By Liz Firth, Commission member

15th May is International Conscientious Objectors Day. This year the J&P Commission, Pax Christi and the Leeds Palestinian Film Festival Committee jointly hosted an event to mark the day. Over 60 people joined us at Wheeler Hall in Leeds to listen to speakers, including Rev Clive Barratt, and to watch the film, Objector.

John Battle, Chair of J&P for the diocese, welcomed attendees to the event and noted how the issue of conscientiously objecting to bearing arms or any form of military conscription remains a relevant topic today in current conflict zones as much as it has in the past.

cover of Subversive Peacemakers bookRev Clive Barrett, author of Subversive Peacemakers, then spoke on the history of conscientious objection, with particular regard to local examples from Leeds, and shared stories of historical figures who have made a stand for their own religious or political beliefs, and the consequences endured by them as a result.

Attendees then watched a screening of the film ‘Objector’. The documentary film follows Atalya Ben Abba, a young Israeli woman, in the lead up to her mandatory period of military service at 18 in 2017. We follow the decision making of Atalya over a period of many months including interviews with her family, many of whom served in the Israeli military and who do not share her emerging political beliefs. Atalya is influenced by her older brother, Amitai who also refused to serve but on medical grounds. Atalya’s own objection to military services was on the grounds of objection to the occupation of Palestinian territories and the Israeli government policies. The film follows her decision to refuse on the grounds of conscientious objection, a request refused by the Israeli Defence Forces’ conscientious committee hearing, and her subsequent imprisonment and a little of what follows her release.

still photos from films on a filmstripThe film was directed by Molly Stuart, partner at the time of Atalya’s brother, who is able to gain close access to Atalya’s family and follow Atalya’s moving visits to displaced Palestinians and watch as her family come to terms with her decision.

We were fortunate to be joined by Atalya via Zoom call for a live discussion following the film showing. She is now several years older, resident in Jerusalem still and now a full-time activist. Atalya responded thoughtfully to questions from the audience which ranged from how her relationship with her pro-Israeli Grandfather had been maintained to what hope she had for the future of Israel given the current Israeli government’s political leanings.

Atalya spoke movingly about how she and other activists find strength from the solidarity shown by supporters around the world. She also shared how, whilst she is aware of the rejection of many fellow Israelis due to her political beliefs and actions, that she still finds a sense of belonging in Jerusalem and sees it as her home. She spoke of the challenge of the current Government and their treatment of the Palestinians, but believes that rather than losing hope, she and fellow activists are continuing to support the Palestinians despite the difficult circumstances currently found in Israel for those who do not support the current political regime.

Many thanks to all who organised and supported the event.