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(en) Israel, the repression against teen refusnics intensify

From Ilan Shalif <gshalif@netvision.net.il>
Date Thu, 26 Jun 2003 12:02:11 +0200 (CEST)

A - I N F O S N E W S S E R V I C E

The initiative of 12th grade high schoolers of more the 2 years old
reach a new level.

The new "wave" of teens refusnics of mandatory service in the army
was initiated about two years ago by young anarchists who succeeded
to draw to it nearly 100 high schoolers.

At the beginning the army used to arrest the young refusnics for few periods
in military prison that summed to about 3 months and then released them as unfit.
As the number of refusnics grew, and their influence on others who evaded
military service in non direct ways (medical and mental excuses), the
army decide to replace the administrative sanctions that are limited to less
than a month in prison each time, with court martial that can result in
up to 3 years prison verdict.

The court martial drag for months, and following is a sample of the proceedings
taken from alternative electronic media.

June 24, 2003

Dramatic days at the Jaffa Military Court. Today: three young refusniks
delivered stirring, hours-long anti-occupation addresses of a kind never
before heard in an Israeli military court. It followed yesterday's session
of the resumed Ben-Artzi Trial, in which the prosecution ties itself in
knots trying to prove that a pacifist is not a pacifist.

[] June 23, Ben Artzi's court martial
the prosecutor's predicament
[] June 24, court martial of "The Five"
the occupation in the dock

\\// //\\ \\// //\\ \\//

[] June 23, Ben Artzi's court martial
the prosecutor's predicament

As the court martial of Yoni Ben-Artzi resumes, a disappointment: two
intriguing witnesses who were expected, didn't show up. Colonel
Shlomi Simchi - head of the army's Conscience Committee, which
persistently refused to recognize Ben Artzi as a pacifist - was "too
busy" and would come on a different occasion.

The same with Brigadier Avi Zamir, Deputy Head of Manpower, who
had tried to negotiate with Ben-Artzi on "easy terms of service" and
when that failed ordered Ben-Artzi court-martialed.

The first witness who appears: Ruti Ben-Artzi, sister of the accused,
who came over from Columbia University in the US where she is
completing a PhD. in Political Science.

"I am twelve years the elder; I know Yoni since I helped change his
diapers and have followed closely his development. Already in the
highschool he objected to lectures by officers who came to the school
to prepare children for military service. Nor did he want to take part in
school outings to the Mount Herzl National Cemetery and the like.And
I witnessed myself how deeply he was moved when the family visited
Verdun, France and saw these terrible cemeteries with hundreds of
thousands of mostly anonymous tombstones. 'How futile, the Germans
and French killing each other, and now they use both the same
currency.' I see it that he came back from France a determined pacifist"

The prosecutor his cross-examination tries to trip her up on many
minor details. "Is it not true that your father described this a bit
different, three years ago in a newspaper interview? And how come
your grandfather thinks maybe just afraid?" (The extremely
heterogeneous Ben-Artzi family is much sought-after by the press.)

Then, Yoni Yechezkel - a refuser who shared prison terms with his
namesake and who last week got a sudden and unexpected discharge
from the Conscience Committee (the first applicant to gain an
exemption since the committee was formed in 1995). The questions of
Adv. Michael Sfard reveal a refusnik of quite different style, a bit flippant
one who frequently went AWOL, played a kind of cat and mouse game
with the military authorities and had been quite frankly willing to make
all kind of compromises ("I told the army I don't care what way they get
me out, Conscience Committee, Incompatibility Committee,
psychiatrist - whatever they choose, but they will never make a soldier
out of me").

Also Yechezkel was cross-examined, and the prosecutor - who tries
so assiduously to disprove Ben Artzi's pacifist credentials - was now
in the opposite role of bolstering Yechezkel's. But he was unconvincing
in trying to show that Yechezkel is more of a pacifist than the punctual
and principled Ben Artzi.

[] June 24, court martial of "The Five"
the occupation in the dock

For a whole hour, before the scheduled time of today's trial, dozens of
youths lined the sidewalk in front of the building, holding up placards
and chanting "Occupation is Terrorism! - The refuser is a hero!"

