Sunday, May 22, 2005

The New Jewish Gandhi's


by Rachel Saperstein, Neve Dekalim

May 22, 2005

A group of teenage boys had lunch with us on Independence Day. They had been our guests for a Youth Shabbat a few months ago and had returned to regale us with stories of the work they had been doing in the Battle for Gush Katif.

One of the boys wore the ubiquitous orange t-shirt, but the slogan was new: Arrested? You won!

"Tell me about your t-shirt," I asked. "What does it mean?"

A big smile appeared on his face. "We're planning to block the roads very soon and many of us will be arrested and we're going prepared. We'll go to jail with pride in order to protest the disengagement plan. It's called civil disobedience."

These boys come from the very best homes. Their parents are professionals and epitomize religious middle class values. Their children do not commit crimes and go to jail. Their children are the cream of Israeli society: hard working, future soldiers in the elite IDF units. They will go on to university and be successful husbands and fathers. They will pay their taxes and show their allegiance to the State of Israel. Today they are carrying out the laws of good citizenship, fighting an unjust law, the Disengagement Law.

On Monday, May 16th, thousands of people, mostly youth, blocked traffic on 42 main roads. Each participant in this non-violent civil disobedience action had received a booklet explaining their rights and a telephone number of the Legal Aid Station they are to call if arrested. The lawyers of the Legal Aid Station are volunteers on call 24/7.

As I write this close to 500 people have been jailed. Some are below the age of 12. They were told beforehand, do not give any information to the police, do not tell them your name and identity card number, take down the name of police officers who physically or verbally abuse you, refuse to be photographed or fingerprinted. They were told not to be afraid, and to say "I am a political prisoner and have a right to remain silent."

Demonstrators are urged to bring cellphones, cameras, pen and paper. They are to come prepared for possible arrest, with prayer shawl and phylacteries, a prayer book, toothbrush and toothpaste, soap, a clean sheet, a change of clothing and some food. And religious texts for study during the time in jail.

We were told that many of those arrested refused to sign up for house arrest which would keep them locked up at home for at least three months. The atmosphere was one of pride as they sang Am Yisroel Chai, The People of Israel Live. They sang Hatikvah, the national anthem, and Ani Ma'amin, I believe in the coming of the Messiah.

Police and jailers were taken aback by the joy with which the young people marched into jail. The jailers had never seen the sense of exhilaration and freedom exhibited by the prisoners.

One young man, a father of six, knowing that his large family would suffer, accepted house arrest. His wife informed me that when he came home he felt saddened by his decision. "When I was in jail and uncomfortable I felt free. Now I am comfortable but feel jailed." He insists that he wants to return to prison.

The police begged parents to come and identify their children so they could be released. The parents refused to betray the cause and their children's right to fight for that cause.

"Next time," said one parent, "I will be on that corner and I too will choose jail rather than surrender to the edict of expulsion. My child is learning citizenship and the right of the citizen to fight evil laws. I am so proud!"


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