Connected to Cremisan: Nader Abu Amsha’s story of struggle and resistance

At the height of the first intifada (uprising) in 1989, Nader Abu Amsha and a group of friends brainstormed how to help those who had been injured reenter society. The result was a voluntary initiative established at the YMCA in Beit Sahour to help rehabilitate young people. MCC has partnered with this project, which grew into the YMCA Rehabilitation Program, since 1990. Nader is the current Director of the East Jerusalem YMCA Rehabilitation Program and the Director of the Beit Sahour YMCA.

“The view, this kind of open view is good for your soul, your vision, your imagination, your life.” Nader Abu Amsha speaks about the Cremisan valley with a deep reverence, and a great sadness, “Open space- green space- is shrinking.”

A view of the Cremisan Valley, taken by Nader in 2013.

The Cremisan valley is divided between fifty-eight, mostly Christian, Palestinian families, a Monastery, and a Convent with a school for many local Palestinian children from the nearby town, Beit Jala.  Currently, about 3,500 dunams of this open, green land is under threat of being seized by Israel through the expansion of the Israeli separation wall.

Nader’s family owns a 7,000 square meter plot of land that they have cultivated for six generations. It is currently co-owned by Nader, his brothers and sisters, and their cousins. They hope to be able to pass the land onto the next generation. Each year the family harvests the olives from their trees in order to both use and sell the fruits and the oil that they produce. The income is important to the family, undoubtedly, but Nader stresses that the land means much more to them than purely a financial benefit.

Nader with his daughter, Nour, on their land in 2007.

Nader with his daughter, Nour, on their land in 2007.

Nader fondly remembers working on the land as a child, harvesting not only olives, but also grapes and apricots. He highlights the emotional and spiritual importance of spending time cultivating the land. He reminisces about the community and the heritage that existed in the Cremisan valley, recounting his participation in football (soccer) teams there as a young boy. He remembers stories of family working the soil together and the creative ways that the community irrigated their crops from a nearby spring.

A row of olive trees on the plot of land owned by Nader and his family. Photo taken in 2011 by Nader.

A row of olive trees on the plot of land owned by Nader and his family. Photo taken in 2011 by Nader.

These memories stem from a time when his family had full access to the land; before all Palestinians in the valley were not allowed to build roads or residences, or bring in machines for cultivation and harvesting. The spring that for generations had watered Cremisan valley soil has been blocked. Palestinians cannot use it to cultivate their fields. The 1967 annexation of land for the extension  of the Municipality of Jerusalem by Israel and building the colony of Gilo on Beit Jala land created rules and restrictions on building within the new borders. These restrictions have kept Palestinians from manageable access to their land, which makes the land susceptible to being grabbed by Israel. If the wall is built on its current path, it will further separate the people from their land.

The threat of the separation wall through the Cremisan valley has loomed over its residents for over nine years. Many Christian leaders, from local pastors and bishops, to international faith leaders, including the Vatican, have denounced the construction of the wall through this land.

Nader’s family has deeds showing their ownership of the land from the Ottoman, British, and even the Israeli legal systems. This proof of land ownership from Nader’s family, and from many of the other families in the region, may not be enough to stop the wall from being built, nor from having restricted access to the land. Nader knows that his is one of thousands of cases like this in Palestine. For Palestinians, one of the biggest consequences of Israel’s occupation has been, for decades, being removed from land, while simultaneously seeing the development of many Israeli settlements on that land.

An old olive tree, whose beauty and fruits are important to Nader and his family.

An old olive tree, whose beauty and fruits are important to Nader and his family. Photo taken in 2013 by Nader.

The impending loss of this land by the extension of the Israeli security wall is painful for Nader. The beauty of nature, the history of generations, the connection to deep childhood memories, are all powerful motives to resist the wall’s construction. Nader’s passionate yet gentle resolve is tangible. He will continue to resist the loss of his land via the courts, and also through non-violent demonstrations that occur in the Beit Jala/Cremisan valley area every Sunday.

