We are the 62 youths who sent, on Monday, September 3, a letter of protest to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. We protested, in our letter, against the injustices of the occupation, and declared we will refuse to participate in the war crimes carried out in the occupied territories, or collaborate with the Israeli army. We said, further, that some of us plan to refuse to serve in the occupied territories, some plan to avoid army service by seeing a mental health officer, and some intend to refuse any service in the army.
Since we sent the letter, the following has happened:
The letter received wide media exposure, in Israel, in the occupied territories, and abroad. In Israel, it was covered by newspapers Haaretz, Ma'ariv (twice), Yedi'oth Aharonoth, Al-Itihad, Tzomet HaSharon, and A'l HaSharon. On radio: in Voice of Israel's hourly news, and in at least five radio shows on the Voice of Israel (reshet Bet), and on the IDF radio. On Television: In channel 1's, and channel 2's morning news shows, and in two evening news shows on channel 1. Our letter was also covered by several newspapers in the occupied territories, and on Al-Jazeera TV. Other countries where the story was covered included Britain, France, Spain, Italy, Germany, The Netherlands, Greece, Switzerland, Sweden, and Japan. The story was also covered on the BBC World Service.
We did our best to distribute media exposure among as many members as possible. At least 10 members of our group were interviewed on various media.
Reactions from Israeli Politicians
We have received some harsh invectives. Minister of Education Limor Livnat has said we are a tiny minority, and "do not distinguish between aggressor and victim." Head of the opposition MK Yosi Sarid has said that he, "as one who totally rejects this governments futile and aggressive policy, also totally rejects any refusal to serve in the army," and that "army service is possibly the last common denominator of Israeli society, when it breaks, the whole society may collapse..." Shulamit Aloni, former head of Sarid's Meretz party, gave us her support. Chair of the Knesset’s Education committee, MK Zebulon Orlev, and Chair of municipalities' Education committee Shmuel Avuav, have also taken a strong stand against our letter.
Reactions from the Israeli Public
The majority of responses we heard were hard, offensive, and threatening. Some attacked us personally, some criticised the system that "fucked up" in educating us. Additionally, we are aware of five counter letters in organizing, by youths who support the army and intend to serve. We have also received positive reactions from people in Israel. Since the letter was sent, 17 additional youths have endorsed it.
Reactions from The Palestinian Public
We have received many letters and phone calls from Palestinians in the occupied territories who wished to encourage us and express satisfaction that "there are still Israelis who can see Justice." In recent days two groups have formed to send us letters of support. One is an organization of several thousands of Palestinians our age, who thanked us for our "good, and warm heart." The other is a group of ten bereft families, whose children, or other members were killed "by mistake" by the Israeli army (see below). They thanked us for the knowledge that we will not kill more innocent civilians like their lost loved ones, and complimented us for perceiving that the army's actions do not achieve their stated goal, that of increasing the personal safety of our fellow citizens. "Such safety," they wrote, would only be achieved through a just peace agreement between the Israeli government and the Palestinian people." Heading this group is the family of Mohamed Al-Dura, whose death, in Netzarim junction, at the beginning of the Intifada, has remained for many a symbol of Israeli brutality. In a supplement to their letter, the families sent us a list of their loved ones who died, their ages, and causes of death (some were shot with IDF live ammunition, others were killed as a "by product" of assassinations, etc...).
We received some very positive responses from around the world, from people who believe our movement may grow and have a positive influence on the situation in our region. Member of the European Parliament, Luisa Morgantini, said we "really do give hope."
Beyond supporting refuseniks that will be jailed, we are planning informative actions outside schools in Israel. We want to convince youths not to carry out war crimes and not to participate in the oppression of the Palestinian people. We will try to pass the message that any person who wields a weapon should think well what his actions serve, and who they serve.
Response of Palestinian Bereft Families'
Palestine Media Center – PMC
Sep. 8, 2001
To those youths, who had informed their Prime minister, Ariel Sharon, that the Israeli occupation army’sactions “are not only illegitimate, but also do not achieve their declared purpose – boosting the personal security of the citizens of [Israel]”, we write to salute you for your courage and wisdom.
