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Israeli teens oppose

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AP World Politics

Israeli teenagers declare opposition to military service in West Bank and Gaza
Tue Sep 17,12:47 PM ET
By STEVE WEIZMAN, Associated Press Writer

JERUSALEM - Israeli high school students opposed to their army's presence in Palestinian territories pledged on Tuesday to defy the draft when their time for compulsory military service comes.

The students said about 200 protesters signed a letter to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon ( news - web sites) and Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, both former generals, saying they would refuse to be "soldiers of the occupation."

"The state of Israel commits war crimes and tramples over human rights," said the letter. "This reality leads to suffering, fear, and despair, which yield terror attacks. Therefore, the occupation is not only immoral; but it also damages the security of Israel's citizens and residents."

Neither Sharon nor Ben-Eliezer's offices responded to requests for comment, nor would they confirm that the letters had arrived.

Israel sent troops into West Bank cities and towns in mid-June after two suicide bombings in Jerusalem, the second large-scale operation this year. Israel says it would withdraw from areas where Palestinians stop terror attacks but must remain there for the meantime because no such efforts are being made.

A similar message by high school seniors a year ago garnered 62 signatures. Most of those who signed have since fulfilled their pledges by refusing to serve in the West Bank and Gaza or to serve at all, the letter said. Two have completed 90-day sentences in military prisons and three are still behind bars, it added.

Israeli men and women are drafted at age 18, with men serving for three years and women for 21 months. Men, and some women, then spend up to a month a year on active duty in the reserves, with many men in combat units serving into their forties.

Conscientious objection has been rare in Israel as long as the consensus held that the country was fighting for its survival, but when that consensus has wavered, small groups of soldiers have refused to serve most notably after Israel's 1982 invasion of Lebanon.

Two years of fighting a Palestinian uprising have put a new generation of soldiers into widespread contact with Palestinians, and accounts of some soldiers' random acts of violence toward civilians have increased.

The latest wave of protest began in February, when a small group of reserve officers declared they would no longer serve in the West Bank and Gaza Strip ( news - web sites). They launched a petition with 52 signatures; that number now stands at 489.

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