My young brother Eliyahu
Before you go to the next war,
think of the previous war or let me tell you
how Grandfather on Mom's side pulled out
all his teeth, anything so as not to go to Their war.
My young brother Eliyahu,
don't go to their war.
Yitzchak Laor, 1978.
[The poet was one of the first IDF reservists jailed in the early seventies for his refusal to serve in the occupied territories].
("There is a limit !") is an Israeli peace group that has shouldered the
task of supporting soldiers who refuse assignments of a repressive or
aggressive nature. The brutal role of the Israel Defence Force (IDF) in
subjugating the Palestinian population places numerous servicemen in a
grave moral and political dilemma, as they are required to enforce
policies they deem illegal and immoral. The army hierarchy demands
compliance, but many soldiers, whether conscripts or reservists, find that
they cannot in good conscience obey the orders of their
The current Palestinian intifada is not the first instance of such a predicament. Yesh Gvul was founded in response to the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon, as growing numbers of soldiers realized that the campaign, with its bloodshed and havoc, was an act of naked and futile aggression in which they wanted no part. Acting on their convictions, 168 servicemen were jailed, some repeatedly, for refusing to serve in the campaign: the actual number of refusals was far greater, but their rising numbers deterred the military authorities from prosecuting most of the refuseniks. The onset of the Palestinian intifada in 1987 prompted further refusals: the numbers imprisoned came close to 200, though here too, the army backed down from jailing many of the recalcitrant soldiers, suggesting that refusals may have been ten times more numerous. Significantly, a disproportionate ratio of refuseniks are combat officers (ranking from sergeant to major) i.e. soldiers who have served with distinction.
From its formation, Yesh Gvul set out to foster the refusal movement. Defying official intimidation - including intense surveillance by the police and security services - the group offered counseling to soldiers wrestling with the agonizing choice between serving policies they found abhorrent, or defying military discipline. To those who elected to refuse, Yesh Gvul extended unreserved moral and material backing, ranging from financial support for families of imprisoned refuseniks, to pickets at the military prisons where they were held. Whenever a refusenik was jailed, Yesh Gvul took action to bring his protest to the public notice, as a model for the broader peace movement, and for other soldiers in a similar dilemma.
Yesh Gvul is a small group with limited resources, human and financial alike. But the unique thrust of its campaign has had an electrifying effect on the broader peace movement, which drew inspiration from the moral example set by individuals prepared to suffer for their convictions. Other peace movements confined themselves to verbal protest, stopping short at the direct challenge to conventional authority represented by refusal. But Yesh Gvul rejected the "shoot-and-cry" syndrome; its own slogan - "We don't shoot, we don't cry, and we don't serve in the occupied territories !" - made the group a spearhead of the Israeli peace movement.
With members holding a variety of political views, Yesh Gvul is not bound to any specific peace program. Its immediate aim is to put an end to the misuse of the IDF (Israel Defense Force !) for unworthy ends, and terminate the occupation. The group is united on the "two-state" solution, as the key to a peaceful resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Lieut. (res.) David Enoch: (sentenced to 25 days in jail for refusing to serve in the Ramallah area): "I didn't want to refuse orders. I didn't look forward to this moment. If there had been any way to avoid it, I think I would have chosen it.... But there are times when there is no other choice but to refuse. That 'no choice' is the personal aspect of refusal. My red line isn't yours, and vice versa. But traversing that red line is a surrender of your personality, your uniqueness, your values, and above all, the dictates of your conscience. I wouldn't have refused any order to serve in the territories. But I was ordered to spend three weeks escorting and guarding settlers. I was to conduct body searches on Palestinian passersby, and carry out arrests whenever necessary. If I had done that, I wouldn't have been me."
