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Tomgram: Rory Fanning, The Courage to Say No

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This article originally appeared at TomDispatch.com. To receive TomDispatch in your inbox three times a week, click here.

She began cutting school on Fridays and simply sitting on the steps of the Swedish parliament. Her name was Greta Thunberg. She was 15 years old, with a mind of her own and a sign demanding a school strike against climate change. Her parents wanted her to go back to school, but Friday after Friday she kept at it until others (including one of her teachers) began joining her. She handed out leaflets that said, "I am doing this because you adults are sh*tting on my future." She demanded that her country's politicians "prioritize the climate question, focus on the climate and treat it like a crisis" -- like, that is, the one that could take down civilization and cripple the planet. She knew that it was time to panic. ("I want you to panic," she insisted in a speech directed at the ultra-rich in Davos, Switzerland. "I want you to act as if our house is on fire. Because it is.") A single Swedish schoolgirl with Asperger's syndrome was determined to take on the planet's blind billionaires and leaders everywhere. She urged her peers to face the disaster that's becoming an increasingly obvious part of all our lives and that their parents have generally been remarkably unable to face. She was, in other words, striking for the right to a future.

Within months, thousands and then tens of thousands of high-school students across Europe, as well as in Australia and Japan, among other places, began walking out, too, in "Fridays for Future" protests. And honestly, if that isn't inspirational on a planet overseen by Donald Trump and his crew of climate arsonists ready to pump yet more greenhouse gases into a world already buckling under the strain, what is? Adults, too, should feel good to know that somewhere in a world in which the Chinese are still building coal plants domestically (and in Africa), in which Australian politicians are carefully looking the other way as their country burns and floods... well, I could go on, but I'm almost 75 and I'd rather let Greta Thunberg do so for me.

Let's face it, when children become thoughtful adults because adults are acting like thoughtless children, how can you not feel amazed and inspired? In another set of circumstances, no less grim if more localized, TomDispatch regular and war resister (while in the U.S. military) Rory Fanning has stumbled across a different kind of Greta Thunberg -- a 19-year-old Israeli who proved more than willing to go to jail, again and again, to protest his country's expanding occupation of Palestinian lands. Thousands of other teens have yet to follow him, but check out Fanning today on just how inspiring he is. After all, a world of such young people remains a world of hope. Tom

A Teenage War Resister in Israel
An Antiwar Story from the Embattled Middle East
By Rory Fanning

Hilel Garmi's phone is going straight to voicemail and all I'm hoping is that he's not back in prison. I'll soon learn that he is.

Prison 6 is a military prison. It's situated in the Israeli coastal town of Atlit, a short walk from the Mediterranean Sea and less than an hour's drive from Hilel's home. It was constructed in 1957 following the Sinai War between Israel and Egypt to house disciplinary cases from the Israeli Defense Forces, or IDF.

Hilel has already been locked up six times. "I can smell the sea from my cell, especially at night when everything is quiet," he tells me in one of our phone conversations. I'm 6,000 miles away in Chicago, but Hilel and I have regularly been discussing his ordeal as an Israeli war resister, so it makes me nervous that, this time around, I can't reach him at all.

A recent high-school graduate with dark hair and a big smile, he's only 19 and still lives with his parents in Yodfat, an Israeli town of less than 900 people in the northern part of the country. It's 155 miles to Damascus (if such a trip were possible, which, of course, it isn't), a two-hour drive down the coast to Tel Aviv, and a four-hour drive to besieged Gaza.

Yodfat itself could be a set for a Biblical movie, with its dry rolling hills, ancient ruins, and pastoral landscape. The town exports flower bulbs, as well as organic goat cheese, and notably supports the Misgav Waldorf School that Hilel's mother helped found. Hilel is proud of his mom. After all, people commute from all over Israel to attend the school.

He is a rarity in his own land, one of only a handful of refuseniks living in Israel. Each year roughly 30,000 18 year olds are drafted into the IDF, although 35% of such draftees manage to avoid military service for religious reasons. A far tinier percentage publicly refuses to fight for moral and political reasons to protest their country's occupation of Palestinian lands. The exact numbers are hard to find. I've asked war resister groups in Israel, but no one seems to have any. Hilel's estimate: between five and 15 refuseniks a year.

"I've thought the occupation of Palestine was immoral at least since I was in eighth grade," he told me. "But it was the March of Return that played a large role in sustaining the courage to say no to military service."

The Great March of Return began in the besieged Gaza Strip on March 30, 2018, the 42nd anniversary of the day in 1976 that Israeli police shot and killed six Palestinian citizens of Israel as they protested the government's expropriation of land. During the six-month protest movement that followed in 2018, Israeli soldiers killed another 141 demonstrators, while nearly 10,000 were injured, including 919 children, all shot.

"I couldn't be a part of that," he said. "I'd rather be in jail."

However, after 37 days in prison, it was the letter Hilel received from Abu Artema, a key Palestinian organizer of that march, which provided him with his greatest inspiration. It read in part:

"Your decision is what will help end this dark period inflicted on Palestinians, and at the same time mitigate the fears of younger Israeli generations who were born into a complicated situation and a turbulent geographical area deprived of security and peace... I believe the solution is near and possible. It will not require more than the courage to take initiative and set a new perspective, after traditional solutions have failed to achieve a just settlement. Let us fight together for human rights, for a country that is democratic for all its citizens, and for Israelis and Palestinians to live together based on citizenship and equality, not segregation and racism."

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Tom Engelhardt, who runs the Nation Institute's Tomdispatch.com ("a regular antidote to the mainstream media"), is the co-founder of the American Empire Project and, most recently, the author of Mission Unaccomplished: Tomdispatch (more...)
 

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