Gila Svirsky: A Personal Website

Criminalizing Dissent (for a change)

Dispatches from the Peace Front
Women in Black: A Book
Women in Black: Conference 2005
Security Council Address
Other Stuff by Me
Stuff by Others
A Tad About Me
Links I Like
Contact Me
Search this Site!
The criminal investigation of New Profile and freedom of expression
By Rela Mazali

Translation of a talk at Tel Aviv University on 14 May 2009. Hebrew original.

Rela Mazali. Photo by Lieve Snellings
Oshrat Shtangel, Annelien Kisch, Rotem Kinberg, Danna Frank, Raanan Forschner, Nimrod Evron, Sergeiy Sandler, Mirjam Hadar, Bilha Golan, Amir Givol, Ronnie Barkan.

Here they are. They're sitting right here among you; the people whom the police "raided" – as they official press release had it – in their homes and their rented apartments at seven a.m. on the eve of Memorial Day, in an extravagant, highly irregular theatrical production. This would-be-daring-operation instantaneously positioned these people as well as myself and many others in the role of secret agents, as it were, part of a dangerous clandestine network.

Here they are then – the people who were interrogated under threat of indictments, the people who today – on the restraining orders of the police – are banned from meeting or speaking to each other, although they're allowed to assemble here within the same public lecture hall.

They, I, we, the New Profile movement, are suspected – according to the police and the Attorney General – of the offense of "incitement". This criminal offense has yet to be enforced in the state of Israel. It has never yet led, to date, to indictments or trial in an Israeli court, for the law that prohibits it is viewed as problematic and overly vague. The authorities, however, have not stopped at pulling this questionable offense out of the law books; for good measure we are also suspected of counseling young men and women to lie to the military towards procuring exemptions from service.

The powers that be are spreading a broad and intentionally ill-defined dragnet; it's not hard to imagine it snagging something – some word or sentence torn out of its careful context, as already experienced by some of those interrogated.

New Profile is an open, feminist movement of resistance, very rich in words, formulations, challenging viewpoints, unconventional civil-critical thinking and strong public declarations. Of course we're being criminalized for verbal offenses – what else? For alleged incitement. For alleged lies. Verbal offenses nevertheless punishable by serious sentences.

But the preposterous suspicions we are being framed for are not the real motive for the Attorney General's instructions or the army's concerted pressure or the police's hyperbolic production. All of these were motivated not by lies but rather by the truth we speak; the truth that we've been speaking over every available channel for more than a decade, the truth that we are a state trapped in militarized patterns of action, a society addicted to militarized mindsets and the use of force.

We speak the truth about an interest group of people who profit – hugely – from a continuing state of low-intensity-war occasionally peaking in a high-intensity campaign. We point out that some of them are the very same people who define what security is, what it means, for all the rest of us; that they are the same people who identify security with military prowess, with power and money for the military organization and with power, including extensive political power, for military men.

In addition, we report on a growing movement of eighteen-year-old women and men who do not enlist, the vast majority of them without ever having heard of New Profile. We relate this truth, describe this broad social movement, to whoever is willing to listen and discuss it with respect. We denounce attempts on the part of the establishment to erase this reality through slander, representing those who create it as negligible people: a lunatic fringe, extremists, emotionally disturbed, unstable or – mainly – "shirkers".

Parts of this social movement resist the draft openly and refuse to serve a violent policy of repression, dispossession and occupation. New Profile upholds and backs their right to do so with practical assistance. For instance, for Yinnon Hiller, whose High Court struggle for an exemption from military service (finally granted in 2003), was heard by, among others, the Honorable Judge Dalia Dorner seated beside me at this panel. Or, for instance, very recently, over the last few months, for a series of young conscientious objectors who served sentences in military prisons – yet another group of High School Seniors ("Shministim") determined and steadfast despite years of army intimidation and imprisonment of their predecessors.

I wish to reiterate: Israel has no overt legal provision for recognizing freedom of conscience. There are no express legal arrangements for the right to conscientious objection. This is a huge exception among states that set themselves up as democracies. Like many other severe injustices committed by Israel, injustices addressed in some of New Profile's oppositional action, this one too is enabled and allowed under the embedded clauses or Israeli mantras: "We have no other choice", "existential threat" and "security reasons".

Another section of the social movement of draft resistance, a huge mass of young future citizens, simply doesn't enlist; refrains from service. I won't claim, superficially, that all of these young men and women are expressing left-wing views in their act of refraining. Their deliberations, difficulties and personal motives are many, complex and varied. Nevertheless, it can be stated clearly that a large number of them disbelieves the existence of a threat so huge, so immediate and so pressing to the existence of their society that every young body must stand up to block its way. Clearly, some of them also deeply mistrust the people deploying the army and fail to believe that their lives and health will be put on the line only and truly when there is no other choice.

New Profile has been acquainted with this movement for years and maintains ongoing personal contacts with a small portion of those who constitute it, due among other things to the fact that we create a space for thinking, for the open, free and safe discussion of questions which are often difficult for young people to raise at home or in their neighborhoods. Young women and men find space for a personal decision process through New Profile. Those who seek it are furthermore provided with fully legal information about their rights and about the intricate processes they face. At the same time, we collect and build knowledge about this broad social phenomenon.

New Profile and now – as it would seem – the heads of the Israeli army-state, view this emergent youth-led movement as a force potentially destabilizing the existing order. This is what has them worried. This is what has led them to such distinctly politicized use of the police. This truth rather than the alleged lies of which we are being accused.

The open, visible activity of New Profile provides them with a scapegoat, a convenient venue for staging their spectacle, designed to intimidate and face down tens of thousands of young eighteen year olds. What a perfect complement to the recent campaign that aggressively marketed the draft like a fashionable brand of teenage footwear.

Draft resistance is common throughout every social class today. It has gradually gained a degree of legitimacy in public opinion. Before our eyes, it is in the process of dismantling the false façade of "a people's army". It has apparently also begun to undermine the army's exclusive, autonomous control over screening, selecting and deciding who will serve, who won't and where.

Perhaps more important, though, wide-spread draft resistance is threatening to rob those who deploy the army – the politicians – of their fear instilling moves, their most dependable tactic for derailing any civil activity that contests their failures, their corruption or their horrific injustices.

They are charging us with lies in a bid to regain their own unobstructed lying.

In 1985, the authorities in South Africa commenced persecution of the End Conscription Campaign, it too a feminist, women-led movement. Its activities were outlawed and it was forced underground. Five years later, apartheid collapsed.

...and what you can do to help!

They say such nice things about people at their funerals that it makes me sad to realize that I'm going to miss mine by just a few days. -- Garrison Keillor