Mediterranean Conference on Conscientious Objection in Cyprus

Unfortunately, we were not informed of this Conference that took place in Cyprus. Nevertheless, here is the report:

Mediterranean Conference on Conscientious Objection in Cyprus

Report

by Rudi Friedrich

Divided Island

Cyprus has been a divided island since 1974. The north, which is not internationally recognised, is governed by Turkish Cypriots and is effectively under the control of Turkey, The southern (Greek) part, the Republic of Cyprus, is a member state of the European Union. The two parts are separated by a demarcation line that also runs through the middle of the capital city Nicosia/Lefkoşa and is controlled by the UN Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP).

The island, which was part of the British Empire until 1960, has two military bases: Akrotiri and Dekelia. They are internationally recognised as exclaves of the United Kingdom.

Strictly speaking, the island is divided into five areas. English still remains a lingua franca, with Greek spoken in the south and Turkish in the north. The colonial era still leaves a visible mark on many everyday regulations. For example, on both sides of the division people drive on the left-hand side, as in the United Kingdom.

The Mediterranean Conference on Conscientious Objection took place in the capital city, in the middle of the buffer zone. The Cyprus Community Media Centre (CCMC) provides organisations from both sides with conference and project rooms in this zone. There is a good reason for this. The buffer zone can be reached by everyone on the Island via the checkpoints located on both sides. The Goethe-Institut, which offers German-language classes and other courses, also happens to be there.

Borders and Travelling Restrictions

The fact that the conference location can be reached from both sides of the island was an important reason for holding the Mediterranean Conference on Conscientious Objection there. It is considerably easier for Turkish nationals to reach Northern Cyprus, since this area is effectively governed as Turkish territory. The southern part, being a member state of the European Union, was accessible to many without a visa – or they were able to acquire a visa.

However, a number of people were unable to come. In both Egypt and Turkey, conscientious objectors are subjected to a “civil death”. They have no passport, no access to education or training, they cannot open a bank account and without a passport they cannot go abroad. Some activists from Palestine were also unable to come, since they did not acquire an exit permit under the Israeli occupation. Furthermore, two conscientious objectors from Greece were prevented from travelling because the Greek border authorities deemed them to still be liable to military service.

Even having reached Cyprus, the participants were faced with restrictions. Most of the Turkish delegation spent the night in the northern part of the island and were unable to cross the demarcation line because they did not have EU passports. The rest of the participants were in the southern part of the island, but they were at least allowed to go to the north as well, meaning that they could all still spend the evenings together.

Country reports

The idea for the conference came about roughly a year and a half earlier at a seminar in Istanbul. In many countries in the region, conscientious objectors, including Israeli women, are threatened with recruitment and prosecution. Wars, occupation and militarised societies are on the daily agenda. The conference should allow initial exchange and the chance to develop joint projects.

The conference began with country reports in order to make the situations in different countries clear. The delegates from Greece spoke of the persecution of conscientious objectors, which began again in 2013. Six of the objectors were arrested last year, some because of old accusations, others due to new conscription regulations. Almost all of the lawsuits resulted in suspended sentences by military courts. Some objectors also received a fine for withdrawal from military service, which has amounted to € 6,000 per head since 2010. Furthermore, the committee responsible for examining claims is rejecting more and more requests for conscientious objection.

In Greece, it is certainly not only conscientious objectors who are caught in a precarious situation. Economic depression, widespread unemployment and the substantial reduction of wages and salaries have strengthened nationalist and fascist groups and parties. And despite its enormous expenditures, the military is still a highly regarded institution. The conditions under which human rights and other organisations must work are extremely tough. Therefore the four active groups of conscientious objectors, for example in Athens and Thessaloniki, are absolutely dependent on international support. (…more)

The movement No to Compulsory Military Service from Egypt reported on the precarious situation currently experienced by three objectors of the group. Since they did not follow conscription orders, they are now liable to “civil death”. They cannot take up employment, study or acquire a passport, and therefore cannot leave the country. Furthermore, they are threatened with recruitment and prosecution.

Since the military took over power it has been extremely difficult for the group to continue working. They are not officially authorised and also do not receive any support from other parties or organisations in the country. Therefore they made it clear that international support is very important for them in terms of being able to continue pursuing their objectives. They are calling for an end to conscription and, as an initial step, the possibility of carrying out civilian service.

