By Professor Baruch Kimmerling
Published in Kol HaIr, 22 March 2002

Today in Israel, there is no greater moral or democratic act than conscientious objection to serving in the Occupied Territories. Those who claim that objection comes from ideological and political motivations are indeed correct, because the military oppression of the Palestinians is indeed the heart of the issue. Objection is the step which works to fix the democratic regime in Israel - and not by subversion from underneath, but by repair (and not mere undermining) of the foundations for legitimacy on which Israel is founded.

Since 1967 Israel has ruled directly - and since 1994 indirectly - over millions of Arab residents lacking all civil and most basic human rights. On the one hand, Israel did not annex the Occupied Territories and their population (except for East Jerusalem and the Syrian Golan Heights), in order to keep from them civil rights - for example, the right to vote and be elected. On the other hand, Israel has taken freely use of all material and human resources (land, water, etc.) of the Territories as if they belonged to the Jewish state. As time passes and this situation has been institutionalized, Israel has ceased being a democratic state and become a Herrenvolk democracy. This is a regime in which part of its subjects (the citizens) enjoys full rights and another part (the non-citizens) enjoy none. The laws of Israel have become the laws of Master-people and the morality, the morality of lords of the land. The name of the game has become that in every matter and subject which it is comfortable for Israel, residents of the Territories are part of the State, in every matter and subject not comfortable for Israel, they are outside the state. This is a state with a double legal system, a double rule, and a double morality.

In this context, conscientious objection undermines all the logic of a regime which claims in the name of democracy, the obligation of obedience to its laws in precisely the same domain in which it is clearly undemocratic. Therefore it is no surprise that fingers were waved when the group of soldiers, as a group, declared their unwillingness to serve in the Occupied Territories. Up until now, most conscientious objection has been principally a gray and limited phenomena, and the powers that be have had varied tools for dealing with it. It is not a surprise that when disobedience became a public and group issue fingers were waved; such a declaration threatens to shake down the entire legal and moral house of cards built not only upon the regime of occupation but also on the general democratic character of the state.

One of the most refuted claims raised against the objectors has been the comparison to possible conscientious objection from the other side of the political map, or that the left-wing objectors grant legitimacy to the potential objection of the right when they will be given the order to dismantle settlements. In other words, with the principal of to each his own conscience, the entire military framework is cancelled out. This claim is correct but lacking in the true context of the situation both politically and morally. Orders given which continue and perpetuate the situation of Israel as a regime of master people have nothing to do with a lawful state, and disobedience to them turns objectors into moral initiators who come to repair the state's democracy. If an order to dismantle settlements will indeed be issued, it will be part of the democratization process of the state, and thus breech of such an order will be clearly illegal and immoral.

The general perverted position in Israel regarding conscientious objection is not merely a matter of isolated misunderstanding of the phenomena itself, but rather is part of the militaristic and colonial political culture. Thus there has never been a mass peace movement in Israel which has deserved to be called such. The power of the settler minority in Israel and its ability to hold the entire state in political and conceptual captivity, to set the national agenda, and most importantly to fix seemingly irreversible facts on the ground, stems from its willingness to work in the field and to take personal risks by sacrificing personal and family life to an ideological alter. The vast majority of the so-called "peace camp" have been arm-chair revolutionaries. They have write "courageous" articles in the papers and sometimes go out to demonstrate, but the vast majority have not been willing to make personal sacrifices for their conscience and for political and ideological fulfillment. This does not make their ideas less correct, but it does make them empty of power and political efficacy. However, this stems not only from personal comfort and unwillingness to pay a price for their beliefs, but principally because most members of the peace camp have been and are still partners with the radical and less radical right in the Israeli militaristic ethos. Striking example of this phenomenon is the extra-parliamentary working arm of the Labor and Meretz Peace Now movement.

When this organization refuses to adopt the idea of conscience objection in the name of a democracy that does not exist, and the fear of leaving the national consensus, it ceases being a peace movement. As a mater of fact, this movement becomes a collaborator with the occupying regime which exists and supports a democracy of Masters. It grants this regime legitimacy that no political body from the right would be able to grant them.