Why I Refuse: On God/Love, Nonviolence and Israel’s Military Occupation of the Palestinian Territories.

                    اقراوا الرسالة بالعربية                לקרוא את המכתב בעברית

My name is Moriel Zachariah Rothman. I am 23 years old and live in Jerusalem. I lived for most of my life in the United States, but I was born in Jerusalem (and am Jewish) and have thus been an Israeli citizen since birth. As such, I am, like [most] other Israeli Jews, expected to serve in the IDF. I moved back to Jerusalem last year, and I recently received a draft notice from the IDF. After much thinking, wrestling and searching, and drawing inspiration from my community and from many who have made the same choice before me, I have decided to refuse to serve in the army.

Before explaining my decision, I want to acknowledge both my privilege and the fact that I am here by choice. As for the former, I am deeply aware of the privileges I have as compared to many other Israelis- privileges of education, of financial security, of light skin, of circumstance- and I thus want to make clear that I do not see my decision to refuse as making me somehow “more moral” or otherwise superior to my Israeli peers who chose to serve. In many if not most cases, the decision to serve was barely a choice, and was more of a product of 18 years of upbringing, societal pressure, propaganda, the threat of jail or punishment and the perhaps more devastating threat of stigmatization and metaphorical/spiritual exile. While I have immense admiration for those 18 year olds who did indeed refuse, despite all of the aforementioned, it is clear to me that if I had been here when I was 18, I would have served in the army, and likely in a combat unit, and thus likely in the occupied territories, despite the reservations and internal conflicts (which I certainly had then, but which have grown and intensified over the past five years, thanks to academic study, direct exposure to different narratives, spiritual contemplation, community influences and many other products of my privilege). I thus want to make it clear that my decision to refuse was intricately connected to privilege and circumstance, and thus that it is an act of protest against what I see as an unjust and evil system, and not against individuals. All of that said, I certainly hope that my action can be an example for others (including other immigrants from the US who have similar privileges and opportunities), that it will take away a bit of the fear and stigma surrounding the idea of refusal, and that others will, indeed, follow in the same path, just as I am following in the path of those who have refused to serve in the military before me, here and elsewhere in the world.

 And a word on my choice to be here: I moved here, to Israel-Palestine, like millions of other Jews over the last century, because I feel a connection to the people and to the land. I chose to be here. I chose to throw my lot in with the Jewish people, in the place on earth in which Jewish decisions- for better and for worse- have the most impact. I want to be a part of this society, and I want to make my contribution to this society’s safety, with the hope that we can break free from the cycle of violence into which the Jewish people was collectively launched, and to live up to the ethical ideals carved into our holy books and our historical memories.

 Instead of adding one more drop to the already frothing, overflowing pool of violence here, I will do my best to obey the biblical commandment that appears more times than any other, and seek to love and do justice with the stranger (eg. Deut. 10:18; Zach. 7:10). That is how I want to spend my life, and I want to do it in the land in which biblical values of justice first took root.

So why am I refusing?

In short, the reasons are as follows: God/Love, Nonviolence, and Israel’s Military Occupation of the Palestinian Territories.

 In long, read on.

God/Love. 

Humanity was created in God’s image (Gen. 1:27). To take a person’s life is to destroy part of God and to diminish the Oneness that is Humanity. To bound and gag other people- or other peoples- is to desecrate God. To violate human dignity is to lessen God’s holiness. The only way to truly uplift God is through love of others. I constantly seek, and constantly fail, and constantly continue to seek to live a life with God/others-love at its center. I do love others: although this love is not manifested in all of my actions, and maybe not even in all of my days, it exists somewhere deep inside of me, as I think that it does in everyone. I love their laughter, and their songs, and the softness of their eyes. I am often overwhelmed by others, blown away by how Godly and how human all humans are, by how confused we all are, by how tiny. David Foster Wallace, in his speech to the graduating class of Kenyon College in 2005, made the case for empathy based on shared humanity and fundamental un-knowing of others’ lives:

“You can choose to look differently at this fat, dead-eyed, over-made-up lady who just screamed at her kid in the checkout line. Maybe she’s not usually like this. Maybe she’s been up three straight nights holding the hand of a husband who is dying of bone cancer. Or maybe this very lady is the low-wage clerk at the motor vehicle department, who just yesterday helped your spouse resolve a horrific, infuriating, red-tape problem through some small act of bureaucratic kindness. Of course, none of this is likely, but it’s also not impossible. It just depends what you want to consider.” 

I realize it might seem like I’m going off on a tangent by quoting that passage in a letter on refusal, but I will exploit yet another privilege I have (ie. a Politically Relevant and Highly Controversial subject which is perhaps P.R. & H. C. enough to convince some of you to read all of these seven pages) and ask that you stay with me: I think there is a sort of logic to it all, a thread –of love, perhaps, or of Godliness, or just humanity, depending on how one chooses to put words to this thing that is- that connects the woman in the checkout line to the solider at the checkpoint, and that leads me to a determined refusal to hate any individual soldier or human part of the system even as I refuse to become a solider and part of a system that I hate. Truly: I do not know.

I do not know.

Another element of my belief in God is unknowability. The only God that I know is God that is almost entirely unknowable, mysterious, God perhaps somehow manifested in Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel’s concept of “radical amazement” at the stunning unknowableness of every moment and “wonder” at the very fact that we are able to wonder. As God is unknowable, a deep humility is demanded of us as we try to walk in what we think/feel/sense/believe is God’s path. This unknowability connects directly to the second reason I am refusing, which is a commitment to nonviolence.

Nonviolence. 

There is a chance in every moment that all of us are completely and entirely Wrong. That, as my friend Sarah once said to me, is part of why we must choose nonviolence. As we grapple with the knowledge that we may be Wrong about everything we “know” or believe- including this letter and my act of refusal itself- at least we can be certain that we are not actively eliminating from the world those who might actually be Right, as measured by God, justice, history or some other force, or half Right, or together with whom we could find some measure of Right.

True nonviolence, based on morally-intuited educated guesses its proponents about what is Right, must be accompanied by humility. Martin Luther King Jr., in his reflections on his visit to India, wrote about the need to embrace “realistic pacifism,” a pacifism that does not frame nonviolence as “sinless,” but rather as “the lesser evil in the circumstances.” Indeed whether I refuse or not, people will continue to kill other people- especially those who are sure that they are Right. Israeli society will remain plagued by militarism, by fear, and by the structural violence rampant throughout all Western societies. I do not acquit myself from any of these injustices or “clean my hands” simply by refusing to serve one of the manifestations of societal violence. Even the Pacifist has blood on his or her hands. As the early Jewish – and Zionist, albeit in a very different way than the racist and hyper-nationalistic forms of Zionism that take center stage today- philosopher Martin Buber wrote, in a 1932 essay entitled And if not now, when?, “there can be no life without injustice.” Thus, Buber continues, the imperative to do no more injustice than we must. This applies both on the individual level and on the communal level, as “what is wrong for the individual cannot be right for the community.”