Onur Erem, a member of the Association to Conscientious Objection from Turkey (Istanbul), explained that in total one million people have withdrawn from the military. Just like conscientious objectors who publicly declared their refusal, they are faced with “civil death”. Furthermore, they are repeatedly subjected to criminal proceedings since they can be conscripted again after each criminal proceeding. (…more) The association demands an end to conscription and, as an initial step, the recognition of conscientious objection. Gürsel Yıldırım, active in Hamburg, added to this with information on the administrative fee of 6.000 € for Turkish nationals living abroad on a long term basis. Anyone who is not prepared to pay this conscription-related head money is effectively not allowed to travel to Turkey for a longer time.

The Republic of Cyprus, as a member state of the European Union, recognises conscientious objection and has a regulation very similar to the Greek model. While military service lasts 24 months, the length of alternative service amounts to 33 months. The government refuses to publish information on the number of applicants. In the north of Cyprus there is no right to conscientious objection. After being recruited into the Cypriot army, draftees are essentially subjected to the command of the Turkish army based in Cyprus. The Initiative of Conscientious Objectors, founded in 2007, successfully obtained a preliminary suspension of criminal proceedings against conscientious objectors. This was obtained through a proceeding in the constitutional court. In the proceeding against Murat Kanatlı, the constitutional court also reasoned that conscientious objection, according to the judgements of the European Court of Human Rights, was to be seen as part of the Convention on Human Rights. The constitutional court remitted the case to the military court. The day after the conference, the proceeding took place, which a representative each of the Turkish association and of Connection e.V attended. Public prosecutors as well as the defence brought forward their arguments. The rendition is to take place on 23 February 2014.

Noam Gur, who is active in Israel within the organisation New Profile, spoke to the group about the situation in the highly militarised country that has occupied Palestinian areas since 1967. There is conscription for Jewish men and women. Although in principle there is no conscription for Israeli Palestinians, there are exceptions to the exception: male Palestinians-Druze and Circassian Palestinians are conscripted. (…more)

Many successfully manage to escape military service by withdrawing, meaning that only around 40-45% of Israeli citizens of serving age carry out the full period of service. However, there are only a few who publicly declare their conscientious objection, and in most cases objecting to occupational policy. By declaring conscientious objection, they risk repeated custodial sentences, each lasting one week.

Naom emphasised the insight of New Profile, namely that those who withdraw from the military are to be seen as a part of the resistance to the military. New Profile also believed it necessary to develop a policy for conscientious objection that takes into account withdrawal from the military. Therefore New Profile always offers comprehensive consultation that includes the different possibilities (and consequences) regarding withdrawal from the military.

The representatives of the Druze Initiative Committee, a Palestinian group from Israel, showed a recently made film in which objectors have their say. As Druzes, they are also liable to military service in Israel. They refuse, viewing it as part of the occupation. Even though they live in Israel, they view themselves as victims of the occupational policy and they pointed out that their village alone has lost 85% of its land in the last few decades. Druze conscientious objectors are generally subjected to even stricter oppressive measures when prosecuted than other conscientious objectors.

Similarities and Differences

Through the reports it became obvious that there is a whole range of similarities in the different countries.

Conscientious objectors are subjected to repression and prosecution in different forms. The military and police maintain occupation, injustice and the oppression of minorities in highly militarised societies. International law is disregarded.

However, the participants also noticed differences. In some countries there is, at least formally, a right to conscientious objection. In others this is completely absent. A further peculiarity that particularly applies to Turkey and Israel: in these countries, members of minorities or sections of the population suffering under occupation and oppressive policy are recruited into an army of the ruling forces. The recruits in this group who object by withdrawing or resisting regard their action as a protest and resistance against this policy.

Common network

A lot of time was spent on the question of whether or not to create a common declaration at the conference. A draft was quickly drawn up, but in the very long discussion it was not possible to agree upon different political ideas, as Ercan Aktaş highlights in his contribution (…more). Ultimately the pitfall was the question of what forms of resistance against occupation were acceptable. While some people did not want to rule out forms of violence and did not regard themselves as pacifists, others insisted on exclusively non-violent approaches and actions, of course including conscientious objection. Even if one stance could not be found: the discussion was crucial to gaining a better understanding of each other and appreciating the backgrounds of those with different stances.

Therefore, in the end, the participants agreed to continue their collaborative work despite all differences.

  • A website is to be created, in which the contents, actions and urgent actions for conscientious objectors from the participating countries are to be published.
  • Reports on the persecution of individual conscientious objectors are to be compiled and submitted to international bodies by lawyers as complaints.
  • An e-mail group will be created in order to further discussions and exchange information. Reports on actions and ideas are to ensure that these actions and ideas are also explored in other countries.
  • An international day of action is to strengthen the common demand for the abolition of conscription and the recognition of the right to conscientious objection.

