The earnest young man beside me spoke of the complexity of growing up as a Druze Christian Palestinian youth in Israel. He is the sixth brother of seven. The Druze community is somewhat isolated, both from Jewish Israelis and from other Palestinian Israeli citizens. That has been by design. For years Israel "allowed" Druze citizens to serve in the military and later required them to serve. That was one of many steps to isolate them from other Palestinian Israeli citizens, who are not required to serve in the military. There is a special department to supervise Druze schools and curriculum, a special section to supervise Druze municipalities (but not other Arab Israeli cities).
Rafat was the first of his brothers to question serving in the military. He had seen a film that showed a Palestinian woman in the Occupied Territories being attacked by a dog while the nearby soldier did nothing. He realized he didn't want to be in that position and began to consider refusing to serve. He talked with his family and gradually they came to support him. They realized that their identity as Druze was very tied to their identity as Palestinians. They slowly came to stop celebrating Israeli Independence Day and began to teach their children about the Nakba ("the Catastrophe" of Palestinian ethnic cleansing begun in 1948) and to honor Nakba Day. His mother no longer asks fearfully if he went to the demonstration but asks "How was it"? After much discernment he joined other Druze youth refusing to serve, in spite of dire threats about jail and that he would never be able to get a job. He did do several months in jail, but he is now in college and has a job. He is active in the youth program doing outreach to Druze youth. They help them think about how they identify (Druze? Israeli? Palestinian?), offer support to refusers, do media work to reach the Druze community and are networking with other Palestinian groups.
Rafat was one of many young people the AFSC staff delegation met with during our visit to Israel/Palestine to learn first hand about the work of our colleagues there. Many, like Rafat, have grown up quickly as they consider whether to refuse compulsory military service while still only 16 and 17 years old. Palestinian youth also grow up quickly as they have to learn to navigate their way through the complex and often capricious military authority that governs the Occupied Territories. Gazan youth have grow up through bombardments, a siege that severely limits what items get into Gaza (from prohibitions on concrete and other building supplies to food and medicines to rationed electricity) and occupation that bans travel outside of the 25 mile long Gaza Strip. Yet they, too, have dreams they pursue and are finding ways to work with other Palestinian youth to challenge the status quo.
As you read the headlines about Israel refusing to recognize the new Palestinian coalition government, Israel's refusal to accept its own currency from Palestinian banks, and other high level dysfunction about the area, know that beneath the surface there are amazing youth who are tired of the failures of their elders and who are actively working to solve the many problems of the area. Listening to them is to have hope, to have deeper understandings of what resistance to the status quo we are all called to in these times - and awe at the resiliance of the human spirit.
I would love to do a presentation to Quaker Meetings or other groups about the trip. Please contact me to so that we can make arrangements.
Check out the AFSC website on Advocating for Peace in Israel-Palestine. It is full of interesting and informative resources as well as ways to take action.
Sign up for the AFSC newsletter, which often includes action steps. The most recent edition, addressing the collapse of the "peace talks", is here.
On a different note: If you are in the Providence area June 26th at 11:30 am, there will be a big vigil supporting the boycott of the hotels owned by the Procaccianci Group (the Providence Hilton and the Renaissance) and the call for them to improve working conditions as well as pay their workers better. There will be some 10,000 Unitarian Universalists in town for their annual convention. They are working with RI Jobs with Justice to plan this event, which means it is a special opportunity to have really large event that might play a role in getting the owners' attention. The UUs broke their contract with both hotels after their learned of the boycott. Let's show some local support!