A few weeks ago, dozens of Israeli activists, including past and soon-to-be resisters of military induction, participated in a rare telephone meeting initiated by the “Messarvot” network with Ahmed Abu Artema, one of the main organizers behind Gaza’s “Great March of Return.” For many of the young conscientious objectors, the Great March of Return, and Israel’s brutal repression of it, has served as a main factor in their deciding to refuse induction into their country’s army of occupation.
The event took place at the Hagada Hasmalit Alternative Cultural Center in Tel Aviv. To those gathered there Abu Artema began: “It is very nice to meet people who have decided to take a stand, listen to their conscience and refuse to be part of the oppression of others,” his often-flowery Arabic translated by Israeli activist Neta Golan, one of the leaders of recent solidarity protests along the Israel-Gaza fence.
“Those who refuse to take part in the attacks on the demonstrators in Gaza, who express their natural right to protest against the siege; those who refuse to take part in the attacks on Gaza’s citizens — they stand on the right side of history,” Abu Artema told the Israeli peace activists. It was the first time that Artema had ever spoken to a gathering of Israelis. For many of the younger activists, it was their first time speaking to someone from Gaza.
Last September, Abu Artema exchanged letters with conscientious objector Hillel Garmi, who served 107 days in military prison for refusing to serve in the occupation. “Your decision is what will help end this dark period inflicted on Palestinians, and at the same time mitigate the fears of younger Israeli generations who were born into a complicated situation and a turbulent geographical area deprived of security and peace,” Abu Artema wrote to Garmi in a letter published on the website +972.
Among those present at the event at Hagada Hasmalit, were Adam Rafaelov, who was released from military prison just days earlier, having been incarcerated for refusing to join the Israeli army because of his opposition to the occupation. Also present was Yasmine Eran-Vardi, 18, who has declared her intention to refuse her conscription in mid-January.
“You may be few in numbers, but you are strong in your principled stance,” Abu Artema continued. “The power of an individual or a group is not measured in numbers, but in their morality.” Abu Artema also displayed a genuine, empathetic understanding of the reality that conscientious objectors confront. “We are all born into a particular society. Over time, we become part of that society and internalize its values. The biggest challenge is to be able to stand up to the immoral things that take place and be able to refuse to take part in society’s immoral demands,” he told the gathering.
Abu Artema further stated that ending the occupation and siege is in the interest of both Israelis and Palestinians. “We need a solution that works for everyone, to liberate not only the weak side, but also the side that oppresses. The situation as it is today does not allow for stability or security for anyone. We need to build a life based on equality — for the sake of us all.”