I have come to believe, as have many before me, both here and elsewhere, that committed nonviolence is the only way to end the cycle of the violence that has brutalized and continues to destroy our world, this region and humanity. In other words, only nonviolence can end violence. This statement sounds simple and un-dangerous, yet it echoes in many ears as threatening and subversive, leads some people to call me horrific names and tell me that I have no place in this society. Throughout history and across the planet, holding fast to nonviolence has often come with a price, from physical pain or danger to societal estrangement, from employment issues to the loss of certain freedoms and jailtime.

Again though: the fact that I have arrived at a point in which I am willing to pay a certain personal price (and it is a relatively small price compared to what such a decision would entail throughout much of the world, the worst likely-scenario being a short period of time in Israeli military jail) for my beliefs does not make me “more moral” than my peers, and, it must be noted, is in a certain way informed by my Ego and aggrandized conception of self, which certainly clashes with the humility which leads me to believe in nonviolence, which is a contradiction that I have not yet resolved and do not know how to resolve- if this were purely about humility, I might refuse silently, and yet, if I refused silently, the action would surely have no affect on others, and would thus be a purely-self-oriented decision, which then would also render it a selfish act. And so. I leave this contradiction unresolved for now, but acknowledged.

To return to nonviolence: my ideas about and admiration for nonviolence were deeply influenced by my childhood admiration for the American Civil Rights Movement (an admiration fostered and nurtured, interestingly, by the established Jewish community, as well as by my incredible family and Ohio hometown). My childhood admiration of the movement melted into an adolescent textual exploration which, like many before me, led me to the works of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., as well as other, slightly less famous but equally inspiring figures like Bob Moses, Fannie Lou Hamer, Vernon Dahmer, Diane Nash and the thousands upon thousands of unremembered heroes and, also, the Jewish activists who made up a disproportionate amount of the non-Black freedom riders and civil rights figures. King, who functioned as a sort of mouthpiece for the movement, wrote in his book on the Montgomery Bus Boycotts, that true nonviolence “avoids not only external physical violence but also internal violence of the spirit. The nonviolent resister not only refuses to shoot his opponent but he also refuses to hate him.” Mickey Schwerner, one of the Jewish activists murdered in Mississippi in 1964 by members of the KKK was recorded as saying, right before he was shot by a member of the Klan, “Sir, I know just how you feel.”

I will assert explicitly, if this had not already been made clear, that I do not hate soldiers, nor do I hate settlers. I hate many of their actions, I hate the system they support and are supported by, I hate oppression and racism and separation and the fact that Israel’s regime today looks, in many ways, devastatingly similar to the United States in the 1950 and 60s. And I hate, with all of my soul, the worst manifestation of my society’s racism, violence, and oppression, the IDF’s main venture and purpose, today, in 2012: Israel’s military occupation of the Palestinian Territories. My refusal is not “selective.” I would similarly refuse to serve in the United States military, or the Turkish military, or the Palestinian military, if ever there becomes such a thing. That said, it was through witnessing of the violence of the IDF’s actions in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, both physical and structural, that my principled opposition to systematic violence was forged and cemented, and it was the occupation that led me to my belief that armies are not only formed in order to enact violence, but indeed, when placed in a tense situation, themselves create, initiate and necessitate violence.

Israel’s Military Occupation of the Palestinian Territories

 I chose to write about this factor in my decision last not because it is somehow less important to me- on the contrary, it is far more urgent and less theoretical than the other two- but because there has been created, within much of the Israeli and world Jewish Communities, whom I see as my main conversation partners in this action and in general, a culture of radical denial, of a knee-jerk ear-and-heart closing to most discussions of Israel’s occupation, and even to the word itself, which seems, to me, the word “occupation” does, to be a rather tame and sterile way to describe the situation today West Bank and East Jerusalem (and Gaza. Although it is a different case than the former two areas, Gaza is still occupied by air and by water, is economically stifled and dependent, and the Palestinians living in Gaza collectively suffer the constant threat of devastating violence, most horrifically illustrated by “Operation Cast Lead” in 2009. All of that said, I have never been to Gaza, and thus my understanding of the Occupation is largely informed by my experiences in the West Bank and East Jerusalem and the following discussion will focus there). The Occupation is the primary task of the IDF, and it is made possible by support for the IDF and its actions by Israeli and world-Jewish conservatives and liberals alike.

My hope is that those who made it this far in the letter will realize, at least on some level, that my opposition to the occupation and the IDF’s central role in the occupation stems directly from my Jewish and universal values, and will thus have a bit more openness in their hearts when reading this final section of this letter.

But it cannot be said lightly, the time has long passed for gentle language and “hear-able” rhetoric: The Occupation is cruelty and injustice manifest.

The Occupation is anti-God, anti-Love and staggeringly, constantly violent.

The Occupation is based on a system of racial/ethnic separation that does, in fact, resemble South African Apartheid and segregation in the Southern United States until the 1960s.

And this “temporary” Occupation is not “on its way out,” but is rather growing in strength every single day.

There is almost zero political will within Israel’s government to end it, and the Israeli public has largely accepted the status quo, in which the occupation is basically a theoretical question, and one of which many have grown tired. But the occupation can only be theoretical if you are not occupied, and thus my refusal to support the occupation by serving in the IDF is also an act of solidarity with Palestinians living under occupation, whose lives and suffering I cannot truly understand, coming from the privilege I come from (if/when I go to jail, it will be a fundamentally less frightening, more privileged, more predictable, and all around easier experience than the experiences of the thousands and thousands of Palestinians, among them children and innocents, who have spent time in Israeli prisons), and whose forms of nonviolent resistance to Occupation have amazed and inspired me, whether through protests, or through hunger strikes, or through community development and art and culture, or through the basic act of maintaining dignity and beauty in the face of the historical injustice and suffering Palestinians have faced, continually, since the Nakba of 1948, and especially since the Occupation beginning in 1967.

I do not intend to write in depth about the specifics of Occupation in this letter (for my specific and in depth thoughts on the Occupation, see my blog, The Leftern Wall, and other articles and poems I have written at http://www.thelefternwall.com). I do not imagine that this letter, however lengthy and detailed, could single-handedly shift the views of someone who does not see the Occupation as desperately, crushingly evil or of someone who believes that the IDF’s actions in the Palestinian territories are justified or “necessary.” But I do believe that it may plant a seed of questioning in a few hearts and a few souls. As such, I will simply tell a story, the power of which, I think, is far greater than overused academic or intellectual arguments, and give a few recommendations of reading/viewing materials that had profound impacts on me.

