Adam Maor and Matan Kaminer were among five young Israelis sentenced to two years in jail for refusing to serve in the Israeli army in the Occupied Territories — and possible further jail time if they continued to refuse.
An international campaign — as part of which Solidarity and Workers’ Liberty members in London picketed the Israeli Embassy regularly for a period of months — won early release for the five, on 15 September, and then, on 20 September, exemption for them from all further army service.
Adam and Matan were in London for the European Social Forum, and are now touring England to speak at meetings. They spoke to Martin Thomas.
Matan: There is one other case of a refusenik facing a long sentence, Yoni Ben Artzi. It is a complicated case. Yoni is a pacifist. We are not. We are what they call selective refuseniks.
The army theoretically treats the two things differently. Pacifists get exempted from military service, and selective refuseniks, who refuse only to serve in the Occupied Territories, do not.
With Yoni, the army refused to recognise that he is a pacifist. A court has decided that he is a pacifist, but sentenced him to two months in jail. There is an appeal going on now. He has spent over a year in jail.
Our early release was won by a campaign, in Israel and internationally, run by our parents. It had a petition with over 17,000 signatures. People sent letters to us supporting us.
Our cases went to an early release committee, which checks on behaviour in prison and the probability of recidivism. The army told them we would refuse to enlist again. The committee said that was a matter of what the army decided to do, and took one quarter of the time off our sentences.
Solidarity: How would you assess the impact of your stand on Israeli society?
Adam: I would like to say it’s quite big. The option of refusing was not common five years ago. Now it’s an option.
We take the blame away from the settlements and on to the army. It is easy for people in Israel, especially left-wing people, to blame it all on the settlers. But each and every one of us in the army is responsible for what the Occupation does.
Solidarity: What’s the state of the peace movement now in Israel?
Adam: Israel is slowly losing its hope. There was an assumption we could make a sort of semi-peace, and it has proved false. The Israeli left has got more leftish, and a lot deeper — but a lot smaller. To make progress we have to take the mass of the people a bit more to the left.
Solidarity: In the debate at the ESF, your support for “two states” got a lot of criticism. How would you respond?
Adam: Marwan Barghouti and I could make one state like that [clicking his fingers]. I would like to see the whole world become one state. But we have to look at reality. Israel and Palestine will unite into one state maybe 10 years after England unites into one state with India. One state is our destination. But if you say, make one state now, you are ignoring reality.
When some Israeli leftists go to the Occupied Territories and tell the Palestinians that we must have one state, the Palestinians reply: “Why can’t you just leave us alone for a while?”
Solidarity: How do you assess Ariel Sharon’s plan for “disengagement” from Gaza?
Matan: Sharon never said he wants peace. Sharon wants a compromise: giving up the Gaza Strip so he can keep the settlements in the West Bank. It’s a good thing that even Sharon sees that he can’t keep all the settlements.
Solidarity: But the Gaza plan has shifted Israeli political debate to the right, so that the axis now is whether or not the withdrawal of Gaza will be carried out, rather than whether the Palestinians’ right to a state is respected?
Matan: Yes, you could say that.
Solidarity: What do you hope to achieve by your tour in Britain?
Adam: To persuade British soldiers to do as we did — to refuse to fight in Iraq.
Matan: That would be good. But more realistically — the European left has its heart in the right place — with lots of enthusiasm and willingness — but my impression is that people do not know enough about the real situation. They simplify the problem and the solutions. Our contribution is, perhaps, to problematise everything a bit. We are Israelis who do not fit the usual scheme of what Israelis are. We can help people understand that any solution will not be perfect and that there will have to be lots of compromise on both sides.