The Shministim are Israeli high school students who have been imprisoned for refusing to serve in an army that occupies the Palestinian Territories. Two of them are currently on a speaking tour of the US.
A few nights ago they appeared in New York and Mondoweiss has two interesting reports:
The two women who spoke to the packed house were named Netta Mishly and Maya Wind–though they didn’t use their last names. Netta was dark and Maya was blonde, and both were impressive, having the moral vigor of youth. Now I know what it is like to be a middle aged fading person and see a young person who has seized the world and understands it. That was Maya. She has an angular face. She was educated in religious schools, with many settlers in her class, she grew up having playdates in outposts and settlements, routinely. Netta, privileged, from Tel Aviv, was a little more gray-area and emotive.
They did not dwell on their personal stories. They are using their visit to educate people about the conflict, and the dispossession of the Palestinians. On this score they were eloquent and ferocious, showing maps of partition and of checkpoints and settlements. The usual grisly horror, rendered by morally-energetic young people. Though in Israel Maya said that even referring to the occupation is a “bad, evil word that only antisemites use.”
For me this was the theme of the talk, how isolated these young women are. They are in a militarized society in which everyone serves, in which people look forward to serving. When Netta was 15, her class had been taken to a shooting range to try out guns and she had refused because she just didn’t want to–even when people said, you will have to get used to it in another three years anyway– and the school gave her a demerit for not taking “part in a social event.”
Everyone they know has served. Their grandparents, their fathers, their uncles. Netta had gone to her own father’s release ceremony from the Reserves. “It’s all very personal.” And everyone their age is a soldier; and they are thought to be soldiers too, until they are asked what their role is in the army, and they have to answer. That is the way life is understood. And Maya said that her real punishment had not been jail– no, jail had actually brought her family together, gotten her mother to respect her choice—it had been the feeling of isolation in Israel society. She feels she can never be an ordinary person.
Another moment that struck me was the discussion of Israeli textbooks. We are bombarded with claims that Palestinian textbooks are full of “incitement” of hatred and violence. The standard and perfectly legitimate response has been that the suffocating reality of the Occupation “incites” the hatred and violence. Moreover, many of the rumors about Palestinian textbooks have been proven false or grossly exaggerated. But I have always wondered what appears in Israeli textbooks. How would they survive critical scrutiny? The women answered this question, saying that they were taught nothing of the disastrous effects that the establishment of a Jewish State in Palestine had on the native inhabitants. The old maxim “A land without people for a people without land,” an original myth that was disproved more than a century ago, still lives on in Israeli schools.