Nader believes that if this land is lost, it will be a real collapse of the legal system and of the morals of people. He is not ready to give up on this vital and sustaining piece of his life. “I won’t surrender… I will continue defending my land until the last day of my life. Even if the wall is built, I will keep defending it.”

Susiya: Symbol of a Larger Struggle

Originally posted on August 26, 2015 by

The tiny village of Susiya in the occupied West Bank has become a symbol of a much greater struggle –Palestinians’ ongoing resistance to the Israeli occupation.

Located in the South Hebron Hills, Susiya is home to about 340 Palestinian residents.  Some of the residents are descendants of those whose villages were destroyed in 1948 when the new state of Israel forced thousands of Palestinians to flee their homes. Others have lived in the Susiya agricultural community since at least the Ottoman era.

Palestinian flags fly over some of the temporary homes in the village of Susiya. Photo credit: P. Moore, EAPPI

Palestinian flags fly over some of the temporary homes in the village of Susiya. Photo credit: P. Moore, EAPPI

In 1986, Susiya residents were forced to relocate, when the Government of Israel (which, after 1967, gained control of the West Bank) wished to establish a heritage site on the remains of an ancient synagogue located there. Without any compensation for the loss of land, Palestinians rebuilt Susiya nearby. The village has been partially demolished several times since then, ostensibly to create a continuous swath of land between an Israeli settlement and the archeological site.

During the intervening years the living conditions in Susiya have deteriorated, while a new Israeli settlement named Susiya prospers. Palestinians are denied connections to the local water and electricity systems. Their access to their grazing and agricultural land has been reduced due to harassment and intimidation by Israeli settlers. Many live in shacks, tents and other temporary shelters.

This summer, residents have once again faced the prospect that Israel will demolish their homes and buildings, and they will be forced to relocate.  Why? Because they do not have building permits for their homes.  And they don’t have permits, because it is virtually impossible for a Palestinian living in what is known as Area C — the 60 percent of the West Bank under both civil and security control of the Israeli military — to receive a building permit. According to Bimkom, an Israeli nonprofit focused on planning rights, more than 98 percent of Palestinian requests for building permits in Area C from 2010 to 2014 were rejected.

In May of this year, COGAT (Israel’s governing body in the West Bank) issued Susiya residents with eviction notices and demolition orders that were to take effect by August 3.  And so the people awaited the bulldozers that would come and destroy their homes.

But they also appealed to the world to help them stop the demolition of their community. Before long, Palestinians, Israelis, the United Nations, the European Union, the U.S. State Department and international solidarity groups joined the cry. Their appeal was grounded in the argument that the forcible transfer of people under occupation and in a coercive environment is a breach of international humanitarian law under the Geneva Conventions.

People pick through rubble at the site of a demolition in Wadi Sneysel, in the West Bank near East Jerusalem. Photo credit: Lutheran World Relief.

People pick through rubble at the site of a demolition in Wadi Sneysel, in the West Bank near East Jerusalem. Photo credit: Lutheran World Relief.

Though there is an active case in the Israeli courts regarding a Master Plan for the structures in the village, an Israeli judge rejected a motion to halt demolitions while the court case was in progress. Shortly thereafter, bulldozers arrived in the village. Thankfully, after intense international pressure, the bulldozers were withdrawn. This is good news—good news that speaks to the power of a people’s struggle, and the power advocacy, both local and international.

But the story is far from over. MCC workers in the region report that Israeli officials have pulled back from a wholesale demolition, but are continuing to pressure villagers to “agree” to the demolition of numerous specific structures and a relocation of the community to a new site one kilometre away.

Moreover, they say that Susiya is only one of many villages threatened by Israel’s plan to strengthen its hold on the West Bank, expand Israeli settlements, and make life even more difficult for Palestinians. According to the Israeli Committee Against Home Demolitions, Israel has destroyed over 120,000 Palestinian homes since 1948. On August 17, 2015 alone, Israel demolished 21 homes in Area C, rendering 78 people – including 49 children– homeless. The threat continues.

