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Israeli Youth Resist Palestinian Occupation

If I were a Palestinian, watching Jews in Israel and around the world preparing to celebrate Hanukkah, I might be a bit confused. The holiday recalls a time, way back in the second century BCE, when Judea was ruled by a much stronger neighboring nation. The Jews took up arms to free themselves from a military occupation. Yet when Palestinians even talk about taking up arms against the occupying army of their powerful neighbor today, the Israeli government and its supporters call that unjustified, immoral, an outrage. And the government of the United States generally agrees, no matter which party is in power.

It doesn't seem fair, because there is so much similarity between today's Palestinians and the Jews of old. Ancient Judea was administered by the Seleucid empire, just as Palestine is administered by Israel. The Seleucids had local Jewish agents on the scene to help them keep control, just as Israel is helped by some number of Palestinians who see resistance as futile.

The Seleucids said their harsh occupation policies were necessary, because many Jews were allies of the Seleucid's great enemy, the Ptolemy empire. If they didn't keep a tight grip on Judea, they said, it would become a base for their enemy to attack them. In the same way, Israel justifies its occupation policies with the claim that the Palestinian resistance is in league with Israel's great enemy, Iran.

Of course the Jews who rebelled said it had nothing to do with helping anyone but themselves; it was all about gaining their freedom. Palestinians make the same claim about their resistance movement.

So if I were Palestinian, I might well ask: Why should Jews celebrate their own violence of 22 centuries ago as a morally justified fight for freedom, yet refuse to see the morality of the Palestinians' fight for freedom? Isn't there a double standard at work here?

A growing number of Jews think so. They don't approve of Palestinian violence. But they want to see Israel extend the same right of self-determination to Palestinians that it celebrates for Jews every year at Hanukkah.

Some of these Jews for peace and justice are Israeli high school seniors who are refusing to serve in their own army. In Hebrew they're known as "shministim." They see their army imposing the same kind of repressive occupation that their own people suffered centuries ago, and they won't be part of it. They say that a military occupation cannot be the path to peace or to security, as the Seleucids found out long ago. Many who refuse to serve know that decision will land them in jail. Some are in jail right now.

One of them, Omer Goldman, wrote this:

Earlier this year, I went to a peace demonstration in Palestine. I had always been told that the Israeli army was there to defend me, but during that demonstration Israeli soldiers opened fire on me and my friends with rubber bullets and tear-gas grenades. I was shocked and scared. I saw the truth. I saw the reality. I saw for the first time that the most dangerous thing in Palestine is the Israeli soldiers, the very people who are supposed to be on my side. When I came back to Israel, I knew I had changed. And so, I have joined with a number of other young people who are refusing to serve.

Thursday, December 18, is an international day of solidarity with the imprisoned "shministim." You can read about them, and lend your support if you want, at

Ira Chernus

Ira Chernus

Ira Chernus is Professor Emeritus of Religious Studies at the University of Colorado at Boulder and author of"American Nonviolence: The History of an Idea."

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