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For 2003 International CO's Day, War Resisters' International focused on Israel's CO movement. Andreas Speck reports on their international action which took place in Tel Aviv on 15 May.

Militarism in everyday life - a street performance on International CO day

It's 15 May 2003, Tel Aviv, Israel: a military wedding, groom, bride, and the rabbi in uniform, as are the guests. The pair march up to the rabbi, get married, and then march out, followed by their marching guests.

Fast forward: the pair march through the streets, the uniformed pregnant wife gives birth to a baby dressed in uniform, while the uniformed husband stands next to her, saluting. Again, fast forward: child'splay (again - the children wear uniform) turns violent, and the married couple's son is shot at the end - no-one is surprised, and the dead corpse is wrapped in a camouflage blanket. Soldiers in uniform carry the corpse, and bury the dead son. At the end, everyone cries, and finally steps out of their uniforms. The now colourful activists offer discharge cards to the audience.

Nonviolence training

With this street performance, participants of an international nonviolence training - from Israel, Chile, South Korea, Spain, Turkey, and Britain - marked International Conscientious Objectors' Day in Tel Aviv. On the same day, solidarity action for the Israeli objectors' movement took place in Istanbul, Zagreb, Seoul, Paris, Seattle, San Francisco, London, among others.

For the second time, War Resisters' International had organised an international nonviolence training week in connection with International Conscientious Objectors' Day. This year's 15 May focused on refusal in Israel and nonviolent resistance to the occupation of Palestine, in cooperation with New Profile from Israel. The training took place on the roof of the Old Jaffa Hostel in Tel Aviv, in the heart of Israeli-Arab Jaffa.

Refuse and resist

The week started with an international seminar about refusal. The militarisation of Israeli society--and New Profile's attempts to civilise Israeli society--formed the focus of the first seminar day. The second day started with an overview of the diverse Israeli objector “community”, followed by discussion on women's draft resistance, grey refusal, and selective refusal. This then turned into a discussion on solidarity with the Israeli objectors, and the consolidation of the international CO movement.

The seminar was followed by nonviolence training during which participants learned about nonviolence, power, nonviolent tools for analysing power, and developing nonviolent campaigns. This was then put into practice with the planning of an action for 15 May--International CO's day.

There were heated discussions on the aim for the action--how much to focus on the occupation, or on conscientious objection, or militarisation in Israel. In the end consensus was reached on a set of several main aims: to highlight International CO's day and conscientious objection as an international campaign, to raise awareness about the role of the military in everyday life in Israel, not to antagonise soldiers, and to do an action that might inspire other actions.

Time for action

To transform this set of aims into an action wasn't easy. In the end, the group reached consensus on two action ideas: a street performance on militarism in everyday life, and a direct action--highlighting the occupation as an expression of militarism in Israel. Now the concrete preparation could begin: lock-ons for the direct action had to be prepared, costumes and uniforms for the performance had to be organised, and training on how to deal with a variety of possible situation was needed. The night before the action difficult discussions took place: was the direct action prepared well enough? Was the safety of the activists taken care of? Was the training sufficient? In the end, the direct action had to be cancelled--a difficult, but important, decision, which again was made by consensus.

A fun day out?

On 15 May, the training proved to be useful. The group was able to handle several difficult situations: a confrontation with police and security in front of a shopping centre could be solved by police liaison and a quick decision making group; and several incidents of abusive behaviour from bystanders were dealt with constructively.

The international groups of activists had a “fun day out” and achieved an important aim of nonviolent action—to communicate in a creative way with the public.

In conclusion, WRI's second attempt to organise training and international nonviolent action around International CO's day was very successful, and was an important learning experience for everyone who participated. And it was fun.

In the end, it was time to say goodbye --after a week of intensive discussions,training, laughing, working, eating, and living together--until next year, at another place, in another country, for International CO's Day 2004.

War Resisters' International, 5 Caledonian Rd, London N1 9DX, Britain (tel: +44 20 7278 4040; fax: 7278 0444; email: andreas@wri-irg.org; http://wri-irg.org ).

Andreas Speck WRI CO Campaigns Worker