Published in the International Herald Tribune on Tuesday, April 30, 2002.

Saying 'no' to oppression

Rami Kaplan

Israel's occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip can in no way be considered democratic. It oppresses 3.5 million people, denying them their basic human rights. My refusal to militarily participate in this occupation, on the other hand, is most certainly a democratic act.

It exercises my right to protest, as I strive to hold on to the values of justice and peace, and it sends a message to my government that it cannot use me as a tool for attaining every goal it decides upon. In doing so I am fulfilling my obligations as a moral citizen of the world. Every man and woman must decide where the boundaries of conscience lie, and my conscience does not permit me to fight today in the occupied territories.

The refusal of the 435 signatories to the "Courage to Refuse" letter, is a refusal to fight for continuation of the occupation, or, more precisely, for continuation of the settlements. It is a refusal to fight in a war of choice fueled by an extremist messianic ideology.

Make no mistake, Israel has no other reason for remaining in the occupied territories than to preserve the existing settlements, even when they are deep within Palestinian centers of population. Maybe the Palestinians are not interested in peace - one of the most commonly heard justifications for our recent invasions - and truly want to push us into the sea. Even then, we would be much better off defending ourselves from the 1967 borders rather than from inside the narrow alleys of Jenin, Ramallah and Bethlehem. This is why I think that the occupation runs against the most basic interests of the state of Israel, even to the extent of threatening its very existence.

As a concerned and involved citizen in a democratic regime, I see it as my right and duty to do all I can to save my country, the country I am willing to die for, from this dizzy descent into violence and mayhem.

This kind of struggle is not one to wage alone, and so when I heard that a group of reserve officers were organizing with the intention of publishing an open letter stating their categorical refusal to don their uniforms in the service of the occupation, I knew I had to join them.

For me, as for the others who have signed our letter, the decision was at once terribly difficult yet glaringly simple.

Difficult, because I am a Zionist. I served in the standing army for six years, and have since spent upward of 50 days a year in the reserves, and I have always equated love of the country with loyal service in the army. It was difficult to break rank, to look my fellow officers and soldiers in the eye and tell them that I would not join in their next campaign, in the war for the settlements, a war we chose, not one we had forced upon us.

Yet the decision was also easy. Both as a democrat and as a patriot, I had no other choice. It took me a long time to realize, to understand that not everything I learned during my long years as an officer was correct. The turning point was a tour of duty in the Gaza Strip a year ago. My soldiers committed no atrocities, but I could see the futility of our military presence there, and the daily injustices inherent in it.

Today I stand firm, confident that I am doing the right thing, hopeful that the group of soldiers currently demonstrating their tremendous courage to refuse, and spending long weeks in military prisons as a result, will help bring an end to the occupation.

The occupation is destroying Israel from within, it is destroying the Palestinians, and it is destroying those two nations' common future.

Rami Kaplan