Please consider contacting your Member of Parliament to urge him or her to join the call for solidarity with Susiya and other vulnerable Palestinian communities. And during this election campaign, ask your candidates how their party will help to advance a just peace, with adherence to international law, for Palestinians and Israelis.

By Esther Epp-Tiessen, public engagement coordinator for the Ottawa Office of MCC Canada.

Open Gaza Now

Eight years ago, in response to a democratic election which saw the rise of the “wrong” party, Israel instituted a complete closure of the Gaza Strip, severing a people from the world outside the walls and limiting prospects for development. Since Israel put the blockade in place, entry and exit of people and goods have been severely limited, creating what many have referred to as “the world’s largest open-air prison.” But as a senior government official in Gaza quipped recently to MCC staff, “At least people in prison know why they are being punished. And for how long.”

It seems almost impossible to overstate the impact the blockade and subsequent military operations have had on Gaza. The UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) released a report in 2012 discussing whether Gaza would still be liveable in 2020, noting that 90 percent of the water extracted from ground wells is unfit for human consumption and the aquifer could be unusable by 2016. In a report released May 2015, the World Bank found that real per capita income in Gaza is 31 percent lower now than 20 years ago and that Gaza’s “economic performance . . . has been roughly 250 percent worse than that of any relevant comparators, including that of the West Bank.” Notably, the World Bank report states that “there are no other variables that could explain these developments other than war and the blockade.”

Even before Israel destroyed Gaza’s sole power plant in the war last summer, only 46 percent of Gaza’s electricity needs were met, leading to rolling blackouts of up to 12 hours each day.

Gaza’s unemployment rate is likely the highest in the world at 43 percent, with an average monthly income of $174 USD. And in spite of the fact that 80 percent of the population receives foreign aid and other social assistance, 39 percent live under the poverty line.

Compounding all of these challenges is the inability of people and goods to enter and exit; the Erez Crossing, controlled by Israel, is generally only open to “humanitarian cases” or aid workers. The only other pedestrian crossing, Rafah, on the Egyptian border, was only open 15 days in an 8-month period (Oct. 2014-May 2015). Israel, with help from Egypt, maintains a complete naval blockade, and the only airport in Gaza was destroyed in 2002.

We can come to understand the depth of the crisis through these statistics from the World Bank or United Nations. But we must be cautious of two things, the first of which is that Israel’s effective control over Gaza, but also over the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and Palestinian citizens of Israel, often takes the form of precise calculations or quantitative measures. The issuance of a certain number of permits in or out of occupied territory, the maintenance of a demographic majority through denial of family reunification permits or the right of Palestinian refugees to return, the calculation of the number of calories necessary to sustain the population of Gaza and the allowance of only that amount of food to enter the Strip. In relying on statistics to convey the tragedy of Gaza, are we entering into and reinforcing the mechanism of control Israel maintains over the Palestinian people?

The second item of concern is perhaps easier to grasp: that statistics are aggregates and are therefore, by definition, more concerned with “big picture” trends than with an individual’s humanity. The human element is lost when we quantify all aspects of life. We emote differently when we hear that more than 550 children were killed between July and August 2014 than when we imagine 11-year-old Mohammad Bakr and three of his cousins playing soccer on the beach before being killed by Israeli naval fire. The statistics frame the reality, but real people, living real lives, are involved and deserve dignity and the realization of their rights.

A teacher and young student at the NECC metalwork vocational training school in Gaza City. (June 2015)

A teacher and young student shape iron for a project at the NECC metalwork vocational training school in Gaza City. (June 2015)

MCC and local partners on the ground in Gaza are actively working to provide relief to people affected by physical and structural violence. The hardworking volunteers and staff of Al-Najd Development Forum have rehabilitated 70 partially destroyed homes in northern Gaza, primarily in the hard-hit neighborhoods of Shejaiyya and Beit Hanoun; Al-Najd, with funding from MCC, is one of the only organizations actually rebuilding homes destroyed in the war. The Near East Council of Churches (NECC) runs health clinics in Gaza, in addition to several vocational training schools, helping ensure the well-being of their community. The Culture and Free Thought Association (CFTA), based in Khan Younis in the south, works with women and children to support healthy and empowered leaders who see themselves as change agents in spite of a difficult and discouraging environment.