This past winter, in the village of Silwan in East Jerusalem, I met a fourteen year-old boy named “S”. “S”  is medium height, and has short dark hair and almond-colored eyes. He is bit shy and has a soft smile and should have been finishing his ninth grade year. But when I met “S” , he had just been released from 30 days in Israeli prison, where he had been physically and emotionally tortured and abused, separated from his parents and family, threatened with a knife and with “electric means,” at times kept in solitary confinement. Fourteen years old. When he was released, he was immediately put under house arrest, and when I met him, he was missing the end of the school year. He was excited to meet me, “S”, and asked if I could help him tell his story, and maybe help him return to school, and if we could take a picture together on his cellphone.

And then comes the question: But what did he do?

And the answer: it does not matter. Only in a system overflowing with discrimination and violence, like the occupation, could a boy- who is not even a citizen of Israel- be held in such awful conditions. Only under occupation could such a story be not only believable for Palestinians and those who work with them, but in fact unsurprising.

For those who have not had the privilege/burden of witnessing this reality first hand, though, such stories are hard to swallow. Many times I have told this story, and the reaction has been: “I don’t believe this,” or “this is not true.” Would that it were not true.

It is. As are thousands and thousands of stories like it, told and untold. The occupation, which is based off of unequal treatment, and subjugating the entire Palestinian population by force, not only allows such acts of cruelty as arresting and abusing a 14 year old boy and then barring him from returning to school: it needs them. It needs to crush Palestinians into submission, to keep them in a constant state of fear and uncertainty, to treat them as if they are somehow less human, as if they are less deserving of rights and dignity and security. This is the primary task of the IDF in the Occupied Territories (and thus the primary task of the IDF period): to keep Palestinians in a constant state of fear, “sh’lo yarimu rosh,” that they not be allowed to lift their heads up, to maintain a constant threat of violence and punishment against the entire population.

I refuse to support a system that treats any children as if they are not human.

Part of my ask is that readers for whom even parts of this letter resonate take the time to learn more about the occupation, to challenge their views on the IDF (and of armies and violence in general) and its role in perpetrating injustice. I believe that the best way to learn about the Occupation is to witness it, and I underwent one of my most fundamental change after a tours of occupied East Jerusalem and occupied Hebron (both, interestingly, given by former combat soldiers). There were also a few books and movies that truly cracked me open and gave me the ability to hear a narrative so different than the one I had heard from mainstream Israeli and Jewish sources as a child, among them Martin Buber’s “A Land of Two Peoples,” (edited by Paul Mendes-Flohr), S. Yizhar’s “Khirbet Khizeh,” Edward Said’s “A Question of Palestine,” the films “Budrus” by JustVision and “The Law in These Parts” by Ra’anan Alexandrovich and many poems by Mahmoud Darwish, especially, in this context, “A Soldier Dreams of White Lilies:”

 I want a smiling child in this day

not an issue of the war-machine.

I came here because I thought a sun

was approaching its zenith not setting.

So I refuse. I refuse to serve in the army, to put on a uniform, to pick up a gun. I refuse to contribute to the cycle of violence and dehumanization that plagues this place that I love. I refuse because I love, and because I believe in the possibility of a better reality, and because I believe in God and in humanity and in nonviolence and and because, as R. Heschel teaches, to despair is the most selfish thing one can do, to say “this is hard for me,” or “it seems to me that the situation will never change,” and to thus be unable to serve God by serving others. I believe that the situation can change. I believe that my refusal is a tiny, tiny, tiny contribution to a reality in which violence is less normal, less prevalent, less accepted. I seek to refuse with the most humility that I can muster, because I do not know, about this or about anything. I refuse in solidarity with Palestinians living under occupation, in and in hope that the ripples of my action will reach the hearts of some members of my Israeli Jewish and American Jewish societies. I refuse to hate those who have chosen differently, and I hope that the refusal to hate will be reciprocated by those who disagree with my decision.

In hope, sadness, some fear, and love,

Moriel Zachariah Rothman.

About Moriel Rothman

Writing, Activism, Poetry, Love.
This entry was posted in IDF & Refusal to Serve, Violence/Nonviolence. Bookmark the permalink.

73 Responses to Why I Refuse: On God/Love, Nonviolence and Israel’s Military Occupation of the Palestinian Territories.

  1. Pingback: מכתב סירוב: על אלוהים/אהבה, אי–אלימות והכיבוש | The Leftern Wall

  2. Pingback: رسالة رفض: عن الاله / الحب، عن مبدأ اللاعنف، وعن الاحتلال العسكري الإسرائيلي للأراضي الفلسطينية | The Leftern Wall

  3. Guy says:

    beautiful.
    thank you moriel.

  4. Colin Brace says:

    Great post. Be strong.

  5. esther rothman says:

    Mori did you get my comment? Grandmom

  6. jonnyadams48 says:

    Dear Mori,
    Many thanks.
    As a 64-year-old Brit I don’t have to face the possibility of conscription, so it is relatively cheap for me to claim some fellowship with you from afar. But, as you outline in your post, non-violence reaches much further than not shooting – into letting go of hate and contempt.
    Thanks for inviting me to consider yet again the contrast between confident commitment to justice and heedless certainty. Thanks for “True nonviolence, based on morally-intuited educated guesses … about what is Right, must be accompanied by humility.”
    As I have written before, believing the military do not have a monopoly on salutes, I salute you.
    Jonathan

    • Moriel Rothman says:

      Dear Jonathan,

      Thank you for your commet, for your support- and even for your salute! :) I think that if we can all be a bit more humble in our pursuit for justice- something that I often fail at- it will become mutually reinforcing, and will be a standard we hold each other to.

      All the best,

      Moriel

      • gene quitaredi says:

        Found your stupid letter on a Jihadist website from Syria. Coward you are! Stupid you are! A waste of human space that you also are! As you see daily in the news your moozslime friends don’t distinguish between your rubbish kind and innocents. Let’s hope the next time they attack you’re there! You cowardly selfish filth of humanity!

      • A. Why are you reading jihadist websites?
        B. I am opposed to all forms of violence, jihadist, Israeli nationalist, or otherwise, and I assume that the jihadist website, if it is actually that, neither truly read or understood the content of my letter, which is against militarism, hate and violence period.
        C. Take some deep breathes. Have a nice day.

  7. Gabriele Leventhal says:

    I read the whole post. Very interesting and quite a struggle you face. You use the word “hate” a lot.

    • Yes, I use the word 11 times, mostly in the paragraph about how I hate systems and not individuals. I think that it is important to hate cruelty and injustice and to love all people, that the cliche of ”hate the sin and love the sinner” is in fact a very deep one, like most cliches tend to be.