However, the most important thing, in my view, is the personal contact that occurred during the days of the conference. It was clear that mutual interests were formed and relationships were established. Ultimately, these are the key requirements for the success of a Mediterranean Network for Conscientious Objection.

 

Rudi Friedrich: Mediterranean Conference on Conscientious Objection – Report. 10 February 2014. Translation: Richard Meakin. We are thankful for financial support by AJ Muste Fund (USA), American Friends Service Committee andBewegungsstiftung.

http://connection-ev.org/article-1939

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Bomb shelters

This is an email we received from a person from the Jewish voice for Peace

 

Dear Cypriots,

 

I wear many hats. I’m a dad, a videographer, a Jewish Israeli, a veteran. But I’m telling you my story, and asking you to forward this email and ask your friends to sign this letter to President Obama about US military aid to Israel, as a human being, as a citizen of the world, and as someone who deeply cares about the people in Israel and Gaza.

My wife, kids and I live just on the outskirts of Tel Aviv, Israel, where life during the past weeks for the most part carried on as normal.

There were four sirens in the eight days of the Israeli operation, which means we had to move into a room in the house that has reinforced concrete walls. In our case, we went down to our apartment building’s bomb shelter for 10 minutes—as far as I know every apartment building in Israel has one. Fortunately, the kids took it well and were not scared.

In the south close to the border with Gaza where I’ve been working, life is much, much different.  People who could do so temporarily moved northward and stayed with family and friends out of rocket and mortar range.

Being outdoors when the siren goes off in the south is quite scary. Most rockets are relatively small, up to 12 pounds of explosives, and cannot bring down a building. But in the open space they splatter lots of metal fragments.

The bigger long distance rockets that were fired at lower intervals were the “Fajar” Rockets that carry 90 lbs of explosives. They cannot bring down a building but can destroy an apartment and killed 3 people in an apartment building. People in bomb shelters are considered to be safe.

And of course, the Iron Dome defense system reportedly destroyed 85% of rockets headed towards Israeli populated areas.

Still, in the south, the sirens went off many times a day and there was no school and no work because parents naturally wanted to be near their kids.

In contrast, in Gaza, the bombs dropped by the Israeli military ranged from 500 to 1,000 pounds, and in the past, also 2,000 pounds.  Ten or 20 times more powerful than those which they have sent our way.

When I’d go to our bomb shelter with my family, I would think of families like mine in Gaza. They had no sirens, no Iron Dome defense, no shelters, and because they are essentially trapped, nowhere to go.

But mostly, I thought about how terrified I’d be during the bombings.

There is no safe place to go in Gaza.

It wouldn’t matter if buildings had shelters since the Israeli bombs often flatten the building they hit. There’s literally nothing left.

I want you to ask your friends to sign this letter to President Obama asking him to make aid to Israel contingent on not using it to target civilians because there is no military solution. Not for Palestinians. Not for us Israelis.

To reach a true peace for all of us, Israeli and Palestinian, our governments must choose diplomacy over more bombing. The Israeli government must end its terrible siege of the Palestinians.

And the US must stop sending my government weapons they know will be used to violate the law and harm civilians.

I am happy we’ve reached a cease-fire and I hope this will lead to negotiations with the Hamas government. I remind myself that the British in pre-state Israel also considered the Israeli political groups terrorist entities.

With hopes for a fair and lasting peace for both of our peoples,

 

Amir Terkel

P.S. I’ve attached pictures I’ve taken in the south over the last few days. Happily and luckily no one was hurt in these locations (they were all indoors) but you can see how scary it must have been.

There are also photos from Gaza (that I did not take obviously) for a sense of scale and proportion.

 

 

Free the Shministim – Israel’s young Conscienious Objectors

The Shministim are Israeli high school students who have been imprisoned for refusing to serve in an army that occupies the Palestinian Territories. December 18, 2008 marked the launch date of a global campaign to release them from jail. Since then another Shministim letter was drafted for 2010, and now, in 2012, another group of Shministim are refusing and being imprisoned.

Send your message to Israel, sign the letter: http://december18th.org/

 

Meet the Shministim

Moriel Rothman – 2012

Name: Moriel Rothman
Age: 23
Location: Jerusalem

Moriel Rothman

Why I am one of the Shministim:
“…But it cannot be said lightly, the time has long passed for gentle language and “hear-able” rhetoric: The Occupation– which is the IDF’s primary function these days- 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.”

