Jewish Voice for Peace at Vassar (JVP), a group whose members support the movement for peace and justice in historic Palestine, hosted a lecture on Nov. 7 entitled “Militarism and Refusal in Israel.” Two activists, Ivan Karakashian and Danielle Yaor, led discussions of the effects of militarism on young people in Israel, the status of conscientious objection and the work being done to counteract militarism. The speakers presented a non-normalized frame around the violence that young people involved in the conflict experience. The event was co-sponsored by the Grassroots Alliance for Alternative Politics (GAAP), the Feminist Alliance, Geography Department, Political Science Department, Africana Studies and International Studies.
The first speaker, Ivan Karakashian, works with Defense for Children International-Palestine, an independent children’s rights organization. He leads the organization’s advocacy and communications to expose and document grave violations against Palestinian children and hold their abusers accountable. Karakashian shed light on the impacts of militarism in the West Bank on children. He began by giving context and acknowledging that, since 1967, all Palestinians in the West Bank have been living under military law that does not apply to the Israeli Jewish settlers inhabiting the same space. Thus, there are two legal systems, one being the Israeli military system, which applies only to Palestinians, and the other being the Israeli criminal system that applies only to Israelis. Karakashian went on to highlight the consequences of having two systems in the same territory that are applied based on ethnicity.
According to Karakashian, Palestinian children that are subjected to the Israeli military system of law face dire consequences if accused of committing a crime. He used the example that, if a Palestinian child throws a stone at a military jeep, he could face a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison. He pointed out that almost all of the children being arrested were males between the ages of 12 and 18. Karakashian went on to explain the conditions of arrest, stating that 55 percent of all children arrested were arrested between midnight and 5:00 a.m. Soldiers often show up at children’s homes, the parents are not given an arrest warrant, the children are not read their rights and they are put in the back of a military vehicle and blindfolded.
Karakashian noted the unsettling nature of the situation. He said, “As a child the privacy and safety of your bedroom is destroyed when you wake up to a soldier pointing his gun at you.”
Karakashian showed images and footage of children being arrested by soldiers, including one 11-year-old boy with an intellectual disability. The speaker also showed footage of two Palestinian youths being killed by Israeli soldiers in what he argued was an unprovoked manner.
He went on to talk about the verbal and physical abuse that occurred at military bases where children were often held for questioning. He asserted that children could disappear for 24 to 96 hours when no one knows where they are or what is happening to them, and, in 75 percent of all cases, physical and verbal abuse occur. After children are abused, denied food and water and sometimes subjected to solitary confinement, they are interrogated by soldiers, often resulting in a forced confession.
Karakashian related these struggles to the organization Defense for the Children International-Palestine, as he said that it is hard for the lawyers to help the children without negotiating. Oftentimes, lawyers enter a plea bargain for how long the child spends in military prison, which usually amounts to three to five months.
He claimed, “The organization is faced with the situation where we don’t think that children should ever be tried in military courts, so we don’t want to work with the system at all, but if we don’t then we can’t help children and they can spend years in prison.”
Karakashian concluded that Israel is the only country that arrests, prosecutes and convicts around 700 children in military courts each year. He also spoke about soldiers utilizing their crowd control weaponry brutally and excessively. Furthermore, he noted that Israel was the fourth biggest spender in the world on buying and importing weapons and was the number one country to export weapons per capita.
The second activist, Danielle Yaor is an active member of Shministim, an organization of young Israelis who refuse compulsory service in the Israeli military. In addition to Shministim, Danielle participates with other human rights organizations and is active in weekly popular protests against the separation wall.
Yaor was only 19-years-old and spoke about her life in Israel as being overwhelmed by a military presence. She claimed that everywhere she went, on the train and on trips, she saw over 50 soldiers and that in her daily life she saw M16s.
She spoke about being taught by soldiers and going on school field trips to military bases. Yaor elaborated on her decision to refuse service in the military and exclaimed, “When I became a refuser I became an outsider.” Yaor frequently referenced the fact that many Israeli youths are unaware of the possibility to refuse service, and that she wanted to spread awareness of this option.
Lecture facilitator Henry Rosen ’17 spoke about the importance of the two speakers for young activists. He said, “I think these two specific activists offered clear insight into the place of youths—Palestinian and Israeli—in ongoing resistance to occupation and apartheid between the river and the sea.
He continued, “I hope folks continue to show up in support of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) and JVP as well as all students on campus pushing the school to be more accountable…and towards a position ‘against’ power.”