Free the Shministim (Free the Twelfth-Graders)

Shministim bannerI just learned about a call for a day of action (next week, December 18) in support of young Israeli citizens who are refusing to serve in the military. These young conscientious objectors (twelfth-graders, or  shministim) wind up in jail in Israel for their refusal to serve as part of the military force in the Occupied Territories. Military service is required by law, so their refusal triggers a cycle of arrests and short-term incarcerations that leave them in limbo until either they tire or the military tires of prosecuting them.

These are thoughtful young people taking a principled stand on a difficult issue — check out this article about Omer Goldman, one of the conscientious objectors, whose father works for Mossad.  As they explain their objections:

Our refusal to serve in the military comes first and foremost in protest of Israel’s state policy of separation, control, oppression and killing in the occupied territories, from an understanding that oppression, killing and the sowing of hatred cannot bring peace to the world, and which stand in contrast to the fundamental values of a society that purports to be democratic.

Their statement mirrors my own experience. My brother chose, as an 18-year old, to serve in the U.S. Army, and I respected his choice — to me, it made him a hero. When I was younger, I thought I would make a similar choice, but by the time I was 18, I had changed my perspective on whether I was willing to serve in the military. I was willing to serve, but not willing to learn to kill, so I can of course, understand where these young people are coming from.

Service to your country shouldn’t have to include learning to kill, or participating in an unprincipled occupation. These youth are on the right track It must be that democracies can offer their citizens a choice. These objectors could be given alternatives, although, what then might happen to their military? What if there were not enough soldiers to maintain the occupation? What indeed…

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