The international community has allowed Israel to operate with impunity for far too long, and we must demand an end to a system which sees the people of Gaza as unworthy of dignified lives. The only way forward is for Israel to end its illegal blockade of Gaza. Let people and goods in, and let people and goods out. End the strangulation and allow for recovery: for the economy, for the infrastructure, for the water sources, for the people.

Waiting to Break the Shackles of 48 Years of Israeli Occupation

By Suhail Khalilieh, Head of Settlement Monitoring Department, Applied Research Institute-Jerusalem (ARIJ)

Since 1967, the Palestinians may identify two eras; the first between 1967 and 1993 and the second era from 1993 and on. It is no question that Palestinians are different in many aspects of their lives from one era to another. The way they think, act and react. The nature of the people between now and then is clearly different; ask the people who lived through both eras and they will tell you. However, and in spite of what one may think or reflect, one thing is true: Palestinians remain persevering in their quest for an independent state.

It has been 48 years since Israel launched its preemptive war in 1967 and went to occupy what remained of mandate Palestine—the West Bank including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip—along with the Egyptian Sinai Peninsula and the Syrian Golan Heights.

Upon the occupation of the West Bank in 1967, Israel took unilateral measures aimed at restricting and controlling Palestinian use of the territory. It did so by declaring considerable areas of the West Bank as “Closed Military Areas” and military bases; these amount to 18.3 percent of the West Bank. Israel designated another 12.4 percent as “Nature Reserve Areas,” and an additional 2.7 percent as “Mined Areas” along the West Bank’s eastern border with Jordan. All of this adds to one-third of the West Bank’s total area.

A map of the West Bank showing settlements, the Separation Wall, and Areas A, B, and C. Produced by ARIJ.

A map of the West Bank showing settlements, the Separation Wall, and Areas A, B, and C. Produced by ARIJ.

When Israel occupied the West Bank and the Gaza Strip in 1967, it initiated the settlement program which has since constituted a cornerstone policy for every Israeli government that came to power in Israel; hence, the construction of settlements in the occupied Palestinian territory has never stopped but continued in fluctuating pace.

From that time on, and in violation of international law, the Israeli government has nurtured 196 settlements established on 196 km2 (3.5 percent of the West Bank), accommodating more than 718,000 settlers in the occupied Palestinian territory. The settlements have developed through the years of occupation to become impediments and a genuine threat to any possibility of a peace solution.

However, the Israeli settlement program is identified in two different streams. The first was adopted by the Israeli Labor Party that attributed building of the settlements for “security reasons,” in areas with strategic significance to the security of the State of Israel. It also signified Israel’s interest in secured borders under any peace agreement where the settlements would constitute the first line of defense, which gained them the name “settlements’ security belt.”

The second stream, spearheaded by the Israeli Likud Party, embraced the settlement program based on ideological principles, exemplified by their “God-given right” to occupy this land. This explains why the Likud party has always refused to consent to “land for peace” as a guideline in a conclusive peace treaty with the Palestinians.

Nonetheless, it became clear that the layout of the Israeli settlements built in the West Bank since 1967 was no coincidence but was predetermined to cut off Palestinian localities and governorates from each other. Israel also aimed to control as much empty land as possible.