  8. justine says:

    support you all the way

  9. Lin Wood & Eric Miller says:

    we love you mori, lin and eric

  10. Greg Tuke says:

    Dear Mori,
    I share your views for much of what you have said here, and most appreciate your ability to understand why others find this choice you are making so untolerable. I too, was a war objector from the US, refusing to serve. Yet when I visited Israel and the occupied territories for my first time in 1979, sitting on a hill outside Haifa, and saw the same exact political tension you see today, I wondered if I could maintain that stance if I had been born in Israel or the West Bank. It is courageous action you are taking, and is as you said, not without its own ounce of evil and violence that will come as a result. No pure choices here. Thank you for saying it all so well. Its both a tiny tiny tiny step, and a big one. May it move us all an inch closer to a more peaceful existence. Inshallah.

    • Moriel Rothman says:

      Dear Greg,

      Thank you for reaching out- I am very touched to have my struggle linked to that of another CO, and especially one who seems to grapple with the nuance and complexity of our act like you have. I do not think that this is simple, or that I am necessarily ”more right” than my friends who chose to serve, but I do hope -using the metaphor of throwing a handful of seeds into rocky soil and seeing what sprouts- that my action, as you said, can bring us a bit closer to peace and a bit farther away from violence.

  11. Samuel Horn says:

    hey Moriel, thank you for this well constructed and inspiring essay …
    It is sometimes hard for us to convince our community that Israel is not infallible and omnibenevolent towards all its citizens, yet you achieved your goal without turning into a “self-hating jew” …
    I hope for you that you will be able to do some community service instead of going to jail.
    shalom
    Samuel

    • Thank you, Samuel- I certainly do not hate myself, nor other Jews. ;) Love is the primary motivator of my decision, and I hope, like you, that the army will change its mind in the next week about what they want to do with me. Unfortunately, they don’t view comm. service as an alternative, but rahter as something you are welcome to do once you are released from military service… Some day, perhaps, that will change. Hopefully sooner rather than later.

  12. Malkon says:

    Moriel Rothman, I truly appreciate your message. The same God of Judaism said through Jesus Christ: “It was said to you to hate your enemy and Love your neighbour, but I tell you: Love YOUR ENEMIES, bless those who curse you, and pray for those persecute and mistreat YOU” Matthew 7:44). Well, i’m just sharing my heart as a Palestinian whom God touched His heart 4 and a half years ago. The most verses that attracted me to him were what I just wrote. I am writing this because I just want to thank you for supporting true Justice and Peace brother.
    I wish that you may respond to my reply despite the fact that it includes Jesus, I know that you as a Jew doesn’t believe in Jesus Christ. However, Jesus Christ was the only one who taught me how to Jews truly.
    May God Bless you
    Yours in God’s Love
    Malkon Marizian

    • Malkon says:

      how to *love Jews Truly*

    • Dear Malkon,

      Thank you for your note, and I certainly am not offended that you included Jesus in your comment- b’il3ks! the opposite! I think that it is so important that we can all come to the table from places that are honest and true to our own histories, cultures and religions. I recently had an argument on the comments section of a piece I wrote for +972 with a few commenters who took issue with my framing of “jewish values” as leading me to oppose the occupation and violence. My response to them was that while I certainly do not think that Jewish values necessarily lead to the place I am in, or that one cannot get to the same place from feminist or Palestinian or Tibetan or Buddhist values, it is the most true for me to call them Jewish values, just as I imagine that for you, your love of all people comes in the form of Christian values, which is wonderful.

      Thank you for the support and love.

      -Moriel

  13. Aryeh Bernstein says:

    חזק ואמץ, אחי.

  14. Millet Martine says:

    Bravo… I appreciate your message, it is a strong and deep reflection, it needs courage, force and hope to write it and to live it. You have made a choice, I hope you will be able to follow it, it will not be easy, because the situations are worse and worse for the Arabs in Israel and in the occupied territories. But you are not alone and I am sure you will met wonderful people who – like you – are engaged for peace, justice, love for the humanity. Good Luck to you.
    Martine (Versailles-France)

  15. Seraphya says:

    I am a bit confused by your statement that “only nonviolence can end violence” in a general sense.
    Do you believe that real evil can be defeated without violence? Or do you not think that real evil exists? If someone is beating to death another human being for their beliefs, sexuality etc. do you think that all you can do is non-violently ask for it to stop? To me that would seem to be useless as you would get beaten up along with her. If in this scenario, which unfortunately repeats itself around the world daily, violence is called for then the principle no longer stands and a more nuanced approach would be needed.

    Also I wonder how from a Jewish perspective you understand this stance. I can think of many ways this conflicts with various parts of Jewish tradition, but Jewish tradition is always multi-faceted and what you say plays a part in some Jewish thought. However, what you express seems to be incongruous with the idea of Rodef, that you must others from causing grievous bodily harm or death to others with the force required to stop the act even killing the attacker. I bring this specific case up as it relates to the paragraph above.

    • Moriel Rothman says:

      Dear Seraphya,

      Thank you for your excellent and challenging questions. I am excited to try to answer them and to continue this discussion. First off– In regards to violence and my opposition to violence: Martin Buber (one of the five thinkers I quoted in my letter, along with Dr. King, Rabbi Heschel, David Foster Wallace and Mahmoud Darwish) wrote in a different essay that we should struggle to avoid absolute principles. Even the principles in the Torah, he argues, are not absolute in all situations. I relate to that, deeply. My belief in nonviolence is a similar principle- it is a guiding light, but I cannot say that it is not absolute for all situations. In a situation like the one you described, in which someone is being attacked physically or sexually, I believe that the right thing to do would be to try to stop the attack with nonviolent -and certainly nonlethal- means if at all at all possible, Aikido being a fabulous example of physical force not intended to hurt the subject but rather to restrain them. If that would not be possible, then I do not know– but more on this subject to come in my response to your citing Dinei Rodef. I think that example, one also cited by army folks, is a problematic one, as there is a fundamental difference -of kind, I’d argue, and not only of scale- between seeing an individual violent act and understanding what is right to do in that case and joining a system whose purpose is violence. The purpose of an army is violence- defensive, offensive, just, unjust, those are all different arguments, but it needs to be recognized that guns and bombs and planes and uniforms and checkpoints and night raids are not ‘incidental’ to armies but rather fundamental. And so while I am less sure about the individual attack circumstance, I am more convinced that it is not right for me to join a system centered around violence, and I think that yes- on a systemic level, only nonviolence can stop violence. That does not mean that I advocate closing the Army tomorrow, before all other armies in the reasons have closed down. It means that I advocate minimizing the army’s centrality in society, de-normalizing violence, challenging the culture of Kravi/Fighting Unti- Worship, and first and foremost pushing for the Army to cease its most violent and cruel undertaking, i.e., the maintenance of the occupation. If 100 or 1,000 or 100,000 others were to refuse in the way I am refusing- saying “No, we will not join the army as long as it is occupying Palestine,” some as pacifists, others as political activists, if these people were to refuse, I promise you the IDF would not crumble, but rather would perhaps start pushing for a serious reexamination of the status quo of occupation.

