Refuser Solidarity Network conference - March 12-13 2004,Chicago, US
“Carrying the Refuser Message to the Mainstream” 
A report by Eric Gjertsen from Payday who attended the Conference 

This remarkable conference brought together for the first time 11 Israeli refuseniks representing various organizations (Yesh Gvul, Shministim, Parents Forum, New Profile, and Courage to Refuse) with their primary support organization in the US, the Refuser Solidarity Network (RSN), and drew in people from other groups that have been involved in supporting tours of refuseniks in the US, to discuss the next steps forward. About 70-80 people came at the height. A Canadian filmmaker was there interviewing the refuseniks and filming the meetings as part of a documentary on the movement.

Noam Kaminer of the Parents Forum, and grandfather of Matan Kaminer, one of “the Five” recently court-martialed and sentenced to a year in jail for refusing to be drafted, opened the conference saying he thought it was very important and that it will start other meetings going in the US. He spoke about how the Parents’ Forum started as a support group for parents whose children were being jailed for refusing to be drafted. He said that the trial of “the Five” has led to a new level of organizing and has brought all the refuser groups together. The aim of their work, which is true for all the refuser groups, is not refusal as an end in itself but as a means to ending the occupation.

Chen Alon of Ometz Le’sarev (Courage to Refuse) said that they are focusing on bringing awareness of the realities of the occupation to the Israeli mainstream, by holding public forums in which they invite both supporters and objectors – an event such as this he said led to the Air Force pilots and elite forces making public statements against the occupation. They feel they have broken through into the media and government in the past year. For instance, a right-wing politician recently said that ‘the public is supporting refuseniks’. Chen said he personally has seen soldiers who supported the occupation shift a bit, saying now they’d refuse to serve in Gaza.

Asaf Shtull-Trauring of the Shministim (high-school seniors who are refusing the draft), who has been organizing vigils and meetings in the New York area with other expatriate Israelis, said there were some 400 members of Shministim now, and that women have always been the backbone of their organizing. Most activists in Shministim are women now possibly due to the men being jailed.

Ruth Hiller of New Profile introduced herself as a mother of refusers – 2 of her sons are and one is in the process of refusing to serve. She emphasized the role of parents in “reproducing civil society” and being the first educators of their children. She said there’s a hierarchy within the refuser movement conditioned by the larger hierarchy in Israeli society, especially between men and women, and that she wants to push forward an agenda inclusive of all refusers. New Profile and Shministim have organized 7 groups of students across the country into discussion groups. One group is women-only and is coordinated by a woman the students’ age from Shministim.

New Profile also has a hotline that counsels not only conscientious objectors but also parents of soldiers, women who have been abused by the military, etc. They are getting 25 calls a week, and sometimes 7 women at a time are being counseled. They are having to train more counselors to keep up with the volume of calls.

Ram Rahat-Goodman who founded Yesh Gvul (There Is a Limit) during the Lebanese war, said the refusal to go to war was ancient, and that specifically now it is bringing the Ghandi tradition of civil disobedience into the army. He said that refusal takes many forms and that refusal by both men and women together was what we need, and that the work the women of Machsom (Checkpoint) Watch are doing daily to challenge the army is a form of military refusal. He also pointed out that Courage to Refuse has had a major victory in that less and less reserve units are being called up as official policy – widespread refusal to serve the occupation have forced the army to called up units only once every 3 years to preserve morale. 

Other refuseniks brought out that there are huge numbers of so-called “social refusers” who go AWOL from the army, most of whom are Sephardic (as well as some Russian) Jews, who are the sole wage-earners for their families, as well as many other “grey refusers” who are not necessarily or openly opposed to the occupation but avoid military service in whatever way they can, including many Bedouin who end up in jail for refusing. 

Workshops were held on incorporating women in the refuser movement, keeping a support network for refusers going, reaching out to the US anti-war movement, reaching out to the mainstream Jewish community in the US, and getting media coverage, among other topics.

The Refuser Solidarity Network will likely be organizing a US tour of Shministim refusers to support the campaign to free “the Five”.

refusing to kill