Israel: 'Refuseniks' oppose Sharon's terrorist war

February 13, 2002

"We hereby declare that we shall continue serving in the Israel Defence Forces in any mission that serves Israel's defence. The missions of occupation and oppression [in the occupied territories] do not serve this purpose — and we shall take no part in them."

That was the conclusion of a statement signed by almost 200 Israel Defence Force (IDF) reserve combat officers and soldiers who have refused to serve in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The signatories include reserve officers up to the rank of major.

"We ... have been on reserve duty all over the Occupied Territories, and were issued commands and directives that had nothing to do with the security of our country, and that had the sole purpose of perpetuating our control over the Palestinian people", the soldiers stated.

Fifty-two reservists began the "refusenik" campaign in late January, publishing their statement in the Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz. By the beginning of February, it had more than 100 signatories.

Since the beginning of the Palestinian people's second intifada in September 2000, more than 500 IDF reservists have refused to serve in the occupied territories. At least 40 have been given prison sentences.

In interviews, dissident soldiers have described some of the human rights abuses that they have been forced to carry out, including firing on stone-throwing young Palestinians who were too far away to endanger the soldiers, demolishing houses and firing heavy machine-gun rounds into Palestinian towns.

Lieutenant David Zonshein, one of the reserves who drafted the statement, told the Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth, "We all have limits ... suddenly you are asked to do things that should not be asked of you; to shoot people, to stop ambulances, to destroy houses in which you don't know if there are people living".

During the 1982 invasion of Lebanon and the first intifada in the late-1980s, some IDF soldiers also refused to serve. Ram Rahat, a soldier who refused to serve in the 1982 invasion of Lebanon, told the January 29 Washington Post that the soldiers' statement "says that people who have gone through [reserve duty] a couple of times, going through the territories and seeing the reality of what's going on there, are starting to get fed up with it ... It's exactly what happened in the first intifada as well. As more and more people did reserve duty and came back for their second and third tours, there were more and more cases of refusal".

IDF chief of staff Lieutenant-General Shaul Mofaz warned that soldiers who signed the statement would be dealt with in individual disciplinary hearings, and that most would be given reserve duties that don't involve command responsibilities. There appears to be a fear within the military and the government that the mass jailing of refuseniks may provoke further rebellion within the IDF.

The current campaign seems to have caught Israel's Prime Minister Ariel Sharon off-guard, particularly because of its very public and organised nature. In an interview with Yedioth Ahronoth, Sharon said: "It will be the beginning of the end of democracy if soldiers don't carry out the decisions of the elected government."

The growth of this organised campaign of refusal represents an important setback for the Israeli government's campaign against the intifada, as reserve soldiers are increasingly needed to replace soldiers as they finish their four-month tours of duty. According to an IDF battalion commander, quoted by the London Telegraph, "This may lead to a terrible crisis. More draft dodgers means fewer soldiers for the missions. The workload will increase, not to mention the level of danger. I do not want my men to feel like suckers."

Despite the pressure bearing down on them from the government, the military brass and Israel's ruling class, the soldiers appear to be holding firm.

A spokesperson for the soldiers, Amit Mashiah, said that "no-one regrets having signed the letter and everyone knew in advance the price [we] would have to pay".

[The soldiers' statement is at Refusal - Law and Justice. See also the web site of Yesh Gvul an Israel-based group that supports the refuseniks.]

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