      As for Dinei Rodef– I actually could not be more thrilled that that was the example you chose to cite, in that my deepest Talmud study was on Perek 8 of Sanhedrin, which includes Dinei Rodef. It is true that part of Dinei Rodef is as you phrased it, that you must stop the Rodef from killing the Nirdaf even by killing the Rodef (it is worth noting that that is the religious justification the Yigal Amir used for killing PM Yizhak Rabin, which does not necessarily call the whole interpretation into question, but should at least give us pause). However, like in all Talmudic debates, there are many different opinions. In fact, later on in the same keta, it is argued that if you see a Rodef and you have any possible way of stopping him other than killing him- hitting his arm or his leg, or Aikido, if you’ll allow me to take it there- and you still kill him, then not only did you do wrong, but you are considered a rotzeah, a murderer, yourself. This also comes in light of the section early in the same Perek, in the discussion of the Thief of HaBa B’Machteret, where one thread of argument forbids the homeowner from killing the thief unless it is clear to him as the sun that the thief is coming to kill him. And can it ever be clear to anyone as the sun what someone else’s internal motives are? If it can, it is a very, very rare case.

      I write all of this not in order to prove that my Talmuid interpretation is superior to yours- I am sure that it is not, and that you have studied more than I have. Rather, I write this to show that my values do have a basis in Jewish texts, elu v’elu. Thank you again for the thoughtful challenges.

      With respect,

      Moriel

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  18. Thank you Moriel for your commitment to an unselfish non-violence that includes extending your decision to the world via the written word. I commend you for your efforts on behalf of Love and the Love of God, which are one. May your way be full of wonder and miracles in your choice to lay down the sword and shield, and take up the one commandment our Saviour Jesus gave to us: ‘That your joy may be full, you must love one another as I have loved you’ John 15:10-12. For truly I tell you, your desire for peace and for the love of your fellows, eminates from the Truth within you, the Soul of God, and your privilege as you so rightly put it, has given you the chance to ‘check-in’ with this part of your self, and to recognize its primary importance in your life, and how you approach life in a world of diminished appreciation for the miracle that IS life. THank you and God Bless you.

  19. Dear f.f.f.f.t.,

    Thank you for your note, and the kind words. I do, however, need to say that your phrasing of Jesus as “our Saviour” makes me very uncomfortable, and while I respect your choice of religious practice and belief, and have no doubt that it holds a lot of truth for you, I would respectfully ask that you do not use that language while commenting here, and instead comment in the “I,” so as not to impose your religious beliefs on others.

    Sincerely,

    Moriel

    • The message of love is true, no matter who delivers it. Forgive my certainty and lack of understanding as to the ‘wording’ mistake. If the sun shines, it shines on all of us and to say it doesn’t to be politically or religiously correct seems very hypocritical. On the other hand, if someone is offended ‘in themselves’ by someones use of a word with great implications, who is the offender? I will respect your wishes Moriel, though my certainty stands and my joy is full. Peace to you my brother, you and those like you are the hope of the world. Peter

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  22. saratraub says:

    We are all members of the human family. What makes one member of the family think they have the right to curtail the freedom of another family member? Because of a perceive notion of lack of security? It doesn’t fly. The iron is that we, Jews seek peace, and yet we make war. We have the 4th strongest army in the world and every young person, be it man or women goes to the army. What other country in the world does this? Is this normal? Army with guns means that one group will be oppressed. This is not peace and if peace and love they neighbour is primary, than it would stand to reason that we would bend over backwards and do whatever we can to gain that peace. But instead, we deem it normal to be the agressors and do as much of a land grab that we can. The Jews all over the world have come to accept this as normal. There is nothing normal about it. What you are doing is more in line with what a normal, thinking person that is not influenced by the tribe should be doing. Bravo to you. I wish that there were more thinking young people around like you that can snap out of this robot-like trance that we are in before it is too late. If this is what it means to have Israel, I don’t want it – too much blood and too much karma. Is this the safe haven that Jews were looking for after WW II? Ha!

  23. Izzi says:

    Moriel, you are a hero, and it’s people like you who will change this world. Be strong, you have many supporters with you.

    Blessings to you Brother. Your work is Divine.

    With Love from Canada,

    Izzi.

  24. Menno says:

    Hi Moriel,

    Many thanks for this post which is very thought-provoking, and I’ll be reading up on many of the things you mention here. Earlier this year I was facilitating a film-making workshop with young Palestinian women who had come over to London for a few days as part of an educational exchange programme; they could pick any topic they wanted for the short films they’d be making, and all chose the Israeli occupation – their films either dealt with oppression, injustice or hope for peace. As they told me their stories, I was stunned by what their daily realities were like, right here in 2012, and although I’m sure I’m not aware of the full complexities of the situation, I ask myself how it is allowed to continue / worsen every day. While there are many things you talk of that I’d like to find out more about, one in particular stands out for me and that is your God / Love reasoning. I’m aware Christians tend to see God as a God of love, and that there was a significant change in how God was perceived in the overlapping period of where both the New Testament and the Old Testament were being written and in no small part due to people like Marcion, but I wasn’t aware this was also a Jewish interpretation (or at least on your part in your blogpost). I’m currently researching the socio-historic development of this idea of the Hebrew god being / becoming a god of love, and your two references to scripture are helpful, but when I read the old testament, overall I fail to see a god of ‘love’. There are various instances where, when he doesn’t like his own creation, he simply destroys it or parts of it (Noah’s arc “For I am grieved that I have made them” Gen 6:7 / Sodom & Gommorah “Thus he overthrew those cities and the entire plain, including all those living in the cities – and also the vegetation in the land” Gen 19:25). There is God ordering the destruction of Jericho (“They devoted the city to the Lord and destroyed with the sword every living thing in it – men and women, young and old, cattle, sheep and donkeys” Joshua 6:21). It appears God does not uphold the sanctity of life much Himself – the life he considers ‘wicked’ is still, after all, life. Then there is God promptly banishing Adam and Eve from the garden of Eden after disobeying Him, and punishing the Israelites by having them roam around the desert for 40 years, and God who does not allow Moses himself into the promised land because, out of all the things Moses did, he once did one thing wrong (Numbers 20:12). God also seems happy for a particular satan to repeatedly bestow misfortune and disease onto Job in order to test Job’s faith (a story which, if anything, to me demonstrates that God was not always all-knowing). Another thing I find fascinating is that, when Moses asks the Pharaoh to let the Israelites go, it is not actually the Pharaoh who makes up his own mind and says ‘No, I won’t let them go’: he wouldn’t let them go because God had ‘hardened the Pharaoh’s heart’ (Exodus 7:3), thus giving God a reason to perform ‘miraculous signs’ (Exodus 10:1). It just seems self-indulgent, and reminds me of Romans 1:24, where “God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts”. If God ‘gives them over’ to this, then how can they be considered to even be sinning? Yet still they are condemned for it – is this ‘love’? There is a mention to God’s ‘unfailing love’ in The Song Of Moses & Miriam (Exodus 15), but this is not a love for mankind in general, and the single mention of love among many other mentions that all relate to power. God is also known as the Almighty – again a reference to power (from the hebrew ‘El’), rather than Love. And Joshua calls for people to ‘fear’ God (Joshua 21:14) as God “will bring disaster and make an end of you” (Joshua 21:19). What kind of love is that? Of course, one of the most famous passages is John 3:16, “For God so loved the world…”, but then I’m straying into Christian territory again, while I’m interested in the Judaic view.