"Selective refusal" is a uniquely Israeli concept, though sporadic protests on similar lines have been recorded in other armies. Selective refusal applies the principles of civil disobedience, as pioneered by Mahatma Ghandi and Martin Luther King Jr., to a military context. While acknowledging the legality of universal military service, it stresses the right and duty of every soldier to scrutinize the orders he receives, and reject assignments he finds morally or politically repugnant. Unlike pacifism or conscientious objection, selective refusal recognizes circumstances when force is legitimate, as in defense against external aggression, or in pursuit of national liberation from foreign tyranny. But it rejects the abuse of military might for unworthy ends, such as wars of aggression, or violent subjugation of a civilian population.
Refuseniks do not evade the consequences of their challenge to legal authority: defiance of the military hierarchy is overt and direct, accepting the painful personal consequences. Their willingness to pay the price imbues the refuseniks' protest with a moral and political effect out of all proportion to their number.
As well as inspiring the broad peace movement, refusal directly impacts policy makers, who have to take into account that the army is no tame "military machine" and its soldiers are not mere robots, "cogs in the wheel". On the admission of the then IDF commander, the rash of refusals was a key factor in inducing the army command to call off the 1982-84 Lebanon war. Further refusals during the first intifada helped convince Israeli leaders they could not crush the Palestinian uprising by military means, leading to recognition of the PLO and ushering in attempts at a political solution. In the current "al Aksa" uprising, scores of reservists have refused assignments, and for the first time, significant numbers of young conscripts have also refused to take part in official repression.
Yesh Gvul's efforts on behalf of the "refuseniks" has enjoyed the backing of sympathizers in Europe and the US. Groups and individuals dedicated to a peaceful solution of the Arab-Israeli conflict rallied to support Israelis jailed for resisting the repressive policies of their government. The support network included synagogues and churches, veterans' organizations, progressive Jewish groups and others.
Whenever a refusenik was jailed, one of the support groups was alerted, sparking a broad range of activities. Phone calls went out to the refusenik's family, and to the jail where he was held; the adoption group exerted political pressure with protests to the nearest Israeli diplomatic mission, while conducting extensive actions within its own community to highlight the existence in Israel of a solid body of opinion dedicated to peace. The adoption group also offered material assistance, raising funds to help the refusenik's dependents, and aid in Yesh Gvul's campaign. The support network has been invaluable in underpinning the efforts of Yesh Gvul for an end to the occupation and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
WE WON'T TAKE PART:
in a siege that deprives civilians of food, schooling and medical care; in a war over the settlements of Netzarim, Kfar Darom, Kiryat Arba and Psagot; a war that kills women, men, children and babies; THAT WAR IS NOT OUR WAR !!!
YESH GVUL Soldier, bear in mind: The Fourth Geneva Convention outlaws collective punishment, intimidation, terror or reprisals against civilians or their property; The Convention forbids infliction of physical suffering, torture, maiming or murder of civilians.
The Occupying Power must refrain from subjecting the occupied population to physical or moral coercion.
The Occupying Power must protect the inhabitants of the occupied territory from violence, threats or humiliation. (Appendix 61 to High Command Orders, collation of legal opinions no. 8, 1977, HQ of the Military Attorney General, 1979, p. 127.)
SOLDIER, WHERE ARE YOU HEADED ? On your way to serve in the occupied territories ? Perhaps to guard the settlers of Netzarim or Psagot ? Perhaps to reoccupy Nablus and the Gaza Strip ? In the service of that notorious "moderate", Ariel Sharon, to carry out his political plans ? Perhaps to put down the new intifada ? You'll do your job, of course, but will you do it willingly and wholeheartedly ?
If you're doing your conscript service, you've probably grasped that this will be your assignment till your release, in place of the "useful" and "meaningful" service you expected. If you're on reserve duty, you are among "the last of the just" still willing to suffer for the occupation and settlement adventures of our government.
Army service is always hard, but it can be morally depressing when you're sent to duties that only harm the country and its security. Guarding settlements is as "essential" as it once was to control Gaza and Nablus. Controlling Palestinian territory and population is "vital" as it was, prior to the Oslo accords, to control Ramallah and the Daheisheh refugee camp. Putting down the Palestinian uprising is "necessary" as it was once to break bones to crush the former intifada.
