years of policing the
In recent months, 28 Israeli pilots and 13 members of an elite commando unit have joined the five refuseniks in protest against the army's conduct in the occupied territories. Yet it is the courage of the five that is truly astonishing because of the price they are prepared to pay for following their conscience.
teenagers, known as "the five", are Noam Bahat, Matan Kaminer, Adam
Maor, Haggai Matar and Shimri Tsameret. They were recently sentenced
each to a
year in prison, and the time they spent in detention pending trial will
deducted. All refused to serve in the IDF because of the occupation and
were ready to do civilian service instead, but the offer was rejected.
In defence of its draconian sentence, the court pointed out that the five did not refuse to serve as individuals, but rather as a group and with the explicit objective of bringing about a change in Israeli policy in the territories. In this respect, the court ruled, their actions strayed beyond the bounds of classic conscientious objection into the realm of civil disobedience. In support of this ruling, the court cited a letter signed by some of the five while still in high school.
year later a second letter to the prime minister, signed by 320 men and
aged 16 to 18, accused
The letters, and attendant publicity, prompted a much tougher attitude towards conscientious objectors. Draft resisters were no longer released after a few months, but put on trial.
five presented themselves at their trial not as pacifists but as
objectors and, specifically, as opponents of the occupation. They
their conscience left them no choice but to refuse to enlist. The
the three military judges was pronounced in a crowded courtroom in
judges found the accused guilty of "a very grave crime which
manifest and concrete danger to our existence and our survival". This
statement is highly revealing of the mindset of the judges. In the
it is suffused with sanctimonious self-righteousness, depicting
judges wrote in their ruling that the sentence was intended to serve as
warning to others, especially in the light of the spate of reservists
elite units refusing to serve. In other words, the judges hoped that
such a savage sentence would silence criticism of the army and deter
Israelis. Their reasoning betrayed their provenance as little cogs in a
and heartless bureaucratic-military machine.
O utside the courtroom, in an impromptu press conference, the refuseniks declared that they were proud of their actions and that they could continue to challenge the occupation until it ends. "We are being punished for saying the word occupation. So here I say it again: occupation, occupation, occupation," said Matan Kaminer. "They commit war crimes and they expect us to keep silent," added Haggai Matar. "But we will not be silent. We will speak out against the occupation even when we pay a price."
lucidity, wisdom and courage of these young Israelis are impressive by
standard. All are patriots who love their country and are anxious to
but only in a constructive civilian capacity and only inside its
borders. They have chosen the hard way to fight for their ideals when
way out was available to them. They are a beacon of honesty, decency
in a society that has lost its soul as a result of a prolonged, brutal
Sharon's brand of Zionism can only lead to more violence and bloodshed,
refuseniks hold out hope that
of the five have prepared a petition to be sent to