02 October 2009

SAHA's End Conscription Campaign (ECC) posters displayed for Israel's young Conscientious Objectors


As part of the preparation for the 25th anniversary of the October 1984 launch of the End Conscription Campaign (ECC), Conscientious Objectors (COs) from all over the world have been invited to South Africa to commemorate the event. This has included the Shministim, a group of young Israeli Conscientious Objectors (COs) whose joint moral stance against the policies of the heavily militarized Israeli government has led them to refuse conscription.

This group has invoked strong support throughout South Africa. Three of them, including Omer Goldman, Yuval Ophir-Auron and Sahar Vardi, addressed an open lunch-time forum at  the University of the Witwatersrand on Thursday the 1st of October. On display at the event were a number of original posters of the ECC stored in the SAHA archival collection. With similar messages for peace and an end to conscription, many of these historic posters could easily have been recommissioned to represent the struggles of contemporary COs.

A wide-ranging number of organisations in South Africa hosted the Shministim, including the ECC 25 committee and Open Shuhada Street. The event was organised by the Wits Writing Centre and the Wits Palestinian Solidarity Committee (PSC) in an attempt to stimulate open debate and discussion amongst students, as well as to raise awareness about the protracted Israel/Palestine crisis - as well as the broader dangers of an overly militaristic society.

The Shministim, three young secular Israelis, engaged with the mixed audience of Wits students, staff and other interested parties with genuine passion. Their joint presentation included a brief history of the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) and its role in a shifting political climate. These young ‘draft dodgers' reflected a breadth of knowledge and depth of understanding that enabled a refreshingly open discussion between them and the audience. They also touched audience members with their frank descriptions of the social and cultural alienation experienced by them and their fellow COs, or ‘refuseniks', in Israel.

They acknowledged that not all COs had the same reasons for avoiding conscription: some opposed military service specifically because of the IDF role as an occupying force, believing the actions of their government to be immoral. Others rejected their lack of freedom to refuse, while others were opposed to war on a purely ideological basis, regarding themselves as pacifists. The discussion was rich and thought-provoking. The Shministim echoed the ethos for peace and democracy that had defined the ECC - demonstrating that the current roadblock to peace in the conflicted region may be overcome. Something definitely worth celebrating.


Shministim at Wits campus


During their visit to the Wits Writing Centre, Shministim commemorated the ECC's October 2009 25th anniversary celebration.


From left to right, Yuval Ophir-Auron, Omer Goldman and Sahar Vardi.