In 1993, the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) and Israel materialized the Declaration of Principles (DOP), also known “Oslo Ι,” which began the Middle East Peace Process. Both sides committed to negotiate a permanent peace agreement which would provide for an eventual resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

Almost by all standards, Oslo miserably failed to realize the Palestinian aspiration for an independent state. However, “might makes right” as the saying goes, and the failure of Oslo really reflects the failure of the international community to stand up to Israel when it decided to diverge from Oslo agreed-upon conditions. Israel decided to back away from its commitments and relieved itself of its responsibilities for the bulk of the Palestinian population, located in the densely populated areas classified “A” and “B” (39 percent of the West Bank) by turning the responsibilities to the Palestinian Authority, and maintained the occupation of the remaining area “C” (61 percent of the West Bank).

This arrangement turned the West Bank into an archipelago; Palestinians do not have a sea, but Israeli control over Area C interrupts their daily life and controls their movement. Additionally, Palestinians do not control borders or natural resources. And if that was not enough, in June 2002 Israel initiated the so-called “security barrier,” identified by Palestinians as the Segregation Wall, which stretches 771 km along the western terrains of the West Bank and isolates 733 km2 (13 percent of the West Bank).

The Segregation Wall has already negatively affected the lives of thousands of Palestinians as they are subjugated to the policies and control matrix of the Israeli Army, cut-off from their natural environment. Upon completion of the Wall, 159 Palestinian communities will be affected, of which 66 Palestinian localities (population 352,601) (30 localities in Jerusalem [population 301,481]) will be completely isolated from the West Bank.

Many argue that the two-state solution has died. For all we know, this might be the case, but it would be naïve to think that a signed peace agreement would inevitably lead to the two-state solution. Just few months separate us from the 22nd anniversary of the signing of the first Oslo Accord; even at the time, political peace seemed far-fetched. Then again, Palestinians were only taking the first step and laying the foundation of their aspirations, regardless what Israel wanted. Since then, Palestinians yearn for an independent and contiguous state, and realize they are not there yet but will get there eventually. Ultimately.

Home Gardens in Ar Rawa’in, YMCA Women’s Program

Southeast of Bethlehem in the desert hills that border the Dead Sea lies the small Bedouin community of Ar Rawa’in. The community of between 200 and 250 people lives in Area C of the West Bank, under full Israeli civil and military control. In Area C, which constitutes about 60 percent of the total area of the West Bank, Palestinians must apply to the Israeli military for building permits, which are rarely granted; as such, many people choose to build without permits, or live in tents and other temporary shelters.

The people of Rawa’in have only lived on this land since 1986, after they were forced by the Israeli military to move from Wadi al-Ghar, a mere three kilometers away from their current location, in order for Israel to establish military training grounds. Now, the people say, Israel regrets moving them to their current location since the government plans to confiscate the land for a Dead Sea road project. This, plus the fact that the people do not own the land on which they live—it belongs to two nearby Palestinian villages—makes the community’s situation especially precarious.

Living so far from a major population center and with nowhere to go should they be forced to leave, the people have benefited from a new project with the YMCA, an MCC partner, to build home gardens; this program focuses on the women of Rawa’in, providing training for how to take care of a small garden in an arid desert environment.

Many of the men of Rawa’in work inside Israel, picking fruits and vegetables during the harvest times, and receiving work permits for the duration of the season. But after one harvest finishes, they spend several months unemployed until the next harvest arrives. This sporadic income makes it difficult for the community to cover its needs over the course of the year; the home gardens should enable the people to save money by providing locally sourced vegetables for each household, in spite of the ebb and flow of personal income.

A successful sample home garden in Rawa'in, southeast of Bethlehem, through a project with the YMCA.

A successful sample home garden in Rawa’in, southeast of Bethlehem, through a project with the YMCA. (20 May 2015)

YMCA started with several sample gardens and gave training to only a few women of the village. When others in the community saw the success of these sample gardens, they wanted to receive the training as well. This month, YMCA is providing the practical aspects of establishing a garden, including fencing, water irrigation pipes, and plants and seeds for the women to build 18 new gardens. Each garden will be cared for by two women who will share the produce between their families.

