From email@example.com Thu Feb 7 11:00:10 2002
Date: Wed, 6 Feb 2002 16:24:05 -0600 (CST)
From: Tom Atlee <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: remarkable news from Israel
A decision by more than 100 Israeli reserve officers to refuse to serve in the Palestinian territories has sparked a furious row inside the military, and a widening public debate.
In the biggest challenge to the army's authority since the Palestinian
uprising began 16 months ago, the reservists have said they are not
willing to fight for the purpose of
dominating, expelling, starving
and humiliating an entire people.
We reserve combat soldiers and officers say the decision is in our hands - we are already more than 100
-- Statement by Israeli reserve officers
This in turn has prompted a strong counter campaign, and a suggestion by the army's chief of staff that there are political motives behind the protest, which would amount to incitement to rebellion.
A former head of Israel's internal security service, Ami Ayalon, has given his support to their protest, saying he is very concerned about the large number of unarmed Palestinian children shot by Israeli troops.
In an interview with Israeli television, he said that, as far as he was concerned, not enough soldiers were refusing to obey what he called blatantly illegal orders.
But he added that refusing to serve in the West Bank and Gaza was not the answer.
Military service is compulsory in Israel, and men are required to serve in the reserves for over a month each year until well into middle age unless they have a special exemption.
Military commanders have suspended two of the rebellious officers who started a petition and are interviewing others who signed it.
An Israeli army spokesman, Lieutenant Colonel Oliver Rafinovich, told the BBC that the protest was not supported by the majority of serving soldiers.
He said the military authorities would not speak to the officers as a group, but would see them individually and discuss their views. Initially, 52 reserve officers signed the petition.
But the list is now growing and the petition with 50 new signatures was published in an Israeli newspaper on Friday.
We reserve combat soldiers and officers say the decision is in our
hands - we are already more than 100, their statement said.
In response, a counter campaign has begun with reservists condemning the protesters and publishing their own petition in the same newspaper.
Another counter petition has appeared on the internet and an organiser, Nir Aboodraham, said up to 5,000 people had signed it.
The BBC's Caroline Hawley, in Jerusalem, says it is not only the military that is worried - the reservists' rebellion is now taking on growing political significance.
A poll conducted for Israel radio said 31% of Israelis supported the protesting officers.
The Israeli leader, Ariel Sharon, has said he is not against criticism, but that if soldiers did not carry out the decisions of an elected government, it would be the beginning of the end of democracy.
The army's Chief of Staff, Shaul Mofaz, has said he is taking the issue very seriously and will take disciplinary action against any officer who refuses to serve.
But a spokesman for the protesters said General Mofaz's suggestion that they might face charges of incitement to rebellion was an attempt to silence them.
Israeli troops and tanks have staged frequent incursions into the West Bank and Gaza since the current uprising, or intifada, began in September 2000.
It says that, because the Palestinian Authority has failed to rein in groups such as Islamic Jihad and Hamas, Israel must defend itself against suicide bombings and other attacks on its citizens.
Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat has been under virtual house arrest at his headquarters in the West Bank town of Ramallah as Israel continues to hold him responsible for much of the violence.
The Palestinian Authority has denied being behind attacks on Israelis.
JERUSALEM, Feb. 1 - More than 100 Israeli Army reservists signed a
statement published today saying they would refuse to continue serving
in the West Bank and Gaza Strip because Israel's policies there
dominating, expelling, starving and humiliating an entire
The statement, by combat officers and soldiers, amounted to the largest organized refusal by reservists to serve in the West Bank and Gaza in the last 16 months of violence.
A week ago, 52 reservists began the campaign of defiance with the statement in the newspaper Haaretz. But their number has now almost doubled, to 102, and a national debate about their stand is in full swing.
The campaign has so unsettled the military command that the army's
chief of staff suggested today that the objectors were inciting
rebellion. The officer, Lt. Gen. Shaul Mofaz, said on Army Radio that
he suspected political motives rather than moral concerns were behind
If there is someone who is organizing a campaign on
an ideological basis, he said,
in my eyes this is more than
refusal to serve. This is incitement to rebellion. There is no act
more serious than that.
