19-year-old Israeli military resister Maya Wind spoke to a classroom of about 40 people at Hunter College September 29, sharing why she refused to join the Israel Defense Forces and explaining the numerous facets of the Israeli occupation of Palestine.
Wind, who currently works with Rabbis for Human Rights, the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, and New Profile, spent over two months in military prison for refusing conscription. Joining the military is required for all Jewish citizens, as well as some minority groups within Israel, including some 3,000 Israeli Palestinians. She is part of the latest Shministim group (Hebrew for “twelfth graders”) of young Israelis who are military resisters.
Wind and another Shministim group member, Netta Mishly, have been touring the United States since mid-September. The tour, titled “Why We Refuse,” is co-sponsored by Jewish Voice for Peace and CODEPINK. The Hunter College event was put together by Hunter’s Campus Antiwar Network.
“We are twelfth graders who refuse to join the Israeli army because we do not want to serve the occupation, which we feel is immoral, and, of course, violates international law and human rights,” Wind said.
In 2008, Wind and 9 other Shministim drafted a letter that garnered 200 signatures and outlined why they were choosing to resist Israeli military conscription. “We, high-school graduate teens, declare that we shall work against the Israeli occupation and oppression policy in the occupied territories and the territories of Israel. Therefore we will refuse to take part of these actions, which are being done under our name as part of the IDF,” the letter reads.
Wind was eventually released from military prison after being deemed “mentally unfit,” though she is anything but. Asked by an audience member what it was like in prison, she said she was held in solitary confinement for a couple of days, felt depressed, and endured verbal abuse. However, Wind said Israeli society’s ostracizing of her and other military resisters was worse than prison.
But the bulk of her talk was spent on explaining the Israeli occupation, because, she said, Palestinians have it much worse than her.
The presentation explained three important aspects of Israel’s occupation of Palestine, which started during the 1967 Arab-Israeli war and continues to this day, including settlements, checkpoints for Palestinians, and the separation wall that cuts through Palestinian land and has been declared illegal by the International Court of Justice.
Wind slammed the Israeli claim that the checkpoints and separation wall were for Israel’s security, and said that the real purpose of those measures was to control Palestinians and Palestinian resistance to the occupation, as well as to protect Jewish-only settlements. “This wall, you often hear about it, that the wall is protecting Israelis. If it’s protecting Israelis, how come it’s not on the internationally recognized border?” Wind said, who also participates in weekly demonstrations in the Palestinian village of Bil’in against the wall.
The economic forces profiting from the Israeli occupation was also a topic Wind touched on; these include exploiting Palestinian labor and resources, having in the Palestinians a captive market, and security companies’ profiting from contracts with Israel. Wind specifically mentioned Ahava, an Israeli cosmetics company that the group CODEPINK has called for a boycott of because their main manufacturing plant is built on an illegal Jewish settlement in the West Bank and because Ahava exploits Palestinian natural resources from the Dead Sea.
Asked by this reporter whether she supported the global boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign against Israel, Wind said, “I do have faith in Israeli society to change, but a push from the outside wouldn’t hurt.” She continued, saying that the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement should be used “as a way to change Israeli democracy.”
Perhaps the most interesting part of Wind’s talk came when she discussed the complete absence of the Palestinian narrative in Israeli public discourse, similar to the narrative most Jewish-Americans are fed here, and how Israel’s “victim mentality” gets in the way of a just peace. “It’s really taught to us almost as if our grandparents came to a empty land,” she said. “Have you ever heard the expression, ‘a land without people for a people without a land’? Yeah, so the land had people already there, and so that phrase is very misleading.”
The audience response to Wind’s presentation was overwhelmingly positive, in contrast to some of the vitriol Wind has encountered from fervent Israel supporters in the United States.
“Maya, she’s infectious. I think she’s genuine in terms of her desire to see her own country well. I think if Israel is well, I think Palestinians will also be well, I think America will be well,” said Michael Bitar, a Palestinian-American who attended the talk.
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