The women appear to have found this training extremely useful, and are eager to begin caring for their own gardens. Nadia Ar’ara and Mona Ar’ara, two women who have worked on the sample gardens, noted how successful this project has been so far, which has inspired the other women of the village to pursue training.

Kalma Musa, a home garden trainee from Rawa'in, plants a pepper plant during a practical training through the YMCA. (20 May 2015)

Kalma Musa, a home garden trainee from Rawa’in, plants a pepper plant during a practical training through the YMCA. (20 May 2015)

But the women note that the villagers still face many issues, particularly from the Israeli military and Israeli settlers living nearby. While playing in a field near the village, three of Mona’s children sustained light injuries from the detonation of an old Israeli mine left in the ground. Nadia also mentioned that last June when three Israeli youth were kidnapped near Hebron, settlers came to Rawa’in, rounded up the children under one tent, and threatened to hurt them unless they “brought the boys back.”

Recent news of the imminent demolition of the Palestinian village Susiya, or of buildings demolished in the East Jerusalem neighborhood Silwan, or the forced eviction of entire Bedouin communities in the Negev inside Israel, reveals a pattern of aggressive discriminatory policies aimed at forcibly moving Palestinians into smaller and smaller areas of both Palestine and Israel. The community of Rawa’in stands as yet another witness of such policies, but also as a witness of the ways local organizations are supporting resilience and rootedness—literal and metaphoric—for Palestinians.

Learning under siege


A piece by MCC Palestine service worker Jessy Hampton about youth participation in programming at the Culture and Free Thought Association in Khan Younis, Gaza.

Originally posted on Intersections:

In the middle of the city of Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip, dozens of boys age 11 to 16 spend their winter school break at the Bunat al Ghad Center, run by the Culture and Free Thought Association (CFTA), an MCC partner. [CFTA also operates a winter camp for girls on alternate days.] Entering from the road through a small gate and turning the corner past colorful murals of animals and cityscapes, participants in the winter camp are welcomed by a large sign and smiling staff and then disperse to different rooms for a range of activities, including drawing, theater, creative writing, experimentation in a science lab and active games and sports. At CFTA’s winter camps and other activities, Palestinian children and youth take an active role in planning CFTA’s program.

Near the back of a room at Bunat al Ghad where one cohort is playing musical chairs, 17-year-old Mohammed Ramadan maneuvers around the energetic group, snapping pictures and filming…

View original 891 more words

“We’ll walk the path with you.” Ruth Hiller, Kibbutz Haogen, Israel

Though it began as a celebration of International Women’s Day on March 8 and March as U.S. Women’s History Month, MCC Palestine continues to present stories of women involved in the search for justice and peace in Palestine and Israel—because why would we stop celebrating the actions and lives of the courageous women around us?

We highlight these stories not because women peacemakers are an exception to the rule, but because these are exceptional women committed to bettering their communities through nonviolence, in spite of systems of patriarchy and occupation. Whether consciously or subconsciously, these women have taken on oppressive systems of power, remained engaged despite obstacles, and continue to believe in a better future for their people.

Ruth 1 2008

Ruth Hiller’s son was 15 when he told her that he was a pacifist. Ruth’s oldest two children, both daughters, had already served their mandatory time in the Israeli military, and Ruth had done her duty as an Israeli mother, releasing her children into the hands of the Israeli Defense Ministry; her son’s statement of conscience took Ruth and her husband, Gary, by surprise, but they promised to support him as he attempted to refuse the draft.

“Nobody [in the kibbutzim] does revolution,” Ruth laughs. “[But] we said, ‘We’ll walk the path with you.’”

Israel has had a conscription army “since the beginning,” Ruth remarks. “And you have to consider how Jewish women are encouraged to become the ‘national womb.’” Like obligatory military service for the Jewish Israeli public, societal norms define the ways in which the soldier’s mother, father, siblings, and family must act and the lines that must not be crossed as patriotic citizens. Questioning the draft is one such line, with conscientious objection considered by the State of Israel to be a dangerously subversive form of self-expression, particularly when the objector links his or her refusal to the ongoing Israeli occupation of Palestine.

