This is part of a conversation I had in East Jerusalem with Renen Raz. The recorded interview is supposed to be part of broader project still in progress.
He is an Israeli activist who fights against the occupation in Palestine and the Zionist State of Israel.
Resistance within Israel.
Can you present yourself and explain how you realised about the occupation?
I’m Renan Raz, I’m from Palestine, Tel Aviv and I’m 25 years old. Before living in Tel Aviv I was living in a kibbutz called Dorot. Dorot is the hebrew word for generation. Before the ethnic cleansing it was a village called Huj, and it’s about 3 km from the Gaza strip. When we were living there, we were basically forbidden to mention Palestine. Back then, when I was just a boy, I didn’t even know what Palestine was either. I just noticed there were some buildings that weren’t fit in the view: they were really old, made out of stone and not in concrete and I started getting interested in them. I started asking myself some questions: who were the owners, why there was a big city just next to us but we don’t know anything about it and we were not allowed to go there. I was growing up with a lot of questions to which I needed an answer.
I remember this episode when I was in school, I was around 11 years old, I asked my teacher about Palestine and I remember her reaction. She was really terrified and she said not to ever mention Palestine in school again. I then realized there was something there. As time passed by I started to research more about Palestine and its history on my own. At that point I realized that there has been an ethnic cleansing, the Nakba, carried out by the racist Zionist movement which has nothing to do with Judaism. Being Jewish is something that belongs to your ethnicity, being Zionist is more political. The way I conceive it: Zionism is an antisemitic idea. It discriminates everyone, even Jews themselves. Therefore, I recognize myself as anti-zionist, anti-fascist, anti-apartheid and so on.
When did you receive the first draft to serve in the military service?
Usually you receive the first draft for the military service at the age of 17. For some reason, I received it at the age of 16. Back then I refused. I realized there was something wrong in joining the army. My conscious wouldn’t have been clean if I did.
So what happened after you refused?
Some people tried to threat me and told me I was a dodger. A dodger is used as a curse in hebrew to indicate those who refuse to do the military service. I didn’t want to have blood on my hands and collaborate with murderers. They educated us for a certain cause and I was always against it. I didn’t go to jail for my refusal because I was a minor, but they suspended me stating I was mentally insane.
My family, after I refused, said they were ashamed of me. My mother said she would prefer to know me dead instead of refusenik. And My brother is a fighter in the army, he was in Hebron and in Gaza.
In the kibbutz after they discovered I refused they started discriminating me, so I just left. They asked me to pay a considerable amount of money if I wanted to stay, as indemnity. Indemnity for what? It’s not that I did something wrong, they just wanted to punish me because I was a refusenik. Of course I’m never going to pay.
You told me that you belong to an Arab jew family. In theory you’d think that as Arabs they are more sensitive towards the Palestinian cause.
Yes, we are Arab jews (Mizrahi), and as Arab jews we’re discriminated by the Israeli State. As arabs we should be more sensitive to the issue, but in reality it’s not so. My family is ashamed of its identity, they reject it and ignore completely the arab culture. They try to act and think as if they were from Europe, as if they were European Jews (Ashkenazi).
This is racism, it’s discrimination. I accept who I am, but my family is against me for this. The State is against me because of this, so..I won’t collaborate with a State that discriminates who I am on the base of ethnicity, of religion and of individual choices such as refusing to do the military service. I won’t reject who I am.
If you don’t fit in the category of privileged white jew, you will always be a second class citizen in Israel. I’m not Palestinian, but as Arab jew I’m discriminated as well.
Do you reckon that you grew up in a militarized system, starting from the educational system?
Since kindergarten we receive continuos references to the military system or to the Zionist ideology. I have in mind this worksheet in which we had to combine, lets say, the soldier to the weapon, or the star of David to the flag. In very young age we are also asked to prepare gifts and write letters to soldiers, usually fighters, in which we thank them to protect our country and to maintain the national security. Usually during the main festivities the school would take us to the army base where we’d deliver donuts, gifts and sweets. Furthermore, replacement teachers are soldiers who wear the uniform in class and teach us specific subject such as history, the Bible or Torah and civilian class. During civilian classes we are taught what are our rights, what we are obligated to and about democracy in a Jewish state which is a contradiction. Or the state is a democracy or its a Jewish state. If it’s a Jewish state it will never be a democracy.
As for the history classes, they teach us about the Six days war or the Independent war, but they never mention anything which refers to Palestine or Arabs. They state that we’ve occupied this land, but there was no one there, so how did we occupy it if there was no one there? There was something missing in this narrative. I was fed up with these myths and lies.
They brainwash you….
Yes. They educate us to become fighters, and teach us that the army is a duty not an option. The ITF (Israeli Terror Forces) is the most sacred thing in Israel. You are emerged in a militarized society and at a certain point it jsut becomes normal and as a soldier you are privileged, for example: you get free transportation, discounts in restaurants and easier access to certain jobs.
You also grow up with a distorted idea of what’s peace and what’s violence.
Of course. But this is not about war and peace. We must start talking about occupier and occupied, oppressor and oppressed. It’s about those who have all the rights and those that have none. This is not a conflict, it’s colonialism. It’s apartheid, it’s a crime against humanity and it’s recognized so by the International Law. Even so, Israel remains unpunished ’cause of the strong ties with the US.
When did you first go to West Bank?
I started to go to demonstrations in the West Bank about 6 years ago. when I was still living in my kibbutz. My first time in West Bank was at the village of Bil’in where I participated at the popular struggle for another 2 years. Later I joined the demos also in Nabi Saleh.
Why did you feel you had to stand next to the Palestinians during the demos?
When I was in school I advocated the idea of stopping the war in Gaza during the Cast Lead Operation, I continued also after by talking about co-existence. Back then I wanted to convert my words into action. I looked for information and in a way to make it possible, and I found a group that for years has been supporting the popular struggle so I decided to join them until now.
My conscience was telling me that refusing was not enough. To stand shoulder to shoulder with Palestinians is another form of resistance against Zionism.
What do you think are the main steps to end the zionist occupation?
To stop this crime we need to call for BDS and condemn Eu and US for the fundings and support given to Israel who continues to be unpunished for its crimes against humanity. If the US stops giving weaponry corresponding to 40 billion dollars per 10 years and we call for army embargo we can stop the on going crimes.
I’m vegetarian and I know you’re vegan. I wanted to ask you: is your choice of not doing the military service linked to your choice of being vegan?
Yes, to me, being vegan means being anti-violence against all living beings. Being vegan, to me, means being peaceful and in harmony with the planet, with animals and with humans. We are all one entity.
What do you think about veganwashing?
In the army there are many vegans and they receive special care, for example extra money to buy vegan food or fake leather boots. It’s hypocrite because you refuse to harm animals but you’re willing to murder and keep under occupation Palestinians.
I really wanted to ask you this question cause to me to be vegetarian it’s part of….
I believe in one struggle. The occupation, the apartheid wall, the shooting tanks, the violence…are all part of a broader system of oppression, exploitation and injustice which regards all levels of denied freedom in our society. We must free ourselves at all levels.