Alon Gurman – 2012

 

Alon Gurman, 19

Name: Alon Gurman
Age: 19
Location: Tel Aviv
Why I am one of the Shministim:

“ My refusal to serve in the Israeli military, in addition to being a refusal to take part in occupation and apartheid, is an act of solidarity with our Palestinian friends living under Israeli regime, and those who bravely choose to struggle against it.”

Released by the army without being imprisoned

Read more…

Noam Gur – 2012

Name: Noam Gur
Age: 18
Location: Kiryat Motzkin
Why I am one of the Shministim:

“ For years I have been told that this control is supposed to protect me, but information about the suffering caused due to terrorizing the Palestinian population is omitted from the story…”

 

 

First Sentence: April 16 – April 25 2012 (10 days)

Second sentence: April 29th – May 8th (10 days)

 

Read more…

Or Ben-David Katz – 2010

Name: Or Ben-David
Age: 19
Location: Jerusalem
Why I am one of the Shministim:

“I refuse because I want to make a difference. I want all those Palestinian youths who have lost hope to see that there are Israelis who care and who make a different choice. I want all those of my friends who became soldiers or who are about to become soldiers to see that things don’t have to be the way they are…”
Pre-Sentence: 28th Sept. 2009 (7 days of confinement to base)
First Sentence: 
29th Oct. 2009 (20 days)
Second Sentence: 16th Nov. 2009 (20 days)
Third Sentence: 15th Dec. 2009 (34 days)

Read more…

Efie Brenner – 2010

Name: Efi Brener
Age: 18
Location: Rishon Le Zion (a suburb of Tel-Aviv)

Why I am one of the Shministim:
“I object to oppression, whether it is committed by a hierarchical organisation, such as the military is, or whether it is committed by the human species against animals.”
First Sentence: 22nd Oct. 2009 (10 days)

Read more…

Tamar Katz – 2009

Name: Tamar Katz
Age: 19
Location: Tel-Aviv
Why I am one of the Shministim:

“I refuse to enlist in the Israeli military on conscientious grounds. I am not willing to become part of an occupying army, that has been an invader of foreign lands for decades, which perpetuates a racist regime of robbery in these lands, tyrannizes civilians and makes life difficult for millions under a false pretext of security.”
First Sentence: 28th Sept. – 10th Oct. 2008 (12 days)
Second Sentence: 
12th – 30th Oct. 2008 (18 days)
Third Sentence: 1st – 22nd Dec. 2008 (21 days)

Read more…

Yuval Ophir-Auron – 2009

Name: Yuval Ophir-Auron
Age: 19
Why I am one of the Shministim:
“I am convinced that it is no one but ourselves who determines that it is our fate to live by the sword. There is another way, which is not the way of war. This is the path of dialogue, of understanding, of concession, forgiveness, of peace.
I believe that a person should take responsibility and feel reconciled to the way he chooses. This is why I shall not join an army behind whose actions I cannot stand and whose behavior I cannot justify.”
First Sentence: 24th Nov. – 5th Dec. 2008
Second Sentence: 7th – 14th December 2008

Read more…

Στη φυλακή Ισραηλινή αντιρρησίας συνείδησης

«Αρνούμαι να συμμετάσχω στα εγκλήματα πολέμου που διαπράττει η χώρα μου. Η βία δε θα φέρει κανενός είδους λύση. Δε θα συμμετάσχω στη βία, κι ας γίνει ό,τι είναι να γίνει». (Omer Goldman, Ισραηλινή αντιρρησίας συνείδησης, 19 ετών)

“>Το όνομά της είναι Omer Goldman,ειναι 19 χρόνων( ο αύξων αριθμός της στον στρατό είναι 5398532. Είναι μια Shministim, ή Αντιρρησίας συνείδησης στο Ισραήλ…. Αρνήθηκε να καταταγεί στον ισραηλινό στρατό, και γι αυτό είναι συχνά κλειδωμένη σε μια στρατιωτική φυλακή.

Ο πατέρας δεν είναι ένας οποιοσδήποτε γονιός. Διετέλεσε αναπληρωτής επικεφαλής της Μοσάντ, και εξακολουθεί να θεωρείται ένας από τους πιο σημαντικούς ανθρώπους στον τομέα της ασφάλειας στο Ισραήλ. Ο δικαστής ο οποίος έκρινε την υπόθεσή της, προσπάθησε να την πείσει να εγκαταλείψει την επιλογή της ”asternersi ” (αντιρρησίας συνείδησης αντί της στρατιωτικής θητείας ) λέγοντας της, «ίσως στα σημεία ελέγχου, μπορείτε να δώσετε καραμέλες στα παιδιά της Παλαιστίνης» (χωρίς ειρωνεία). Η Ομέρ απάντησε , «Τι προσφέρει μια καραμέλα αν αυτά τα παιδιά υπάρχουν παράνομα»; Αυτή η απάντηση της κοστισε 21 ημέρες στη φυλακή…. «Σεβασμός πλήρης για τέτοια νιάτα! και αλληλεγγύη»!