    I wonder if the god of love is simply something would like to see, rather than what he actually is. Even following the reasoning that god is the alpha and the omega, surely ‘love’ would simply be an aspect of that, rather than actually encapsulating this idea? And if it must be seen as love, than it appears to be a very specific, tough kind of love, and very much a conditional one.

    I realise I have quoted literally from scripture and that there are many issues with this, as well as taking the stories presented in the bible literally, and also I’m referring to the NIV from 1990, but these references serve to illustrate why I don’t see the God / Love relationship. In your header you put them together with a slash in between them, as if they are one and the same or synonymous. So, in short, my main question is: where does that idea come from? And following on from that: is this a widely shared belief among Jewish people? If we were made in God’s image, wouldn’t it be more realistic and pragmatic to see that this goes beyond love and also includes, as part of our divine make-up, our inherent qualities for anger, jealousy, and the need to persecute and punish that which does not sit well with us, just as God? You refer to the idea that thinking in absolutes is not the best way to view things, and I wholeheartedly agree – so how can a God represent absolute love? Just look at his track record – if he is to represent any one principle in particular, to call it love seems to me like a form of Stockholm syndrome. As I’m very much at the beginning of my research of how God came to embody love, obviously there is an awful lot more to discover, and reading your post I was wondering what pointers you would be able to give me, and I’d very much appreciate any time you’d take for a response.

    • Hello Menno,

      I want to first off thank you for your thoughtful comment and the challenges you raised, and to apologize that I will not be able to respond as much in depth and at the same length, but I will try to respond to some of your central points. First, my philosophy of religion and of Judaism is one that does not believe in “textual conquering,” that is to say, I think that religious cannons- whether Jewish, Muslim, Christian or other- are rich and self-contradictory enough that one can find “proof” for almost anything one chooses by quoting texts. For example, you quoted a number of texts which to you “prove” that Jewish tradition does not connect God and love, whereas I could retort by saying that the most recurring commandment in the Torah is “love the stranger”, appearing in some form or other 37 times, or push the fact that one cannot view the bible:judaism as one views the bible:christianity in that so much of Judaism is based on rabbinic and Talmudic interpretations, wherein we have one of the most influential commentators, Rabbi Akiva, asserting that the Torah can be summarized as “love thy neighbor as thyself, the rest is commentary.” and then you- or a religious Jew on the right wing- could cite another passage or interpretation wherein narrowness or violence can seemingly be justified, and we can go on and on: which is interesting in certain contexts, but is not the discussion i am looking to spark with my letter. For I think that it is first and foremost a choice- one can choose to read Christianity as advocating peace and nonviolence, as did Dr. King, or one can choose to read just the opposite, as did thousands of preachers in the South who spoke against King and his movement. I do not believe that any text was “written by God,” and I look to sources for guidance and knowledge, not for absolute truth- I think that the God I know is, as I wrote, largely unknowable, and the best I can do is hone out a guess, a path, a direction which I feel touches the basic truth of all humanity being human and of Godliness resulting therein. Can Judaism be interpreted in ways which paint “God” as violent and vengeful (and anthropomorphic)? Of course. But can one who sees peace and deep love as the core of Godliness, like I do, find interpretations of Judaism that support and uplift his views? Again, I would say yes.

      • Hi Moriel,

        Many thanks for the quick response. I agree that you could find any scripture to justify any belief you may have on a certain subject, and unfortunately this is exactly what’s been happening for so many years, still happens today, and will continue to happen in the future to justify all sorts of violence and oppression. When taken out of context this cherry-picking of scripture can be especially dangerous and ‘inspire’ people to do the most dreadful things to each other. As a gay man I’m familiar with being on the receiving end of it in various forms, not only from Christians but bizarrely also from non-believers, which I can only relate back to certain religious principles having become so culturally embedded that we have simply come to ‘take them for gospel’ in general – and it is exactly these notions I’m looking to investigate. Many thanks for the Rabbi Akiva reference which I also found after posting my initial response to you, and is a good pointer for my research. If there is anything the world needs a bit more of it’s a good dose of love, and while I don’t subscribe to the view that ‘God is love’, or that this view helps man to better understand his own highly complex nature, I do believe that upholding love itself as a guiding principle is a noble and commendable pursuit, be in in the name of God, grace, human dignity, life itself or something else. All the best with your refusal to serve, I hope many others will follow.

      • Menno- thank you again for the comments and for your thoughtfulness, respect and openness. In truth, I have much to work out in terms of what I believe- there is so so much that I do not know, and there will always be, and I think that much can be gained from modesty and unknowingness. I do know that it feels wrong to me to hate or hurt other people; where that comes from I think is, like you indicated, much more complicated, and I hope to continue to search- in part trough open correspondence like this one.

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  26. Martin says:

    Dear Moriel,

    I respect your decision to refuse in the IOF, and I would like to make a couple of comments at the same time.

    You say that if you were to serve in the IOF you would likely end up in a combat unit and thus would probably serve in the ‘occupied territories’. Every square inch of Historic Palestine, including ‘Israel’, is occupied, and this is a distinction we should always make very clearly so as not to confuse our language. The land that is now known as ‘Israel’ was taken by methods of terror, violence and force by people who moved to this region from foreign lands as part of the Zionist project. Your family moved to Palestine as part of the Zionist project and thus, with your decision to remain living here, you are upholding the Zionist project which seeks to Judaise Palestine and ethnically cleanse the native Arabs from their own land. The Jewish immigrants who came from Europe and Russia have zero legitimate claim to the land of Palestine outside of their own religious texts, which do not constitute any moral or legal justification to move to Palestine whatsoever.

    I would hope that every good-hearted person, including yourself, would not only refuse to serve in the IDF, but remove themselves from the Zionist project altogether.

    • Dear Martin,

      I appreciate you taking the time to write, and to express your dissenting opinion. I am certainly interesting in continuing this conversation, and I hope that you will be as well. First, a question of clarification: when you say that you hope that every good-hearted person would ”remove themselves from the Zionist project,” do you mean to say that you hope that everyone who is not ethnically Palestinian should leave this land?

