We arrived in Tel Aviv this morning to tour the Diaspora Museum at Tel Aviv University. It is an exhibit set up to trace the Jewish culture, people and traditions through the centuries. It was very well done with much information. One thing that struck me that as all the various cultures merged into what is now the State of Israel, there appears to be a push towards sameness of culture instead of a celebration of what each culture brings to the table. There are small concessions to this, but overall, this seems to be prevalent.

As I was walking through the part of the exhibit which dealt with the Holocaust, I caught up with one of our group. As we talked, he made the comment – “I was only a child, but there must have been something I could have done”.

Our afternoon was spent with Adam Keller of Gush Shalom, a Israeli activist who has been protesting (non violently) since the age of 13. He brought us up-to-date on a protest held outside of the Gaza Strip on Saturday which he attended. They were planning to hold their protest at the place where the Israeli soldier was kidnapped. But as they drew nearer, they saw an Israeli post set up. They realized that this group of soldiers were there getting ready to occupy Gaza. They got out of their vehicles and began to talk to the soldiers through the fence, asking them why they would go into Gaza, what their personal thoughts were about this action, etc.. They were eventually chased away, and began walking towards their protest site. Eventually, the military police stopped them and began to arrest the protesters. When it was pointed out that the MPs are not allowed to arrest civilians, they produced a civilian police officer who proceeded to make the arrests.

In the evening, we met with members of New Profile and with a refusenik. New Profile is a group that is working to create a new military profile or status for people who are either conscientious objectors, or refuseniks – those who do not oppose the army per se, but refuse to serve in the occupied territories. Their stories were personal and varied. One woman was a mother of 6 living on a kibbutz, which by their nature are very militaristic, who had a son tell her and her husband that he is a pacifist and would not serve in the army. She told of the problems trying to get him out of conscription – the months in court, and his months in prison. They were finally successful, but at what cost? Two of her other children were given medical releases – meaning they had to say that they were mentally ill and unable to conscript. This type of designation will follow them for the rest of their lives, affecting the future possibilities for employment, mortgage loans, etc..

Our refusenik guest was in the Army for six years. As he matured into an adult, from the raw 18 year old conscript, he realized that he could no longer participate in actions in the occupied territories. He asked to be reassigned, which he was. He believes in being part of the army to defend Israel, but not in being part of the occupation.

News Muse note: Beth Sullivan is the bookkeeper for DisciplesWorld and has served as board member of the United Christian Missionary Society and the Disciples Divinity House at the University of Chicago. Sullivan is visiting Middle Eastern holy sites on a trip with her alma mater, Earlham College, located in Richmond, Ind.