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An article by Dror Etzion
Dror Etzion

Background (Getting the preliminary stuff out of the way)

I am 34 years old, married, with a beautiful 4 month old daughter named Abigail.  I live in a small Moshav about 35 minutes drive north of Tel Aviv.  During much of my career, I have been working in the high-tech industry, but due to the meltdown of the past several years, I now find myself working in an international NGO (called 'The Natural Step') dedicated to improving the environmental and social responsibility of businesses. 

The occupation and me

I was never really a macho military combat guy, like many of the people in the movement.  In my military service I was part of Army Intelligence (an oxymoron, as the joke goes ), where I served for four years 1987 - 1991.  I served in a very professional unit, dedicated solely to gathering intelligence, working in a big underground bunker in a secret location, so I didn't get out much.

I've only had three real brushes with the occupation.  My basic training took place in the occupied territories, in 1987, just weeks after the beginning of the first Intifada.  It's hard to remember now, but before 1987 the territories were quiet, hardly anyone talked of them, and everything seemed normal.  Then suddenly all hell broke loose, and the establishment was taken by surprise.  Pretty much every soldier available was taken to try and stop the rioting.  Since we were in the middle of the territories, all the staff that was responsible for our training was immediately dispatched and we were pretty much stranded and left to our own for part of the basic training.  I remember they were afraid to let us out of the base for vacations, and cancelled the ceremony at the end of the training, because they didn't want family members to put themselves in danger when coming to visit. 

A more significant brush with the occupation took place during my officer training, in 1989.  At that time it was customary to take the trainees to two weeks occupation duty, which served two purposes beefing up the forces deployed there, and training the officers-to-be on getting the job done.  We were sent to a refugee camp in Dir el Balah, Gaza

I am amazed that only as time goes by do I realize the disgrace of my two weeks there.  Bear in mind that I was there in a relatively quiet period (the Intifada was two years old at the time, and had stabilized).  As a matter of fact, nothing at all irregular happened just some standard patrols and routine activities.

I remember our group of soldiers walking in formation in the dusty roads of the camp, and suddenly breaking into a run to chase down some boys who had thrown rocks at us.  I'm not good at guessing ages, but I think they were anything from  8 to 12 years old.  Our officer caught one of them, and we soldiers gathered around him.  He gripped the boy tightly by the left arm, and suddenly, out of nowhere, slapped him in the face HARD.  I'm a good boy, and I think that is the only direct act of real violence I have seen in my life.  I think that all the soldiers audibly gasped, realizing that they had just witnessed a taboo being broken, understanding that brutality, and a sheriff-like attitude of administering impromptu "justice" was being condoned, and actually taught to future officers of the IDF.  I don't recall what happened with the boy, I think after some more yelling and intimidation he was let go.

I remember other mundane incidents that we did entering a sleeping family's house at night, while they were sleeping, waking them up and searching their house.  Stopping passers-by on the street and ordering them to paint over anti-Israeli graffiti.  I remember myself so pissed at having rocks thrown at me that I personally ran at the head of a group to try to catch the kid.  I remember almost catching him, the adrenalin rushing through me, the shortness of breath as I stopped after losing him.  What would I have done had I caught him?  I like to think I would have come to my senses, but I don't know.

My last encounter with the occupation was in 1994, as a reservist.  We were told to guard a settlement near Ramallah, and to safeguard the bus routes around the settlements.  I was already a bit more politically aware at the time, and felt that something was wrong.  We got some specially configured Citroen cars, where a gunner could sit in the back facing backwards with a gun in his lap, and we would drive and drive and drive, trying to keep up with the buses.  Numbing routine, like almost all army work.  We hardly had any contact with the Palestinians.  The settlers tried to make us sympathetic to their cause, inviting us to their houses, asking about our well-being.  I was actually there during the Passover holiday, which is probably similar to Christmas in the Christian world, in that families come together for a traditional feast.  Since we were stuck in this settlement, the commanders arranged to have us visit families in the settlement and share the holiday spirit with them.  I decined, gathered some tin cans with terrible food, and hopped into a car with a Druze, the only other person who didn't want to be with the settlers, and we headed off to a secluded spot with a majestic view over the desert, to share spam and pickles, picnic style, as sunset fell and the starts came out.

One serious incident did occur, though.  Late one night, I was driving around with two other soldiers, when suddenly a huge boom startled me.  It took a second to register.  The whole windshield was shattered and I had zero visibility.  We were in a narrow road with apartment buildings on each side.  Stepping out, we realized that a building block had been thrown, with amazing accuracy, at the car, probably from one of the apartments.  If it hadn't been a bulletproof windshield, the block would have gone right through, of course.  (Now, ten years later, the attack would not have been so gentle it would most certainly have involved gunfire).  We didn't know what to do, of course, so we kicked out the windshield and sped home.  Later on, I learned that I had behaved totally improperly and was supposed to have hunted down the attacker.  Oddly, I have hidden, till this very day, the topic of this attack from my parents, over-protecting them from their over-protectiveness, as it were.

Seruv and me

Normally, my reserve duty does not take me to the territories.  I haven't been there since 1994.  I was summoned there in early 2003.  That's when I joined "Courage to Refuse", and signed the letter.  The movement helped me by providing some tips and background info. 

I was scheduled an interview with some Army commanders about a month before the reserve duty was supposed to take place.  Dozens of people waited in line to be interviewed as well.  All had family problems, work problems, health problems that seemed to warrant their dismissal from service.  Apparently, I was the only one who was a conscientious objector.  And an officer to boot.  The commander was very sincere and told me that personally he held the same opinions as myself, but did not allow his beliefs to infringe upon his army service.  We talked at length, and he suggested that I take a lesser role, participate only in daily rounds of patrols in the territories, and sleep each night at home.  He told me to think about it and let him know.  I got back to him a week later and said that it wouldn't work.  He said it was now out of his hands.  A week or two before the scheduled duty, I got a phone call saying I didn't need to go.

A few months later, I was called up again, but this time my wife was due to give birth, so they cancelled it immediately.

Finally I was rescheduled to go to the territories in November.  I went to the interview again.  This time, it was suggested that I just do 3 days, within Israel proper, to do some refresher training for the soldiers who would be doing the actual guarding of the settlements.  This put me in a tricky position.  On the one hand, this is obviously occupation related service.  On the other hand, Courage to Refuse official stance (and mine) is that we will do any military service as long as it is in Israel.  I eventually decided that I support the occupation in so many ways (taxes, commerce, doing some other reserve duty and freeing up a soldier to go to the territories ), that I decided to go ahead.  I dont know if I'd do I again.  I was proud, though, to see another soldier refuse.  He was sentenced to 24 days in jail.

14 Janaury, 2004

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