On 4 January five Israeli Conscientious Objectors - Noam Bahat, Matan Kaminer, Adam Maor, Haggai Matar and Shimri Tsameret - were sentenced by a military court to a second year in military jail. They have refused to enlist in the Israel army (IDF) while it remains an occupation force.
It is not usual for conscripts and reservists who refuse to serve to be treated so harshly. "Refuseniks" are jailed but not for such long periods. Many young Israelis get out of their military service. Around 10% claim "psychiatric" problems. Others who do not want to go to the Occupied Territories are assigned to other duties. Just 50% of the population liable for enlistment finish their obligatory two years (for women) or three years (for men).
The army has, to a certain extent, turned to blind eye to these "grey refuseniks". But the way these five have been treated suggests the army also fears the general phenomenon of "refusing". Since the beginning of the second intifada (September 2000) some 1000 men and women have made it a political choice not to serve in the Occupied Terriotries. Around 280 of these served jailed sentences. The treatment of these five young men is very different. They are being made an example of.
The Refusers Parents Forum is an informal organisation of friends and relatives of the five and they have started a petition calling for the Government to free the conscientious objectors. The petition text, details of the trial, their testimonies and all the background is available on:
Why we refuse to serve
Extract from Adam Maor's testimony in Court
The evening I decided to refuse to serve in the Israeli army I was at my fathers house and I watched my one year old brother, Daniel, making his first steps. No words can describe my feelings at that moment but I remember picturing him immediately reading, writing and playing music and imagining the trips we would take together. In the background the Israeli television reported the events of the week. It was Friday night, and I saw Palestinian children throwing stones at monstrous Israeli tanks and being shot at in return. Huge sophisticated military vehicles were busy destroying the infrastructure of what remained from the Palestinian cities, including schools and hospitals. Dozens of people were killed and injured every day.
That night I realized that joining the army means robbing these children of whatever I was dreaming for my brother. Even the most basic things without which we cannot imagine our daily life, are robbed from them: housing, food, entertainment, health and personal safety. I could never say that I love my brother, I could never dream a happy childhood for him, if I take part in a system that oppresses other children.
Terror affects our lives in every possible domain and causes the deterioration of Israeli society. The continuation and maintenance of the Occupation are the continuation and maintenance of terror. Time and again I have been deceived by Israeli leaders who promised us peace and did not keep their word. I am watching the downfall of the state of Israel and I don't want to contribute to this downfall.
I don't know what the Israeli government is trying to achieve in its continuous refusal to end the occupation, or in persisting in committing the most horrible crimes against the Palestinian population. Is it the wish to create a voluntary transfer or to break the spirit of the Palestinian people and their aspirations for independence and freedom? I do not know. All I know is that only evil can come out of these evil, corrupt and immoral actions. I cannot take part in it.
Extract from notes on the testimony at court-martial of Matan Kaminer
Soldiers of an occupying army are in an impossible situation. They are men of war, trained to deal with other men of war. They are not social workers, doctors, lawyers, judges or mayors, but they are many times given responsibilities which only such professionals should wield. As men of war, they use the tools known to them: the command, the emotional distance, the threat, the gun. When they become sadistic, this is not because of some basic evil which was in them beforehand, but because of their lack of freedom, as soldiers of occupation, to treat people as people. This is why they shout, beat, humiliate and murder. They get screwed up inside and go home.
I did not decide to refuse in one day. I went through the first military tests, believing I would find a way to serve without participating directly in the dirty machine of occupation, and that if I had to refuse an immoral order I would know to do so and face the consequences, all within the framework of the army. But with time, with the worsening of the oppression in the Territories and the loss of the peace horizon during the intifada, I began to understand that my conscience would never make it possible for me to participate, even indirectly, in the work of occupation.
I am not against the state of Israel, the people in Israel or Israeli society. My conscience commands me to do all I can for Israeli society - my society. I've done so in the past and shall continue to do so in the future. The occupation is a terrible crime, immoral, malignant, a crime against another society whose nasty fingers are penetrating our own society and poisoning it.
"Breaking the mirror will not hide the facts"
From the Refusers Parents Forum petition
As we see it, your government is jailing [them] because of their convictions!
These young men chose to tell the truth -that it is against their conscience to do what your government wants the army to do. They believe that the army should not be a tool for oppressing another people. The Israeli Army should exist for one purpose only - that of genuine defense. But its present purpose and conduct is the opposite: by maintaining the seemingly endless occupation of the Palestinian Territories and denying the Palestinians their most basic human rights, it also destroys the Israeli society, its moral values, its economy, and yields terror attacks. This is no defense army. Indeed, the young draft resisters are willing to serve their society in an alternative, civil service.
We understand that it is particularly hard for your government to hear the voice of conscience - but breaking the mirror will not hide the facts. Inflicting harsh prison sentences only serves to arouse the protest of all those who are beyond the reach of your intimidation.
Release the five conscientious objectors NOW!
Motion for union branches
Solidarity are helping to circulate the Refusers Parents Forum petition. Already the Communication Workers Union has backed the campaign. We will publish regular updates of support in this country. Use this text in your union branch or student union to get support for the five. Please also ask for donations to the campaign.
Five young Israelis, Noam Bahat, Matan Kaminer, Adam Maor, Haggai Matar and Shimri Tsameret, were sentenced on 4 January 2004 to another year in jail for their continued refusal to serve in the Israeli army in the Occupied Territories.
We therefore resolve:
- To add our name to the petition demanding that the refuseniks be released from jail;
- To affirm our view that the Israeli army should withdraw from the Occupied Territories and allow the Palestinian people to set up a state of their own, with the same rights as Israel;
- To communicate this decision to our union's National Executive, to the Israeli Embassy, and to the Palestinian General Delegation in London.