A guest post by RickB.
I attended a meeting with Rotem Mor, an Israeli refusenik at the Quaker Friends Meeting House in Bangor on Sunday. 18 months into his IDF service Rotem became a conscientious objector, rejecting his uniform and at one point being sent to jail for a month. That was almost ten years ago, since then he has been a traveller, a peace activist, a student of Middle Eastern music (at one point in the meeting he took time out to sing to us). See this in depth ei interview with him and a 2001 Haaretz piece about the growing numbers of conscientious objectors. This particular last minute leg of Rotem’s tour was due to Bangor Peace & Justice members Steve and Rania who are married, he British she Palestinian, both friends of Rotem, thus a pleasing breadth of experience and diversity of perspectives could be learned about.
We didn’t get into a lot of hard point ideological specifics, I have seen a report of another meeting in England which was pretty fractious with people leaving if answers did not meet their requirements, which is a lost opportunity. The issue of normalisation and space for resistance was discussed and was a case in point of both acknowledging and respecting valid theory while also trying to make things work in reality. Anti semitism was also mentioned with Rotem noting while racism against semitic peoples has in the past in Europe been directed against Jewish people, now Islamic people were the target.
There was hope expressed that the idea of the IDF warrior on occupied land having to defend against another Holocaust was propaganda that is losing its hold on younger generations. However the increasingly authoritarian nature of the Israeli government is a threat, for activists they see the legal framework being put into place that in the future can be used to close down dissent entirely.
Breaking the Silence was brought up, the movement by ex IDF soldiers to speak about the abuses they had been involved in against Palestinians, while Rotem initially got a frosty reception from his family his relationship with them is now better than ever, other soldiers with PTSD and intolerant nationalistic Zionist families have been less lucky. Important work is therefore done in talking to pre-service Israeli teens to make them aware that there is a choice (albeit a hard one) to refuse service. Rotem had done this with feminist organisation New Profile who campaign to reduce the militaristic nature of Israeli society. As evidence of the worsening authoritarianism they have been targets of police raids and harassment. Rania and Rotem talked about the othering and alienation of Palestinians that soldiers are conditioned towards, for example to enable them to look through a sniper scope and see not people but a target, and a similar process in the past engaged in by recruiters of suicide bombers. To both, this planned killing represented a barrier towards solutions, while at the same time the faux ‘dialogue’ encouraged by outside groups failed to understand some basic realities of the situation – an occupied people are not on an equal footing with an occupying people.
Later in the evening I talked some more with Rania who was now having to contend with the UK immigration system, it costs loads of money and you have to do stupid exams about Britain and swear allegiance to the Queen. The institutionalised racism of Israel and the British anti immigrant version are a lot to bear, Rania and I talked about the background anxiety/fear felt by immigrants and also those on welfare under threat of cuts and punitive bureaucracy, many millions of people prey to bureaucratic whims, errors and frauds and ideological warfare against them and we should be united in opposition. One aspect of the immigration system is that it discourages and in fact penalises political and human right activism, so rather than welcome engaged citizens concerned about the world and the injustices in it our system disapproves of it. Again, the worst measures of the state are applied to those least permitted or able to contest them, racism, imbalance of power, different in application and degree but not strangers in any country.
A longer account of the evening can be found on Ten Percent.
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