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Courage to Refuse > Press > Israeli rebels with a cause - Jim Reed
Israeli rebels with a cause - Jim Reed 22/03/2004
 
 

One by one, the seven stood before their mainly Jewish audience and told their stories. They all underlined their commitment to Israel. They all emphasized that they loved their country and would fight to the death to defend it. But they all added that they believed deeply that the military campaign against the Palestinians and the occupation of the Palestinian Territories were illegal, immoral and useless. They all testified – and I think that's the right word – that

 On the weekend of March 13, the Chicago Tribune was putting the final touches on an exclusive story. A young American soldier, Sergeant Camilo Mejia, had made a decision to refuse to serve with the U.S. army in Iraq on grounds that the undeclared war and occupation there is illegal and immoral.

 

Across town that same weekend, there was an unusual gathering at the city's DePaul University. Seven Israeli soldiers were meeting with members of Chicago's Jewish community. The seven have all refused to serve with the Israeli army in the occupied Palestinian Territories. Their refusal, like that of the American GI, is based on the grounds that Israel's military occupation is illegal and immoral.

 

The seven Israelis have found backing from Jews in Chicago and they were in the United States to find ways of reaching out to the wider community.

 

 Among them was Chen Alon from Tel Aviv. He's a battle-hardened officer who rose to the rank of major in Israel's tank corps. He talked about his experience on the battlefield and said that he reached his decision during what he calls his "moment of truth."

 

Major Alon and men under his command were chasing a suspicious Palestinian boy through the narrow alleyways of a refugee camp. When the boy reached his home, the door opened and the boy's father pleaded with the soldiers not to beat his son, saying that he would do it for them.

 

As the young Israeli officer watched the Palestinian father beating his own son, he made the decision to leave the Territories and never again serve there as a soldier.

 

Shortly after he made his decision public, he was arrested and served time in prison. He had become a "refuser." Now, Alon devotes much of his time to helping others like himself, through an Israeli organization called Courage to Refuse. They get help from Chicago's Refuser Solidarity Network (RSN).

 

 For different reasons, a young Chicago Jew named Steven Feuerstein came to the same conclusion as Major Alon – that the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza was wrong. He came to believe that the actions of the Israeli military were hurting Israel and hurting Judaism and were, in fact, accomplishing nothing of value. As an American Jew he felt an obligation not just to speak out, but to actually do something concrete.

 

Feuerstein was reinforced in his belief when he became aware of the growing number of Israeli soldiers who were refusing to serve in the Palestinian Territories. That awareness led him and a few friends to establish RSN as a vehicle for providing moral as well as financial support for the soldiers. The group reached a plateau of sorts on the weekend of March 13, 2004, by sponsoring the largest gathering of refusers outside of Israel itself.

 

One by one, the seven stood before their mainly Jewish audience and told their stories. They all underlined their commitment to Israel. They all emphasized that they loved their country and would fight to the death to defend it.

 

But they all added that they believed deeply that the military campaign against the Palestinians and the occupation of the Palestinian Territories were illegal, immoral and useless. They all testified – and I think that's the right word – that the army's actions seemed directed mainly at harassing Palestinians and was doing little to improve Israel's security.

 

On the contrary, they said that in their opinion it was making Israel less secure in the long run. They worried, too, that the occupation was devaluing and debasing the great past record of the Israeli defence forces and hurting Judaism.

 

Major Alon, whose father also served in the Israeli army, said something that was echoed by the other men. "I got tired of invading Palestinian homes in the middle of the night, and tired of humiliating them and intimidating their children. For what? To protect a bunch of fanatical settlers living in subsidized, illegal settlements? No."

 

 The stories of these young men had a visibly moving effect on those who attended. One of the delegates to the conference, Rabbi Lynne Gottleib, visits Israel every year. She also visits the Occupied Territories. She loves Israel, she says, but is appalled by the destruction she sees in the Territories, not just of homes and other buildings, but of a whole society and a whole people. "I weep every day from the moment I arrive until I leave," she says.

 

To many in Israel, the refusers are considered heroes. Their example has led to a movement amongst high school seniors, called Shiminstim. These are teenagers who refuse to serve in any capacity and who are seeking Conscientious Objector status. Some have taken up residence in the United States in order to avoid going to jail. Five are now serving a one-year sentence in Israel. Hundreds of others have either left Israel, or are planning to leave.

 

The seven soldiers who came to Chicago say that they are just the tip of the refusal iceberg. There are at least 1,200 others who have taken the same stand, including more than two dozen pilots and more than a dozen members of Israel's elite Special Forces. The consequences of refusal can be severe.

 

Some have been spit on or called Nazis; others, even those who have been decorated for bravery, have had their manhood questioned. They are accused of aiding the enemy and betraying their country.

 

All the refusers agreed that being expelled from the military and serving time in jail is hard. They don't like being called self-haters and traitors. But in the words of one recent refuser, "it's much harder seeing your country go down the drain."

 

Link to the article: http://www.cbc.ca/news/viewpoint/vp_reed/20040322.html

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