We realize that as youths, you would naturally feel an obligation to serve in its military and protect its citizens. However, we greatly value the high level of awareness you have demonstrated in your rejection to serve in the occupation military. We appreciate your realization that the tasks entrusted to the Israeli army are those of oppressing and killing another People, rather than protecting your own.
By sending your most eloquent letter to Ariel Sharon and Benyamin Ben Eliezer, you have expressed utmost courage and wisdom. As victims of the most horrifying campaign of murder and destruction, we felt relief to know that in Israel, there are youths who have come to realize what an immoral and suppressive campaign the Israeli government is waging against the Palestinian People, without consideration to their age or civilian status.
The Israeli occupation army is implementing a policy that has turned our lives into an endless story of suffering and tears. Our homes have been destroyed, our livelihoods shattered, and our sons, daughters, mothers, sisters, and wives killed in cold blood by Israeli occupation soldiers, one of whom you might have been…
As persons who have lost loved ones acts of senseless murder, perpetrated to protect the last occupying power in the world and prolong the oppression of an entire People, we salute you for refusing to stain your hands with innocent Palestinian blood. We extend to you our genuine support and pray that your decision will become one that many of your colleagues would adopt in the near future.
We close our letter with a prayer that with courageous youths like you, who have decided to play their part in ending this brutal occupation and its heart wrenching acts of murder and destruction, our two Peoples shall soon coexist in peace as neighbors in independent states.
We wish you success and pray for your steadfastness.
Families of Palestinian Victims of Israeli violence
1. Parents and siblings of Mohamed AL-Dura: Mohamed was 12 years old when he was shot to death in the Shuhada’ junction (Netzarim) in Gaza on 30 September 2000. Mohamed was shot in his father’s arm.
2. Parents and siblings of Iman Hijjo: 4 month-old Iman was killed in her mother’s arm when Israeli occupation forces shelled the Khan Younis refugee camp on 7 May 2001. Iman was instantly killed when shrapnel tore through her tiny body and her mother was critically wounded.
3. Parents and siblings of Fares Odeh: 13 year-old Fares was killed near Al-Mintar crossing point, as he was going home from school on 8 November 2000.
4. Parents and siblings of Shahid and Malak Barakat: 4 year-old Malak (angel) and 7 year-old Shahid were killed when Israeli intelligence collaborators orchestrated an explosion that assassinated 24 year-old Hassan Al-Qadhi on 30 April 2001. The explosion leveled the two-story building in Ramallah, where the young victims and the targeted activist lived.
5. Parents and siblings of Bilal and Ashraf Khalil: 8 year-old Ashraf and 10 year-old Bilal were two of four other victims who were killed when Israel fired two missiles to assassinate Jamal Mansour and Jamal Salim while they were in their Press Office in Nablus City. The little boys were at their uncle’s clinc, outside the residential building housing the press office is located.
6. Parents and siblings of Ahmed Qawasmeh: A Sworn eyewitness affidavit states that 15 year-old Ahmed was shot at point blank in the head by an Israeli soldier. The soldier, who had entered a Palestinian-controlled area in Hebron had been standing with his foot pressed against Ahmed’s neck. He then shot him in the forehead at point blank. When a Palestinian man carried Ahmed towards the main road, the same soldier, along with others, stopped him, searched him and the injured boy at gunpoint, then allowed him to proceed.
7. Parents and Family of Ra’ed Daoud: 14 year-old Ra’ed was fatally shot with a live bullet in the chest in his hometown of Hares in the Salfit District.
8. Parents and siblings of Bashir Shalwit: 16 year-old Bashir was fatally shot with a live bullet in the chest in Qalqilya, his hometown.
9. Husband, children, and siblings of Rahme Hindi: 54 year-old Rahme (mercy) was instantly killed during the assassination of Hussein Obayat in Beit Sahour on 9 November 2000. She walking home when two missiles were fired at the activist’s car driving on the same road, instantly killing him, Rahme, and another lady (Aziza Jubran).
10. Husband, children, and siblings of Aziza Jubra: 58 year-old Aziza was instantly killed on 9 November 2000 when Israeli occupation forces assassinated Hussein Obyata.