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon warned in a newspaper interview,
will be the beginning of the end of democracy if soldiers don't carry
out the decisions of the elected government.
Protests by army reservists after Israel's 1982 invasion of Lebanon, which Mr. Sharon, as defense minister, took all the way to Beirut, are widely considered to have contributed to a subsequent military pullback to southern Lebanon, from which Israel withdrew two years ago.
The declaration today in Haaretz by the dissenting reservists said:
The price of occupation is the loss of the Israel Defense Forces'
semblance of humanity and the corruption of all of Israeli
We will no longer fight beyond the Green Line with
the aim of dominating, expelling, starving and humiliating an entire
people. The Green Line is the pre-1967 boundary between Israel and
the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
It remains to be seen whether the organizers will meet their goal of collecting 500 signatures and forming a critical mass of resisters that could force a change in government policy. But the prospect that more may join their campaign has prompted a swift response from the army, which has increasingly relied on reservists to back up regular conscripts in the ongoing fighting in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
After completing three years of compulsory military service, many Israeli men under 45 continue to serve about a month a year of reserve duty. Since the uprising began, reservists are much more likely to find themselves going on patrols in the occupied areas and guarding Jewish settlements.
The military does not release manpower numbers for security reasons, and therefore it is not known exactly how many reservists there are, or how many are serving at any one time. Although the number of objectors is small, their stand has drawn strong responses from a wide segment of the public.
General Mofaz said that the resisters should be suspended from their posts and could be permanently relieved of their command duties. He said that senior officers would decide what disciplinary action to take.
The commanding officer of the two reserve lieutenants who drafted the petition, David Zonshein, 28, a software engineer, and Yaniv Itzkovitch, 26, a university teaching assistant, said that he had already suspended them from his paratroop battalion.
An officer who decides which mission he will perform and which he
will not is in my view an officer morally unfit to command,
Lt. Col. Yaron Appel, the battalion commander, said in a radio
Reservists ready to serve in the West Bank and Gaza Strip published
their own petitions today. One petition called the resisters'
dangerous and antidemocratic, and another asserted
that such actions
undermine the basic principle of the rule of law
and the state's very ability to defend itself.
Since the start of the current Palestinian uprising in September 2000, at least 400 Israelis, mostly reservists, have refused service in the Israeli-occupied territories, and in most cases they were quietly released from duty, according to a resisters' group, Yesh Gvul, which means, There is a Limit.
About 40 have been summoned to disciplinary hearings and jailed for up to 28 days, the group said. It is not known what punishment the reservists protesting now might face.
The reservists' public declaration has set off heated debate over the limits of civil disobedience and about the legality and morality of the army's methods in fighting the Palestinian uprising.
With the credibility and moral authority that combat veterans command in Israel, the signers of the petition, many of whom served in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, have taken the debate to a new level. Organizers declined interviews with the foreign news media to avoid accusations of stoking international criticism of Israel.
But in interviews in Yedioth Ahronoth, Israel's most widely circulated newspaper, they reported incidents during their service in which they said that soldiers had fired at Palestinians who did not endanger them, including stone-throwing boys as far as 100 yards away.
Their accounts have not been disputed by the army, and General Mofaz said the reported incidents would be investigated.
Ariel Shatil, 32, said that in the Gaza Strip last September, his
squad was supposed to fire heavy machine guns at a Palestinian town in
response to mortar fire.
The gunfire penetrates thin walls and
windows, and that kills people, and you don't know who you're
killing, he said. Mr. Zonshein said that in an area where he
served, houses and orchards were bulldozed in response to Palestinian
We all have limits, he said.
You can be the best
suddenly you're required to do things that you
can't be asked to do: to shoot at people, stop ambulances, destroy
houses when no one knows who lives in them.
The resisters reject a contention by some Israelis that, by doing reserve duty in the occupied territories, they can work from inside the army to ensure that it behaves humanely.
You can't be both an occupier and moral, said Mr. Itzkovitch,
who said he had done combat service in Lebanon and the occupied
Zionism is not occupation.