Remember, Israel withdrew from southern Lebanon and Joseph's Tomb in Nablus without the slightest harm to national security. Taking part in repressive operations drags us all into armed conflict with the entire Palestinian people, and later, could drag us down into total war with the entire Arab world.
Does the government have the right to deny the Palestinian population of the occupied territories its independence ? Does it have a mandate to drag us into a war of choice on behalf of the settlers of Netzarim and Kfar Darom, Hebron and Psagot ? Does it have a mandate to oblige you to act against the dictates of your conscience, against the Geneva Convention which bans a long list of the actions being carried out by IDF soldiers in the territories in the daily reality of occupation - actions the Convention specifies as war crimes ? Are you ready to have your children or grandchildren ask you if you took part in war crimes ?
Remember ! An Israeli court found - 40 years ago - that a soldier is forbidden to obey a flagrantly illegal order.
Don't take the risk of allowing some judge to find that you shared in carrying out such an order.
Remember ! The international community has recently indicted soldiers who committed war crimes in Serbia, Bosnia, Uganda, Chile and elsewhere. The sentences ran to long years of imprisonment. Would you want to risk it ?
There are instructions, orders and duties that are "legal" but immoral. The legislature, acting on ideological or pragmatic grounds, has legalised such flagrantly immoral acts. But is it moral in your eyes to subject a woman in labour to endless delay at a road block ? Is it moral in your eyes to conduct a body search on a woman who has just given birth at the road block, with the baby still attached to her by the umbilical cord ? Is it moral in your eyes to deny treatment to cancer patients ? Is it moral in your eyes to deny food and water supplies to Palestinian towns and villages ? Is it moral in your eyes to prevent hundreds of thousands of Palestinians from earning a decent living ? Is it moral in your eyes to repress the 1.5 million Palestinians of the Gaza Strip, merely to meet the whims of the 5,000 Jewish settlers of Gush Katif ?
Increasingly, soldiers are asking themselves what they are willing to kill or die for. We are all committed to defending the security and independence of the state of Israel, but are we willing to kill or die for the settlers of Beit Hadassah and Tel Rumeidah (Hebron) ? Are we willing to do so merely to deny statehood to the neighbouring nation, or postpone its declaration of independence by a few months ?
Dear soldier, there are things - even if termed "legal" - that decent people don't do ! A decent person doesn't demolish homes, or kill children, women and babies, or starve a neighbouring people or deny proper medical treatment to individuals just like me and you.
"[When it comes] to the Hague International Court, Sharon will arrive there without me." (Transport minister Ephraim Sneh (Yediot Aharonot, 20/4/01) What about you, soldier ?
WHAT CAN YOU DO ?
We don't have a "surefire recipe". Make up your own mind, follow your conscience, your heart and mind. We won't decide in your place. We can only tell you that there have been very many soldiers - during the Lebanon war, the first intifada and the current uprising, conscripts and reservists - who plucked up the courage to say: No !
Whoever decides to refuse - makes his own decision. But when he does make up his mind, he'll find us extending a helping hand and counsel, supporting and helping.
YESH GVUL PETITION - sign and mail it in:
Despite a semblance of Palestinian autonomy - on just one fifth of the occupied territories - the occupation goes on and on. Over thirty years of occupation and repression have not halted the Palestinian campaign for national independence. The war conducted by the Israeli government for the lands of Ariel and Bethel, in defence of the pogromists of Itamar and Beit Hadassah, for the continued occupation of Netzarim and Kiryat Arba, for the continued hold on Rachel's Tomb - all this is not our war. We the undersigned, IDF soldiers, declare that we will have no part in the continued repression of the Palestinian people in the occupied territories, and we will take no part in policing assignments or guarding the settlements serving those ends.
[A list of signatories, many specifying officer's ranks in the reserves.]
Address: PO Box 6953, Jerusalem 91068, ISRAEL
Telephone: + 972 2 6250271
Fax: + 972 2 6434171
Bank account: Yesh Gvul, Acct no. 366614. Bank Hapoalim, King George St. Branch (690), Jerusalem, Israel.