Long before the judges came in, the small courtroom was filled far
beyond capacity with many envious activists left outside.

When the five accused filed in, they were greeted with
prolonged applause.

Adv. D. H. started by outlining the main defence line. "This trial is
not about technicalities and obscure points of the law. This trial is
about a major constitutional issue which no Israeli court has dealt with
before. The conscience is the most basic part of human dignity, the
part of the personality which defines the essential values; the part
which if broken, breaks the whole person. It is the contention of the
defence in this trial that Freedom of Conscience is already enshrined in
israeli law and has been for the last ten years, ever since the Knesset
adopted the Basic Law on Human Dignity and Liberty - even though the
military authorities so far did not take proper cognizance of the fact.
The defence asks the court's indulgence in listening to the five
accused. Each one should have the full possibility of showing that his
decision to refuse military service does indeed proceed from deeply
held convictions - the dictates of his conscience."

The first to take the stand is CO Haggai Matar.
He speaks out of his already considerable personal experience with
the occupation, to which he adds long quotes from the reports of
human rights organizations as well as stories which he heard from
military prison cell-mates who have been to the territories.

"In 1999, I joined a special of joint summer studies by Israeli,
Palestinian and Jordanian pupils. Soon afterwards I started
correspondence with a Palestinian Administrative Detainee who was
held in an Israeli prison for six years without trial. When at last he was
released I visited him in a house riddled by Israeli bullets and with
broken furniture.

I joined actions of the Gush Shalom and Ta'ayush movements. We
went to the territories to rebuild houses demolished by the army, to
provide humanitarian help in towns hit by closure or curfew, to support
Palestinian villagers who have been violently assaulted by settlers.
Always, soldiers tried to block us and in many cases used violence
against us.

In 2001, I met again with some of the Palestinian pupils of the summer
camp and they told harrowing stories of being beaten up and arrested
by soldiers. One told of witnessing his friends in Ramallah being shot
to death.

On August 20, 2002, three days before I was due to present myself for
enlistment, i and several other activists got an emergency call to go to
Yanoun Village, a tiny place where settlers have so terrorized the
inhabitants that the Palestinians all left. We came there and the empty
houses were terribly depressing and somber sights. We were very
happy that due to our presence the people started coming back.

With all my experiences, I had no doubt: I absolutely don't want to be
and can't be part of the Israeli army which I don't think has any longer
the right to call itself an army of defence."

[The above is excerpted from a two-hour speech; full text in Hebrew
and English available from Anat Matar <matar@post.tau.ac.il>]
The philosophical analysis of CO Matan Kaminer, next in line, was no
less impassioned.

"In this testimony I would like to describe the guiding lines of my
conscience and explain why it is incompatible with service in today's
Israeli army. For some people the basic value from which their
conscience is derived is God's word. For others it is loyalty to their
country. For me the basic value is human liberty, human rights.

I believe that all human beings have inalienable rights such as the right
to life, the right to equality, to welfare, to education, to association, to

All of these rights are violated in countless ways by the occupation -
mainly violated as regards the Palestinians, but in many ways also
regarding Israelis.

The right of Palestinians to life is violated by the policy of liquidations
(which indirectly causes also the loss of Israeli life, as we saw last
week), and by the constant military activity in populated areas which
causes the death and wounding of civilians.

The right to equality, both of Palestinians and of Israelis living within
the Green line is violated by the policy of settlement which takes land,
resources and basic human dignity from Palestinians and which
discriminates against most israelis in the division of national resources.
The right of Palestinians to welfare and to education are violated by
the ongoing closures and curfews which cause the sky-rocketing
unemployment figures and the severe disruption of the educational

The most fundamental, though not necessarily the most directly
painful, is the violation of the right to live in democracy. The very very
rule over another people which is denied the right to control it's own life
and future is a flagrant violation of that right, and after 36 years the
pretense that the occupation is temporary wears thin.