Με βάση τα επίσημα στοιχεία του στρατού, το 25 % των ανδρών και το 43 % των γυναικών αρνούνται να καταταχθούν στις ένοπλες δυνάμεις. Η άρνηση στράτευσης δεν είναι καινούριο φαινόμενο στο Ισραήλ. Η πρώτη περίπτωση καταγράφηκε το 1954, όταν ο δικηγόρος Αμνόν Ζιχρόνι δήλωσε «αρνητής συνείδησης ως φιλειρηνιστής»

Νοέμβριος 20, 2012

Ο εκπρόσωπος της Gush Shalom Άνταμ Κέλερ, δήλωσε σε δελτίο τύπου, χτες τη δευτέρα 19 Νοεμβρίου ότι ο Νάταν Μπλανκ, ένας 19χρονος Ισραηλινός από την παλιά Χάιφα, θα εμφανιστεί στο στρατολογικό γραφείο, θα ενημερώσει τους αξιωματικούς εκεί για την άρνησή του να υπηρετήσει στις Ισραηλινές Δυνάμεις Κατοχής και κατά πάσα πιθανότητα θα σταλεί απευθείας στη στρατιωτική φυλακή.

Δήλωσε επίσης ότι η πράξη του συνειδητής άρνησης συνδέεται απευθείας με την τρέχουσα κατάσταση και τις ενέργειες του στρατού στη Γάζα. Πήρε αυτήν την απόφαση ακόμα και πριν ακούσει τα τρομερά νέα για τις πέντε γυναίκες και τα τέσσερα παιδιά που σκοτώθηκαν σήμερα από μία και μόνη βόμβα της Ισραηλινής Αεροπορίας.

«Άρχισα να σκέφτομαι να αρνηθώ να καταταγώ στον Ισραηλινό Στρατό κατά τη διάρκεια της επιχείρησης «Χυτό Μολύβι» το 2008. Το κύμα επιθετικού μιλιταρισμού που σάρωσε τη χώρα τότε, οι εκφράσεις αμοιβαίου μίσους και τα κενά λόγια για ξεριζωμό της τρομοκρατίας και δημιουργία αποτρεπτικού παράγοντα, ήταν αυτά που προκάλεσαν κατά κύριο λόγο την άρνησή μου», δήλωσε ο Μπλανκ.

Ο Μπλανκ είπε επίσης «Σήμερα, μετά από τέσσερα χρόνια γεμάτα τρομοκρατία, χωρίς πολιτική διαδικασία [προς ειρηνευτικές διαπραγματεύσεις] και χωρίς ησυχία στη Γάζα και το Σντερότ, είναι ξεκάθαρο ότι η κυβέρνηση Νετανιάχου, όπως αυτή του προκατόχου του Ολμέρτ, δεν ενδιαφέρεται να βρει μια λύση στην υπάρχουσα κατάσταση, αλλά μάλλον να τη διατηρήσει. Από τη δική τους οπτική γωνία, δεν υπάρχει τίποτα λάθος στο να ξεκινήσουν μια επιχείρηση «Χυτό Μολύβι 2» (και μετά 3,4,5 και 6) κάθε τρία ή τέσσερα χρόνια: θα μιλήσουμε για αποτροπή, θα σκοτώσουμε κάποιον τρομοκράτη, θα χάσουμε κάποιους αμάχους και στις δύο πλευρές και θα ετοιμάσουμε το έδαφος για μια νέα γενιά γεμάτη μίσος και στις δύο πλευρές».

Ο Μπλανκ προχώρησε λέγοντας: «Ως εκπρόσωποι του λαού, μέλη της κυβέρνησης δεν έχουν καθήκον να παρουσιάσουν το όραμά τους για το μέλλον της χώρας, και μπορούν να συνεχίσουν αυτόν τον αιματηρό κύκλο, χωρίς τερματισμό στον ορίζοντα. Αλλά εμείς, ως πολίτες και ανθρώπινα όντα, έχουμε ένα καθήκον να αρνηθούμε να συμμετάσχουμε σε αυτό το κυνικό παιχνίδι. Γι’ αυτό αποφάσισα να αρνηθώ να οδηγηθώ στον Ισραηλινό Στρατό την ημερομηνία κατάταξής μου», 19 Νοεμβρίου 2012.

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