      If that is the case, then are you not arguing for a certain type of cleansing yourself? My struggle is not against the Israeli army alone- it is a struggle against nationalism, racism and violence in the name of a homeland. It is also a struggle against a severely unbalanced system in which one side is massively powerful- militarily, economically, diplomatically- and the other side is extremely disempowered in all of the aforementioned categories. Just as I condemn, along with you, the ethnic cleansing that took place in this land in 1948, and takes place to this day in places like Al Arakib, Susiya, Silwan and Akka, I would condemn the creation of a Palestinian state in which Israelis and Jews would not be granted equal rights, complete dignity, safety and home.

      Also, you write that Jewish immigrants from Europe and Russia have no claim to this land– do Arab Jews who came here from Iraq and Eqypt have claim to this land? And will Palestinians lose their claim to this land if they live in exile for the next three hundred years? I think that it is crucial, especially here, that we begin to construct a formula that goes past who has the most legitimate claim, or which ethnicity is most fitting to a certain territory. We need a formula that states that every human being must be treated equally and justly, and that no one should be kicked out of their home on the basis of who their grandfather is, what language they speak or what they look like.

      All the best,

      Moriel

      • Martin says:

        Regarding people removing themselves from the Zionist project, this is a very complex matter for a number of reasons. However to boil it down, every colonist (who came from outside Palestine) who resides on stolen land (ie. Palestinian land that was cleansed as part of the Zionist project) should be re-settled in order to facilitate the return of the Palestinian refugees – the rightful residents of those lands. You may argue that it is immoral to resettle the children of colonists because they had no hand in these crimes. This is a valid point, however it is even more immoral to force the children of displaced Palestinians to languish in terrible and hopeless conditions in refugee camps inside and outside Palestine. And quite frankly, they are the victims here, nobody else.

        No, Arab Jews hailing from Iraq etc. do not have a legitimate claim to Palestine, nor do Indian Hindus, Tibetan monks, or American Mormons. The Jews who lived in Palestine before Zionism have a claim; others do not. And with all due respect, religious fairy tales do not constitute historical documents and it is inexcusable to use such a justification for the theft of Palestine. Palestinians will never lose their right to their land, not after 300 years, not after 1,000.

        It is easy to say we must “construct a formula that goes past who has the most legitimate claim”, when you have no legitimate claim. Israel is an illegitimate state founded through terror, colonialism and theft, by foreigners who insisted fraudulently that this land was theirs. It is not about what people’s grandparents “looked like”, it is about Zionism’s crimes that must be accounted for, and injustices that must be righted. One, two, three, or twenty generations will not change these facts and will not diminish the injustice that the native Palestinians suffered and are suffering to this day.
        No, I am not advocating another form of ethnic cleansing. Decolonisation is not ethnic cleansing, and nor is it impossible – look at the example of Algeria.

      • Martin, I think that your argument is really myopic: why is it that Palestinians will not forfit their rights to land in 1,000 years but Jews forfitted their right to the land after being gone for 1,000 years? In my opinion, everyone and no one has the “right” to live here: everyone has the right to be in the land to which they feel connected and linked, and no one has the right to expel other people in order to live here, not the Zionists of 1948 or the Israeli settlement movement of 2012 and not the Palestinian Nationalists of today- even in the case of settlers, I think it is crucial that they be offered an option to stay on as citizens of Palestine, if they so choose. And as for Palestinian refugees, I agree with you that it is searingly unjust that many still languish in refugee camps and a just solution needs to be found- but I do not believe that you solve an injustice by creating another injustice. And your statement of “they are the victims, no one else,” is so narrow: they are victims, without question, and it is even fair to posit that their suffering is the most extreme, but do you truly believe that they are the only victims? That no Israeli Jews have suffered? Can you not see through the masks of national identity to the shared core of humanity and suffering? Also: your Algeria metaphor is flawed. The pied noirs, like Jewish settlers in the West Bank or East Jerusalem, had a country to return to. But that is not the case for all Israelis- do you seriously advocate that each Israeli family pick up and expel families from their old homes in Iraq, in Poland, in Yemen, in Russia and in Egypt? This conflict is not a about Palestinians and Israelis per se: it is about power and violence and racism and hatred, and to truly challenge the conflict we need to challenge all of these phenomena, not advocate a reverse Nakba.

      • Martin says:

        Moriel,

        Do not use the fairy tale about Jews being exiled from Palestine 1,000 years ago to justify their theft of Palestine today by the Ashkenazim. Regardless, the Ashkenazim have zero, I repeat, zero claim to Palestine. They are white settler-colonialists and indeed they converted to Judaism during their residence in Khazaria in the 9th century. They are not even Semitic people yet they are constantly kvetching about anti-Semitism and wield it as their biggest rhetorical weapon.

        Everybody has the right to live in the land they feel connected to? Do they have the right to invade, colonise and steal the land they feel connected to, at the cost of the natives?

        You write like a demagogue and you claim to be aware of your privilege, but you are not willing to give it up. You are hiding behind pseudo-humanist rhetoric, preaching about peace and love as you dutifully take your place in the Zionist project.

        Really Moriel, I salute you for refusing to serve, but one thing I have noticed about Israeli leftist ‘peace activists’ is that they never go far enough in truly opposing the Zionist project.

      • As I stated before, I do not believe anyone has the right to steal anyone’s house or land, and all of the theft carried out by much of the Zionist establishment, then and now, is horribly unjust. However, I do not believe in collective punishment, and am relatively uninterested in whether or not Jews now are genetically connected to Jews of the temple period, or whether Palestinians had a national identity as Palestinians prior to the 19th century, et cetera. I find those arguments to be dehumanizing and off-topic and dangerous as arguments about race and genetics and purity tend to be. I’m sure 300 years from now if, god forbid, this conflict isn’t solved peacefully abs positively, there will be many who will tell Palestinians that their connection to historical Palestinians is not genetic or is false, but if those Palestinians feel
        Connected to historical Palestinians, then I would choose to believe them, and advocate for their right to live where they want to live- not at the expense of, but along with, in a place based on holiness and shared humanity, not on ethnic nationalism and exclusivity.

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  29. Mikhael says:

    You are brave !

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  38. Barel ben Harim says:

    I respect your decision and love and respect your opinions. Nevertheless, I must give the side perhaps you do not see, perhaps out of naivete. I too am a conscientious objector. I refused to serve in the South African Defense Force in the war in Angola. The point where your argument crosses mine is when you fail to flip the “love the stranger” when you are the stranger. The peace and love thing results in holocaust, in my death, in the death of my family, because I fail to protect myself and my family. Let all those who have killed Jews for millennia know that there is a new Jew in the world, and he carries a gun, and he defends himself – because he has self-respect and love for himself, his family and his people. Yes, it would be nice if everyone got along, but I do not live in that world. You dream of it, so do I, but it is not now, and perhaps never. Sadly, the love and peace thing results in the elimination of the Jewish people, as it did the elimination of the Hebrews and Israelites before. The problem, as I see it, is not to become poisoned by hatred. The vast majority of humans are, you clearly are not. I have taken a vow to kill only out of love. Someone comes to kill the child, I will kill them out of my love for the child. I did not make the world, I have to live in it the way it is. I will never serve in the IDF, their decision, but if I did I reserve the right to refuse any unethical order, thereby sharing your imprisonment.