Born in San José, California, into a Jewish family of activists, Ruth grew up exposed to popular protests and dialogue about human rights. Though never religious herself, Ruth’s mother was observant and attended a Reformed synagogue, bringing up her children in the Zionist youth movement. In 1972, Ruth spent six months in Israel, working on a kibbutz and learning Hebrew. The communal living seemed a natural fit, and the young State of Israel connected Ruth to her Jewish heritage.

“I came as a Zionist. […] I didn’t have to worry about that Jewish identity anymore,” she says, echoing the feeling of many Jewish immigrants to Israel. By the end of 1973, she had decided to emigrate from the United States, and returned to the kibbutz on which she had worked, the same kibbutz where she lives today.

But even as a newly arrived immigrant to Israel, Ruth’s doubts about military service grew. Remembering the abuses and violence of the Vietnam War, Ruth vowed to not join any military, and did not finalize her Israeli citizenship, instead choosing to remain on a tourist visa for several years, until she was too old to be inducted into the military.

As she raised her six children, Ruth’s internal tensions continued to simmer. As a Jewish Israeli mother, Ruth says she “did not question” the undeniable fact that her children would be inducted into the Israeli army at age 18; this did not mean, however, that it sat well with her. When her oldest child entered the military after high school, Ruth describes a period of intense emotional upheaval: “I could not comprehend the feeling of pride that other parents were feeling, inducting their children into the military.”

Her 15-year-old son had read Gandhi, Thoreau, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Israeli Jewish intellectual Yeshayahu Leibowitz, and he had watched the popular protests and violent reprisals of the First Intifada unfold on Jordanian television. Ruth and her husband knew they should and could support him through the process of refusing to serve in the Israeli army. As a family, they decided on two stipulations: they would make decisions together, without rushing into anything, and her son would not go to jail.

“We needed to do everything we could to get him out of the military, or I needed to stop all the wars,” Ruth states matter-of-factly.

It would take three military tribunals, a “conscience committee,” several lawyers, and six years before Ruth’s son was released from military service. And during this time, Ruth’s personal journey away from Zionism and toward a critique of the state’s policies would continue. Israel was militarily occupying southern Lebanon, so Ruth joined a group of women protesting Israel’s actions—“women opposing what men do”—and eventually joined a women’s study group. As she continued protesting against war and violence, she and the other women of the group began studying feminism, militarism and the effects of militarism on Israeli society, and feminist readings of the Torah, finally giving Ruth the language to describe her emotional reaction to her daughters’ military service: the sense that she couldn’t protect her children and couldn’t fight this masculine, oppressive system.

“We [the women in the study group] were afraid of being silenced,” she says, “[so we looked at] the use of fear to control communities.”

This study group would eventually formalize into the organization New Profile, a feminist movement for the demilitarization of Israeli society; New Profile, an MCC partner, works to support draft refusers, “walking the path” with anyone who expresses his or her right to refuse military service, and to educate Israeli society about the effects of having such a militarized culture.

“I want a national awakening.[…] The policies [of the State of Israel] do not fit Jewish values.” Ruth argues that if Israelis are concerned about the high cost of living, they should be pushing for an end to the occupation of Palestine; maintaining a conscription army is extremely expensive, and Israel ranks fourth in the world in terms of defense budget as a percentage of GDP (5.6 percent of Israel’s GDP). That money could go toward education, welfare programs, or other civil uses.

Throughout this journey and in spite of difficulties along the way, Ruth finds inspiration in the growing community of draft refusers and the changing attitudes, both abroad and inside Israel, toward Israel’s occupation and militaristic society. At 7 years old, Ruth’s grandson already expressed qualms about joining the military when he’s older; that conversation never would have happened 20 years ago, Ruth notes. Continued international pressure on Israel and potent internal movements, embodied by Israeli organizations like New Profile and individuals like Ruth, will eventually turn the tide toward peace with justice for all who call this land “home.”