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Ever since my friends have heard that I signed the ‘courage to refuse’ letter, they keep raising the argument that a soldier can always refuse to obey certain commands above which ‘hangs a black flag.’ But whoever says that, does not understand that one big black flag hangs above all military activities in the Occupied Territories.

I will provide an example familiar to any soldier who has served in the Territories: manning an observation post on the roof of a civilian house. One might claim that no clear ‘black flag’ hangs above this activity, but I remember well my first observation post, in the town of Halhul near Hebron.

First, the external walls of the house were black with coffee leftovers spilled by the soldiers from the roof. The yard was full of shit and toilet papers because it served as the soldiers’ latrine. On the roof there were piles of trash and empty cans. The military vehicle bringing every new shift in would shatter the pavement and entrance to the house. When a shift changed at 2 AM, all the tenants would wake up, and since there was a baby in the house he would start wailing.

I remember the look on the face of the tenants whenever I bumped into them on the stairway: a look of humiliation.

At face value, it was not a ‘black flag’ situation. But in fact, a huge black sheet hangs over any military activity among civilian population.

 

Sincerely yours

Avner Kokhavi

 

[Translation note: ‘Black Flag’ is an allusion to a famous Israeli court ruling following the 1956 Kafr Qasm massacre. In this ruling, the judges said that any soldier has the right and obligation to refuse clearly illegal commands, above which ‘hangs a black flag’. In the 45 years that passed since then, not even a single soldier was protected by a military court for refusing to obey a command because it was a ‘black flag’ command].