    • mark t. says:

      You see the world through a unified and simplistic lens. It prevents you from seeing that the Occupation is not about self-defense. It is about subjugation. The history you cling to betrays an important and simple truth. Israel is not on the cusp of annihilation at the hands of Palestinians. Killing can never be the product of love.

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  40. mark t. says:

    A thoughtful and passionate articulation of the utterly simple. I’m thinking of you and will share your story today with a group of college students in the United States.

  41. Kiiiiiit says:

    Mori,

    I am endlessly proud of the understanding, love, and compassion your willing soul embodies. I pray that as you continue to refuse and strive to reform, if you find yourself struggling through moments of confusion or fear or pain, you remember that your commitments to love, God, nonviolence, and peace are shared by many people who support you and desire so desperately to live in a changed world. I stand in awe, am filled with inspiration, and smile with faith for you and your purpose in Israel.

    I love and miss you,
    Kiiiit

  42. Asheikm says:

    Mori,
    This is indeed a very inspiring article. I hope you achieve the understanding of self you desire. Reading this article made me realize how ignorant I am regarding this issue. I will read the books you referenced and try to obtain a better understanding. It is sad how people can justify hurting others backed by religious beliefs. I do not understand the “occupation.” Why do people live under such conditions? Why are they forced to? There are under-populated developed countries in the world that could extend a helping hand; do they turn a blind eye on purpose? are they unaware? You have made me try to find these answers. Thank you!

  43. Larry Hamberlin says:

    A brave, compassionate, and principled stance, Mori, worthy of the world’s attention and respect. I’m proud to count you among my former students.

  44. Khan says:

    Mori for nobel peace prize

  45. Asif says:

    Dear Moriel,

    I went through your entire writing and I must say you think like a ‘human being’. There might be a few debate on some of your lines (personally I don’t see much), but the bottom line is that you stand for peace; and that is what matters the most. The entire world has started to forget this word, which is the base of all the religion on this earth. We all speak of justice but forget that its base is also peace. If only we all could start to think about peace……

    I wish you best of luck brother from the bottom of my heart and all the others who have again started the initiative to bring back humanity among humans :-)

    Asif
    Dhaka, Bangladesh

  46. Asif says:

    Dear Moriel,

    I went through your entire writing and I must say you think like a ‘human being’. There might be a few debate on some of your lines (personally I don’t see much), but the bottom line is that you stand for peace; and that is what matters the most. The entire world has started to forget this word, which is the base of all the religion on this earth. We all speak of justice but forget that its base is also peace. If only we all could start to think about peace……

    I wish you best of luck brother from the bottom of my heart and all the others who have again started the initiative to bring back humanity among humans :-)

    Asif Ahmad
    Dhaka, Bangladesh

  47. Rich says:

    Moriel,

    Thank you for taking the time and energy to inject your thoughts into the public discourse on such a contentious issue. I find that a perspective such as yours is needed, especially when so many are pledging “allegiance” to one side or the other without full knowledge of exactly what happens on a day-to-day basis in Israel and in Gaza.

    I am an American non-practicing Jew, but culturally, I feel very strong ties to Jewish culture and history, and I am moved by the ability of the Jews to survive over the centuries through seemingly insurmountable hardships. That said, I have been very frustrated and even disturbed by the blind zealousness with which many of my Jewish American friends and relatives have thrown unconditional support behind ongoing violence against civilians, both Israeli and Palestinaian.

    They would of course not frame their position as “supporting violence”. They frame it as “supporting Israel’s right to defend itself”. But what bothers me is the implicit assumptions in their position that: 1. Israel is a completely innocent party and can do no wrong; 2. They have a good-enough understanding of the situation to make a judgment call, despite being thousands of miles away and despite not – in many cases – having direct contact with any civilians experiencing the violence day-to-day.

    What bothers me further is that if I were to state the aforementioned position to these friends and relatives, I might be told any one of the following: 1. You’re too young to understand (as if age were in any way a vital factor); 2. You might as well be pro-Palestinian (as if questioning a particular course of action is tantamount to supporting another side); 3. If you’re ever in need of asylum from oppression, you as a Jew have a place to go, and it’s important that such a place exist, so we must do anything necessary to preserve it (as if fearmongering and worst-case-scenario hypothesizing automatically leads to justification); 4. Israel was attacked; why shouldn’t it strike back?

    I’ll leave it to you to comment further on the first three, as I’m curious about your response. But it’s the fourth that I find particularly problematic. Not because Israel shouldn’t take action to defend itself (it should). But because the position has a hawkish eye-for-an-eye undertone that seems to completely disregard unnecessary civilian deaths.

    Obviously, as you have pointed out, this kind of disregard is far from Jewish, and it smacks of a kind of disturbingly vindictive us-vs.-them mentality, as if there’s no common interest among ANY Israelis and Palestinians. I find this particularly sad and infuriating and even ironic, because it is hypocritical on the worst level: how can Jews, who have been the victims of such apathetic and sometimes virulent disregard at the hands of the outside world, be so cavalier in their willingness to endorse actions that result in the civilian deaths of another group, solely in the name of supporting their group?

    I might feel better if said relatives and friends posited thoughtful, substantive discourse regarding why such violence might be necessary, if unfortunate and tragic. An acknowledgment that this is a terrible situation that shouldn’t have to be resolved with violence might make me more receptive. But I don’t hear that. Instead, I hear a thoughtless, reflexive, and emptily jingoistic cry to arms from American Jews, many of whom have no connection with the violence other than the tenuous connection of simply “being Jewish”.

    I find such thinking is incredibly dangerous, and again ironic, considering how such thinking has affected Jews so negatively over the centuries. And personally, I find it difficult to know how to respond and how to deal with my frustrations and anger in the face of such destructive and short-minded discource.

    I’d welcome any thoughts you have, and again, I greatly respect you and admire you for sticking to your position and expressing it to the world.

    Thank you,
    Rich

  48. Shyammael says:

    Reblogged this on Centre of the Psyclone and commented:
    In the spirit of focusing on what’s breaking through, not what’s breaking down.
    Too seldom do we hear of those in Israel whose conscience has moved them to refuse to take part in the military occupation of Palestine. I’ve read the statements of many conscientious objectors, past and present. Though his stance is in keeping with others led by their conscience and principles, Moriel Rothman’s statement stands out. There is hope yet.

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