-making that led to the massive Israeli attacks on Lebanon in 2006 and on Gaza in 2008.

The 22-day Israeli military attack on Gaza in December 2008 and January 2009 killed 1,440 people, wounded more than 5,000, made 50,000 homeless and destroyed most government facilities in Gaza. The Israeli government's rationale for attacking Gaza was to stop the rocket attacks from Hamas and other militant groups in Gaza that had killed 30 Israeli citizens over the past six years. During the 22-day attack 13 Israelis were killed--3 civilians by rockets fired from Gaza and ten Israeli military, five of whom were killed by "friendly fire" from their own military.

In 2006, the 34-day attack on Lebanon killed over 1,000 Lebanese citizens and destroyed a large amount of the infrastructure of Beirut and other Lebanese cities and displaced more than one million. The Israeli attack on Lebanon followed a Hezbollah attack in northern Israel on two armored Israeli vehicles that resulted in three soldiers being killed, two wounded and two soldiers captured. Five more Israeli soldiers were killed during an attempt to rescue the captured soldiers.

Livni's participation in the Israeli government decisions to attack Gaza and Lebanon led to activists in Hawaii calling for Livni to be dis-invited from the conference. 

To provide an alternate voice to Livni's, concerned local groups including Friends of Sabeel-Hawaii, Jewish Voice for Peace-Hawaii, CODEPINK: Women for Peace and World Can't Wait invited to Hawaii two Israeli women who refused to serve in the Israeli military because of their government's policies in the occupied Palestinian territories and in Gaza. The women preempted Livni's visit, arriving Sunday, September 20, and spoke the following morning at a press conference outside Lingle's office at the State Capital. They also met with indigenous Hawaiian youth who shared the painful history of the US occupation of Hawaii with them, engaging in a dialogue about occupation across borders. Carolyn Hadfield of World Can't Wait connected the dots when she told a reporter at the Hawaii Advertiser, "In Hawai'i, where there are issues of occupation, for Lingle to bring in an occupier and hold her up as a role model in Hawai'i is outrageous." The culmination of their visit was an evening event at the University of Hawaii that drew a diverse audience of students, faculty, and Honolulu residents. 

I met these 19-year old Israeli women military resisters during a CODEPINK: Women for Peace fact-finding mission to Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories in June, 2009. 40 Americans and 5 persons from other countries, many of the Jewish faith, traveled to Israel in solidarity with Israeli peace activists and their attempt to break their government's siege of Gaza. Our delegation applied to the Israeli government to enter Gaza from Israel to bring playground equipment for children of Gaza. When we were denied entry, we spent three days protesting the three year blockade of Gaza at the Erez border crossing. 

One evening after the protests, six Israeli women who as high school students had refused to be inducted into the Israeli military and who were put in prison for their refusal, one of whom was touring resister Netta Mishly, spoke to our group. They represented Israeli high school seniors called the Shministim ("twelfth-graders") who went to prison for their refusal to join the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) upon graduation because of their opposition to Israel's policies toward Palestine and occupation of its territories. About 100 Israeli 12th graders, they informed us, had signed the 2008 Shministim letter, a document that spelled out their reasons for refusing military service including "Israeli 'defense' methods at checkpoints, 'targeted' killing, roads for Jews only, sieges, land seizure policy which annexes occupied territories into Israel and trampling on Palestinian human rights ... It is impossible to harm and imprison in the name of freedom, and thus it is impossible to be moral and serve the occupation."

The sagas of these young women being willing to go to jail to challenge their government's policies toward the Palestinians was so compelling that CODEPINK: Women for Peace and Jewish Voices for Peace decided to bring two of them to the United States on a speaking tour where they will speak in one month at 31 locations, primarily on university campuses.

As a retired US Army Reserve Colonel and a former US diplomat who resigned in March 2003 in opposition to the war on Iraq, I was deeply impressed with the courage of these women to make such decisions so early in their lives and their willingness to go to jail on these principles. When I heard they would be on a tour of the United States, I immediately connected with Hawaiian organizers in my home state about the possibility of them coming to Honolulu around the time of the women's conference.

Margaret Brown, of Friends of Sabeel-Hawaii, said the perspective of the two young women military resisters opened an important dialogue in Hawaii, a land of occupation. Brown said "These young women, more than any of the numerous speakers Sabeel has co-hosted, really seemed to speak to the Jews of various persuasions in the audience. I saw Jewish acquaintances in the audience who have never come to anything we have offered on Palestine/Israel, including talks by Jewish or Israeli speakers. There's something very non-threatening about being lectured to by a couple of brilliant and sincere 19 year olds who have risked so much."

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