By Rami Kaplan
Democracy, like statehood, is a system whose purpose is to organize society more justly, to maximize the freedoms and welfare of its people. It is not an end unto itself, but the most efficient tool that man has founded to create an ethical society. Using this logic, a democracy is just and its decisions are to be followed, only as long as it is working towards this instrumental goal. As such, it is clear that in a democratic country, obedience is not required in actions that are completely immoral.
A man, of the importance of the patriarch Abraham, who according to the bible is the ultimate example of belief, went to sacrifice his son Isaac without the slightest hesitation after being commanded to do so by God himself. It is not likely that Abraham would have agreed to sacrifice Isaac if this order was given by a human, no matter what the reason was. Human beings, unlike God, are liable to err, and history has shown us over and over again that they do so frequently. Likewise, it is clear that one cannot expect a citizen of the democratic State of Israel to follow an order to sacrifice their son, because it was sent to them in the mail by the Interior Ministry or even from the Prime Minster. In such an absurd example, it is clear that the recipient would refuse to obey this "democratic" order, and no sane person could condemn him for that. Obedience in a democracy has it limits, there is no question about that; the question is, where are the limits. There are those that would say sacrificing a child surpasses those limits, and there are those that would say, that in some circumstances, even sacrificing a cousin.
The citizens of Israel did not vote in the last elections in favor of blocking an ambulance carrying a woman giving birth at some roadblock in the territories. This specific situation was not presented to any voter when he stood at his voting station. The voters decided with their vote between general ideas, whether hawkish or dovish. After the prescribers of one of the views won democratically, and became leaders, they began to act according to their views. With the help of some pragmatic political decisions, they began to move the grand and complicated mechanisms of the country and its organizations, one of which is the army. Structurally, it is clear that in at least some areas of this large bureaucratic operation things are not managed exactly as the voters planned they would be, if they were asked each question separately, and sometimes exactly opposite to the intentions of the democracy.
It is a fact, for example that every day the courts are overturning administrative decisions made my governmental bodies on very fundamental issues. The possible reasons for the country to stray from the democratic direction are many and varied - character of those in power, disruptions in communication, existing organizational structures, conflict of interests and many others - failures that are unavoidable when talking about huge organization. Because of this unavoidable distortion, the democratic job of the responsible citizen does not end with a vote on Election Day, but has to continue all the time as a continuous critique of the actions of the country, where the guidelines are the law and one's conscience. If the citizen is requested to obey actions of the country that are done without authority - he will go to the court to release him of this obligation. If he is required to obey an action that is within its authority but goes against the spirit of the democracy - he is allowed to refuse to carry out the order after he has considered it thoroughly, if he conscience tells him to do so unequivocally.
This is one of the methods of restraint that cannot be given up on in a democracy - a problematic process, a gray area that can be operated under in extreme cases. This is also the rationale that stands on the base of the clause, "a manifestly illegal command." Without the presence of such a system, the massacre in Kfar Kasem¹ is liable to be repeated, and as the history of the 20th Century teaches us, even bigger disasters are liable to happen. Different societies in this century have recognized too late that they are being dragged into a disastrous process of suffering and moral bankruptcy, because no one from within stood up in time to warn them or refuse to be part of the action.
Soldiers and officers that are signed on the Combatant's Letter are identifying that the Israeli Occupation in the territories is one of these disasters - an occupation that is becoming 100 percent "manifestly illegal". The Occupation that has continued for 35 years has lowered the Palestinian population to the worst possible human conditions by any standard - their lives, their time, their health, their education, their happiness and their pride has been abandoned and crushed under the army boots of this occupation. Under the guise of strategic decisions, basic rules of ethics are being violated every minute - whether by shooting at the legs or at the head of a 7-year-old child or by unrestrained and unethical cutting down of orchards and houses and whether by "sticking it" daily to a population who stand many long and frustrating hours in a traffic jam caused by a checkpoint. The continuing Occupation does not spare the side of the occupier either, and it is continuing to destroy the Israeli society until we fear that we will become indifferent and blind more and more to the cruel actions that are being done in its name for us.
The Jewish ethical values and the democracy that we were educated on, do not allow us to be at peace with the actions that we are being asked to do in the territories. We are refusing to become Caligula for 25 days a year. We are demanding our right to live in our country as human beings, created in the image of God.
¹ Kfar Kasem is an Arab-Israeli village. In 1956 Israeli soldiers massacred tens of inhabitants of this village, who violated a curfew, which they hadn't been aware to. The soldiers who followed a command that was given to them, were post factum sentenced for obeying a "manifestly illegal command" - a concept that was introduced for the first time by court, to the Israeli law.