A History of Shministim Letters

In June 2001 ten people, most from the Tel Aviv area, gathered to discuss new ways of action to resist the occupation. The ten recalled a long heritage of “Shministim” Letters, declarations by high school seniors who wrote to the prime ministers of Israel to protest the ongoing attack against the Palestinians. Israeli governments ignored these calls from conscientious objectors and persisted waging their wars with a ‘business as usual’ attitude – exacting a terrible toll from the Palestinians, as well as incurring harm on Israelis themselves both economically and in terms of personal safety.
Following the occupation of 1967 several groups of COs (Conscientious Objectors) united the voices of protest. They recalled the authors of a letter in 1970, the COs who refused to participate in the invasion of Lebanon and the COs of the first Intifada who had spoken out clearly for justice and peace. During this hour of hardship, when Israeli aggression against Palestinians in the Occupied Territories reaches heights that were formerly suffered by the inhabitants of Lebanon, we have decided to reiterate the call: Enough! We will not take part in this!

The Organization of the Shministim Letter 2001 and its Unique Character

Following the decision to issue a “High-school Seniors’ Letter” (in Hebrew called “Shministim”), the founding group began a marathon of meetings. Some activists quit, others joined in, and ultimately a final text was agreed on. Among the authors of the letter were young people of various views: supporters of partition and proponents of the unification of Palestine, liberals and socialists, pacifists and supporters of violent resistance. The final version was therefore one that all signatories agreed upon, without committing to one political or social solution; this version condemned the occupation of 1967 and Israeli war crimes, and pointed to the connection between Israeli aggression and the increase in attacks on Israeli citizens by Palestinians.
The “Shministim Letter 2001” contains important elements that were not part of earlier letters of refusal: it was the first letter to acknowledge the importance of conscientious objection. Each endorser has her/his own interpretation to refusal: many endorsers are unwilling to serve in any army, entirely negating the legitimacy of the military as an organization; others are not willing to serve in the Israeli army because of the nature of the state of Israel and its policy; yet others refuse to serve in the Israeli army so long as it occupies certain territories; finally, some endorsers are willing to join the army, but refuse to serve outside the “green line.” Some of the endorsers openly demand to be relieved of service on the basis of their opinions, while others avoid service, which is against their moral view, in other ways. This letter was the first call to other youths, as well as to soldiers, to refuse. Having women among the endorsers is another novelty of this letter. The endorsers refuse to accept the old division according to which “men refuse, and women support.” The army perpetuates male chauvinism in Israeli society, and letter endorsers refuse to let the same rules of conduct shape the limits and character of conscientious objection.
The letter was primarily signed by 62 youths. The letter organizers felt this was enough to go public, and sent the text as an open letter to the Prime Minister.

The Effect of the Letter in the First Week of Publication
Within a week of its publication in September 2001, the Shministim letter had achieved the following:
Significant Press Coverage: In Israel, in the Occupied Territories and abroad. The letter was covered in Israeli newspapers Haaretz, Maariv (twice), Yedioth Aharonoth, Al-Itihad, Tzomet HaSharon, Al HaSharon, and Zman Haifa. It was covered on Radio news and in at least five radio shows on National radio, IDF radio, and several local stations. Israeli television coverage included the morning shows on Channels One and Two, as well as Seven-Thirty and Mabat on Channels One. The letter was also covered by several newspapers in the Occupied Territories, and by the large Qatari station Al-Jazeera. The letter was reported in various media in the United States, Britain, France, Spain, Australia, Italy, Germany, The Netherlands, Greece, Switzerland, Sweden, and Japan. Some members of the group were interviewed by the BBC World Service.
We encouraged members to do their utmost to increase media exposure; at least ten members of our group were interviewed on various media.

Reactions from Israeli Politicians

We have received some harsh invectives. Minister of Education Limor Livnat has said we are a tiny minority, and "do not distinguish between aggressor and victim." Head of the opposition MK Yossi Sarid has said that "as one who totally rejects this government’s futile and aggressive policy, I also totally rejects any refusal to serve in the army," and that "army service is possibly the last common denominator of Israeli society; when it breaks, the whole society collapses..." Chair of the Knesset’s Education committee, MK Zebulon Orlev, and Chair of Municipalities' Education Committee Shmuel Avuav have also taken a strong stand against our letter. However, former Minister of Education Shulamit Aloni supported the letter and called it “a manifestation of rare courage and civil commitment.”

Reactions from the Israeli Public

The majority of responses we heard were hard, offensive and threatening. Some attacked us personally, some criticized the system that "failed" in our upbringing. Additionally, several counter letters were organized by youths who said they support the army and intend to serve. We have also received positive reactions from people in Israel, and 18 youths endorsed the letter within a week of its publication.

Reactions from The Palestinian Public

We have received many letters and phone calls from Palestinians encouraging us and express satisfaction that "there are still Israelis who can see Justice." Two groups have sent us heart-warming letters of support. One was an organization of several thousands of Palestinians our age, in universities and high schools, who thanked us for our "good, and warm heart." The other was from ten bereft families, whose children, or other members were killed "by mistake" by the Israeli army. They thanked us for the knowledge that we will not kill more innocent civilians like their lost loved ones, and complimented us for perceiving that the army's actions do not increase personal safety for our fellow citizens, for such safety can only be achieved through a just peace. This group was headed by Mohamed Al-Dura’s family, whose son’s death at the beginning of the Intifada symbolizes Israeli brutality for many Palestinians. In a supplement to their letter, the families sent us a list of their loved ones who died, their age, and cause of death (some were shot with IDF live ammunition, others were killed as a "by product" of assassinations, etc...).

