By Guy Grossman
For an Israeli officer, refusing to serve is one of the hardest decisions to make; in the current atmosphere of war, the pressure for solidarity is intense. Yet, at this time of crisis, it is a critical step to protect the very foundations of the state that I, as an Israeli, am sworn to defend. I was reared on the Zionist values of self-sacrifice and commitment to my people's national survival, as well as on universal values of justice and human rights. At 18, I volunteered for an elite Paratrooper unit, became an officer, and during my service spent 18 months in the occupied territories and three months in Lebanon. After four years of rigorous military service, I became one of Israel's 400,000 reserve soldiers, responsible for four to six weeks of duty a year.
The eleven-year journey from enthusiastic new recruit to refuser has been arduous and soul searching. It required challenging some of the cherished myths of my country as well as a painful shift in identity. I was a hero and now I am shunned, even called a traitor. But this step is necessary not only for my own conscience but also to protect the values on which Israel was founded.
I was the eleventh Israeli reserve officer to join "Ometz Le'sarev" (Courage to Refuse) and sign the declaration that "We shall not continue to fight beyond the 1967 borders in order to dominate, expel, starve, and humiliate an entire people…". At the same time, we declare our loyalty to the State and people of Israel and our willingness to "continue serving in the Israel Defense Forces in any mission that serves Israel's defense". This decision required difficult confrontations with family and friends, and a willingness to pay a high personal price. Some military comrades severed all ties with me, and 35 municipalities have decided not to employ refusers. As I write, 36 fellow refusers are serving sentences in military prison. Last week the Attorney General raised the stakes by proposing the much more serious charge of treason.
Renowned Israeli author Amos Oz recently wrote, "Two wars are being fought in this region. One is a just war, and the other is both unjust and futile." I am willing to fight the just war for the survival of Israel. I refuse, however, to fight for the continued occupation of Palestinian land. This war is unjust. It saps my country's sanity and morality and corrupts its soul. There is not and can never be a benign occupation. For 11 years my friends and I risked our lives and sanity to perpetuate this unbearable reality - the daily humiliations at checkpoints, the arbitrary closures, and the destruction of homes. I saw the kids grow up with hatred in their eyes. Eyes that I was ashamed to meet.
This war is also futile. During my service in the occupied territories, I realized that I was issuing commands with little bearing on the security of my country. Quite the opposite. As a patriot it is my duty to speak the truth and tell my people that this continued war of folly is undermining my country's long-term security. It erodes our legitimacy and the world's support. This "war for the settlements" does not deter the despicable scourge of Palestinian terror that strikes us almost daily in our buses, hotels, and restaurants. Indeed, we have relentlessly stirred a cauldron of uncompromising hatred, which is gradually turning potential neighbours and partners into relentless foes. This futile war is unwinnable - eventually we will withdraw and the Palestinians will have their state.
Confusing these two wars, the just and the unjust, exacts a terrible price. We fight in Jenin and Ramallah, but our politicians insist that that we are fighting the just war for our homes. Our leaders tell us that we will forever have to live by the sword, and that where force has failed, more force will succeed. But it is clear that all our tanks and fighter aircraft cannot impose a military solution to the conflict. Confusing these two wars endangers Israel's long-term security, which rests on two pillars: the legitimacy of our country and our military effectiveness. In fighting the unjust war, a war designed to delay the inevitable and defend the indefensible, we are eroding these fundamental pillars of security. We strengthen our enemies, lose international support, and, worst of all, weaken our own morale. Tanks and aircraft are only as strong as each individual soldier's belief in the justice and morality of the mission.
As a patriot it is my obligation to expose the confusion and say 'no' to the unjust war. I refuse to serve in the occupied territories. It is not only my democratic right to refuse, it is my duty. Ending the occupation and establishing secure, internationally recognized borders may not stop every terrorist attack, but will start the process of cooling the cauldron. It may not stop every military threat, but we will confront any threat with courage, conviction, and strong international support. This is the just war I stand ready to fight.
Our voice is growing louder every day. In January 54 reservists signed the initial "officers' letter" and today we number more than 412. We bring the message to our fellow citizens and American supporters that one can love Israel and yet criticize its misguided policies. We have seen the injustice and futility of the occupation with our own eyes, and refuse to participate any longer. We are articulating a different vision of Israel that draws from a proud Jewish and Zionist heritage. Refusal is not just saying NO; it is a patriotic way of saying YES to a secure, just, and prosperous State of Israel.