Tuesday, February 10, 2004

The Five Families and the Five Who Refuse to Serve this Occupation

Public interest around the battle of the five young Israelis who decided to stand up and tell their own society that it is on the path to disaster in the most effective way that they could do so naturally centered on the young men themselves, their background and their opinions and the path that each of them traversed on his way to jail.

The story of the five is being told and will undoubtedly be retold again and again. One very important aspect of that story deserves special mention, the story of the parents group which spearheaded and actually organized much of the protest activity. It has done so in close, uninterrupted consultation with the five, mediating between them, their legal representatives, the press and the wider community of friends and supporters. This was no simple matter. It must be clearly stated that the five were never members of a single organization and that they made their way to confrontation with the Israel Defense Forces on an individual basis. Though, without exception, belonging to the dove constituency, most of them were not political activists in any sense. There was no way that they could have forseen that the actions of their sons would throw them together and load on their soldiers a tremendous burden of social and collective responsibility. A minority were involved in the peace movement and had a rich background of struggle. But for the most part, the parents were thrown into a cauldron of tensions, concerns and pressures both as individual parents, seized with deep concern for the suffering of their children and as activists in the parents group carrying the main responsibility for the success of a tremendously complex, totally unprecedented and publicly critical campaign in their defense. They have maintained for over a year an intensive level of cooperation and effectiveness in assisting the development of a local and a world wide campaign.

This kind of battle is not easy for any parent. In addition to all the difficulties there is cloud of uncertainty as to the outcome of every battle in the courts and the extent of the price that the sons will have to pay until this struggle is over. Every parents asks himself and herself, every day and every minute, have I done enough to prevent my son from putting himself in harm’s way? Every parent asks himself as to whether he or she is doing enough to increase and broaden the campaign in their defense. Every parent is amazed at the courage of the five and hopes that it will not be taxed to further limits. And above everything, each parent must keep on reminding himself or herself that this is a battle for the soul of this country, that their children are sacrificing their freedom to send a message to their friends, to other young people, to their entire society. It is of some comfort that the content of this message is in accord with the basic views and understanding of millions of honest and fair people all over the world. But every parent would like to see his child studying, loving, working, developing and military prison is no place for these activities.

I must confess that the motivation to sit down and write about the parents is a result of some sort of crisis. The difficulty arose out of serious differences of opinion regarding an important problem of strategy. A few days after the five entered Military Prison #6, they were informed that the IDF had initiated proceedings to transfer them to the civilian criminal prison system. This move surprised the five and their families.The proceedings revealed that it was the IDF Military Police which runs the army prison system demanded the switch. Their argument centered on the fact that the five were a walking incitement for disturbances and that they were ill equipped to handle this kind of rebel. It seems that in order to bolster their case, their people in IDF Prison # 6 were busy convincing the five that life would be better in the civilian prison since the IDF has it in for them and will do everything to make them miserable if they remain there. In these circumstances, both the parents and the five had to decide on whether to take public and legal initiatives against the transfer. There were serious differences of opinion about the impending transfer among the five.

There are long list of reasons pro and con on the issue. There were good reasons to resist the switch and good reason to see in it certain advantages. Almost instinctively, the parents, the minute they learned about the IDF scheme, started to organize against it. On the other hand, the parents could not ignore the different opinions among the five. A complicated process of comparing positions and working on a consensus ensued, with different positions emerging in both groups. Consultations among the five were complicated by the fact that they were unable to meet without the intervention and presence of one of the lawyers assisting the parents. During the entire process and in anticipation of an important hearing scheduled for February 17, 2000 the parents were making immense efforts to gather information, especially about the regular prison system, its workings and the chances of the five with the system’s problems and apparatus. Admittedly, though not always, there was a very understandable and completely human tendency for the parent to see the strength of the argument presented by their son and to feel the need to stress that it was the five who had the full right to make the decisions that would influence them, first and foremost.

A lawyer, present at a recent consultation of the five wrote in a report to the parents: “I have to emphasize that the way that they conducted the discussion and handled the differences of opinion between them was so impressive and mature, that I was simply inspired and educated, again and again. If only I were able to conduct a discussion of such differences of opinion in such a manner.”

But the circumstances, despite the efforts of all the parents were incredibly difficult. Parents felt that the wishes of their son, had to be the guide for their own position and for the response of the group especially as the consensus of the five was less militant regarding the transfer out of IDF Prison #6. It is not the purpose of this letter to present my or any other position regarding the complex issue of the impending transfer. It is the purpose to stress the painful nobility and the exasperations that the fight to defend the five involve.There is however, a new emerging consensus among the parents and the five.. Whatever the fate of the IDF move to relocate the five, the main thrust of our efforts and those of all who realize the importance of this battle for freedom of conscience and against the occupation, must continue, without any let up, to be for the immediate release of the five.

Free the anti-occupation refuseniks now!