International Reactions
We received some very positive responses from around the world, from people who believe that our movement may grow and have a positive influence on the situation in our region. Member of the European Parliament, Luisa Morgantini, said we "really do give hope."

After the First Media Wave

The letter continued to resound through Israeli society for a whole month. Endorsers talked on radio and TV shows. Letters to the editors of the major dailies, as well as the local weeklies, continued to discuss the “disturbing” phenomenon of refuseniks. Peace activists from around the world contacted some of the endorsers to express support. Many more Palestinians sent us letters of encouragement and support.
Over time the public debate died down, yet many youths throughout Israel continued to sign our letter.
In January 2002 the letter’s first endorser, conscientious objector Yair Hilo was imprisoned. In February yet another endorser, Yigal Roseberg, was imprisoned. The two were reincarcerated four and five times, over a period of four months. Another endorser, a Territories refusenik, was drafted and serves in the Israeli army outside the territories occupied in 1967. Some women endorsers were relieved of military service on conscientious grounds (a privilege for women only in Israel), and other endorsers were relieved on other grounds without being jailed. A new debate on conscientious objection began after fifty combat unit soldiers published their own declaration of refusal. Courage to Refuse and the Combatants Letter (endorsed by 489 soldiers so far) that focus on the 1967 occupation and the repression of the current Intifada from a Zionist view point have made it clear that they will not serve in the Occupied Territories again.

The Shministim Movement Today and Its Future

In the past year the number of endorsers has more than tripled. Over the same time the situation has deteriorated. Sharon’s government and the army have managed to carry out the plan to reoccupy the territories with sweeping public support, and persisted in their policy of heinous war crimes.
We, the signatories of the High-School Seniors Letter, felt a need, stronger than ever, to make our voice heard in protest against the occupation and its new-old horrors. Therefore we decided to organize our work in an organizational framework to be named as the Shministim movement that will help us act and influence.
In the last months we have protested on behalf of and supported several of the signatories who were sent to jail for their refusal to serve, among them Uri Yaakobi, Yoni Yechezkel, Dror Boimel, Haggai Matar and many others. We also organized demonstrations in Tel-Aviv, a sukkah and several other organized protests on the hill in front of the Atlit jail facilities. We are planning many more activities for the near future.
The Shministim movement aims to expand the circles of conscientious objectors, and to promote awareness of conscientious objection, primarily in high schools and within youth movements. We also wish to advance these two aims among the general public and the international community. We carry out our work in solidarity vigils, demonstrations, and other direct actions.
In addition to street activity, the Shministim movement aims to support those who refuse to serve who are confronted by difficulties as a result, such as discrimination in the schools, at work etc. Among other activities, we accompany refuseniks on the day they are drafted, and hold solidarity vigils.
The movement’s strong point is that it is comprised of young people who want to make a difference, and who take action to do so. Activists' presence in schools, youth movements, and among people our age gives us direct access to youths before their conscription. We, the endorsers of the letter, address our peers in the hope it is not too late to change the dismal looking future of the state of Israel.

Support the Shministim

The Shministim movement aims to expand its activities. We would like to hold more demonstrations, solidarity vigils, and to carry out more educational work. We aim to promote awareness in Israel and abroad regarding the refusal of youths to serve in the military, and to broaden our “ranks.” To do this we need donations that will cover our day to day work – printing flyers, t-shirts, and stickers, organizing demonstrations, placing ads in the media – and for many other projects.
Donations to the Shministim movement are welcome. Wire money to:
Bank HaPoalim (Bank #12),
Ahuza Branch in Haifa (Branch #704),
Account #183285.
Personal checks can be sent to:
P.O. Box 70094
Haifa 31700

You can also support the Shministim by writing to imprisoned refuseniks. If you would like to be kept informed about endorsers of the letter who are in prison,


To the Prime Minister, Mr. Ariel Sharon,

It has been a year now since we, 62 Israeli boys and girls raised in Israel, sent you a letter announcing that we will not take part in the continuing oppression of the Palestinian people. Today, with a worse situation in Israel and in the Territories, we say it again, together with many who have joined us: we refuse to be soldiers for the occupation.

The state of Israel commits war-crimes and tramples over human rights, destroying Palestinian cities, towns and villages; expropriating land, detaining and executing without trial, conducting mass-demolition of houses, businesses, and public institutions; looting, closure, curfew, torture, preventing the administration of medical care, constructing and expanding settlements – All these actions are opposed to human morality, and violate international treaties ratified by Israel. In these and other actions Israel systematically prevents Palestinians from maintaining any reasonable life. This reality leads to suffering, fear, and despair, which yield terror attacks. Therefore, the occupation is not only immoral; but it also damages the security of Israel's citizens and residents. Such security will be achieved only through a just peace between Israelis and Palestinians.

When the elected government tramples over democratic values and the chances for a just peace in the region, we have no choice but to obey our conscience and refuse to take part in the attack on the Palestinian people. As youth about to be called to serve in the military we pledge to do all that we see fit so as not to serve the occupation. Some of us will refuse to serve beyond the green line, others will avoid military service in other ways – we view all these means as legitimate and necessary, and we call on other youth, conscripts, soldiers in the standing army, and reserve service soldiers to do the same.

Minister of Defense, Benjamin Ben-Eliezer
Chief of Staff, Lieutenant General Moshe Ya'alon