The contempt for democracy is gradually crossing into Israel proper,
with racist extreme right parties becoming an acceptable and common
component of government coalitions.

The deprivation to the right of democracy of the Palestinians is the root
cause of all the crimes which accompany the occupation - both the
crimes of the occupier of which I described part, and the crimes of the
occupied, pushed to immoral and inhuman ways of struggle. Neither
set of crimes is in any way justified. Both are direct derivatives of the
occupation and can only be abolished by the occupation itself.

>From all of this, it logically follows that service in the army, which is
the main instrument for implementing the occupation is totally against
my conscience. My decision to refuse enlistment does not mean that i
am against the state of Israel, against the people in israel, or against
the Israeli society of which I am part. On the contrary, I feel impelled to
do all i can for the Israeli society. I did it in the past and intend to go on
doing it. The occupation is a terrible crime; an immoral and malignant
crime against another society which spreads also to our own society,
strangling and poisoning it.

Obviously, in such a situation i can't go into the army. I can only ask
that my conscience be recognized and that i be provided an
opportunity to do alternative civilian service for the benefit of the Israeli

At three in the afternoon it was the turn of Shimri Tzameret, whose
testimony was interrupted by the court adjourning at 5 pm.

"Already for years I know that i am not going to join the army. I know it
with as much certainty as I know that I will never kick a homeless
person lying on the sidewalk, never rape a woman, and when I will have
a child - never abandon it.

We all of us have our own reasonings and my reasons are a bit
different from those who spoke before me. I feel that there is no need to
detail what the occupation is doing to the Palestinians. What it is
doing to ourselves is reason enough.

First I want to talk about the suicide bombings. It is a very central part
of our life here in this country and many of us are touched personally in
one way or another. It happened a bit more than a year ago, exactly on
the day when i decided to tell my schoolmates that i am going to
refuse to serve in the army, that a suicide bombing happened in which
the mother of one of the girls in the school was killed. And later on the
day it turned out that her sister was killed as well.

It brought home to me what does it mean, that the life of this girl whom
I knew will never be the same again; how terrible it is when something
like this is suddenly breaking in to a life. Some of my schoolmates
were angry with me; they said: how can you refuse to go to the army
when such things happen. I told them: that is exactly the reason that i
am refusing: the army being in the territories is not a way to stop
terrorist attacks; it causes them. Exactly because I told Merav that i
feel committed to do whatever I can to prevent such things from
happening again to others, I feel that one of the most important things
which I as an individual can do, is refusing to serve in the army.

After all, everybody knows how the present situation will end: always in
the last centuries the rebellion of an occupied people eventually ended
in its freedom. The only question how much time it will take, and how
many more casualties there will be. I try to make both a bit less.
Another point: what the occupation is doing to our society. I want to
tell about Rami, whom i met in the prison. I sat with him for hours,
listening. It is incredible how many terrible things he had witnessed in
just three months of service in the territories.

He told me about the young boy who threw a stone at the lieutenant-
colonel's jeep which did not hit but the colonel still chased the child,
caught him and beat him brutally with the butt of a rifle. And another
child which a Shabak agent tied up, and then urinated on him. When
Rami tried to protest the man shouted: go away; i am conducting an
interrogation. And he also told me soldiers looting a shop, and then
destroying everything which they could not carry. And he told me about
how he could not stand it anymore, and how he sat in the toilet for
several hours in the night, the barrel in his mouth, the finger on the
trigger. In the end he ran away, and that's how he got into prison.
That's what happens to the sensitive people. The non-sensitive ones,
those who get used to these Wild West norms, afterwards bring these
norms into the Israeli society itself. We are corrupting ourselves. I am
not willing to be part of the main instrument of corruption."

P.S.: On Wednesday, June 25, the court martial of CO Hillel Goral -
separated from the others and charged with desertion rather than
refusal. Meanwhile the Incompatibilty Committee, in a sudden outburst
of activity, granted discharge to Shmuel Baron and Shachar Ben-Har. It
seems that while the court martials are on, the army is trying to get rid
of the wave.

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