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Israelis refuse wp { January 29 2002 }

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Israeli Reservists Refuse Territories Duty
Combat Veterans Renounce 'Humiliating' Palestinians

By Lee Hockstader
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, January 29, 2002; Page A16

JERUSALEM, Jan. 28 -- More than 60 Israeli army
reservists, half of them officers and all of them combat
veterans, have publicly refused to continue serving in the
West Bank and Gaza Strip on the grounds that Israel's
occupation forces there are abusing and humiliating

"We will no longer fight beyond the Green Line for the
purpose of occupying, deporting, destroying, blockading,
killing, starving and humiliating an entire people," declared a
petition signed by the reservists and published in Israel's
best-selling daily newspaper, Yedioth Ahronoth. The Green
Line refers to the border between Israel and the West Bank.

Over the years, eligible Israelis have sometimes declined to
serve in the army or refused to serve in certain places for
reasons of conscience or politics. What makes the current
case unusual is that so many combat reservists, soldiers and
officers have come forward publicly at one time.

The organizers of the petition -- a pair of reserve lieutenants
in their twenties who have served in the Israeli-occupied
territories -- say their goal is to collect 500 signatures in the
coming weeks and launch a broad social campaign.

"We all have limits," reserve Lt. David Zonshein, 28, a
software engineer and one of the men who drafted the
petition, told Yedioth. "You can be the best officer, always
be first . . . and suddenly you are asked to do things that
should not be asked of you -- to shoot people, to stop
ambulances, to destroy houses in which you don't know if
there are people living."

Zonshein said his petition drive has triggered furious
reactions. "We knew we'd get a lot of reactions, and some of
them are not just critical, they're violent," he said. "These are
hard people with very extreme beliefs."

Zonshein, who drafted the petition with reserve Lt. Yaniv
Itzkovich, 26, a university teaching assistant, declined to grant
interviews to foreign correspondents. But along with several
other signatories of the petition, the two men told Yedioth
about incidents in which they said Israeli troops opened fire
on Palestinian children and other civilians who posed no
apparent danger to their lives.

In a statement, the Israeli army's general staff said: "To serve
in the Israeli Defense Forces is obligatory under the law and
there is no place for reserve soldiers to choose what jobs
they want and what jobs they don't want. The writers of the
petition don't represent the soldiers and officers of the reserve
who understand their mission and are working days and
nights toward the security of the state of Israel and peace for
its citizens."

Most Israeli men are required to serve as army reservists until
they are 45 years old, typically spending at least a few weeks
each year away from their families and civilian jobs.

The spokesman for Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, Raanan
Gissin, said allegations of abuse by the army should be
investigated, but he dismissed the petition and refusals to
serve in the army as a "marginal phenomenon." The petition
"undermines the basic tenet of Israeli democracy," he said.
"You can't have a government in which people can decide
they'll . . . bomb this target but not that target. You abide by
the rule of the majority, and the majority has decided this is
the government and this is its policy."

Since the current Palestinian armed uprising erupted in
September 2000, more than 500 Israelis have refused to
serve in the Israeli-occupied territories, including pacifists and
veterans, recruits and reservists, according to There is a
Limit, an Israeli group that monitors and encourages such
objectors. Of that number, about 40, including 12 reserve
officers, have been sentenced to relatively brief prison terms,
the group said. Others have been ignored or given army jobs
in Israel.

Ram Rahat, a former Israeli combat soldier who refused to
serve during Israel's invasion of Lebanon in 1982, said the
current dissent mirrors patterns from previous conflicts.

"This says that people who have gone through [army reserve
duty] a couple of times, going through the territories and
seeing the reality of what's going on there, are starting to get
fed up with it," said Rahat, 45, an accountant. "It's exactly
what happened in the first intifada as well. As more and more
people did reserve duty and came back for their second and
third tours, there were more and more cases of refusal."

More than 1,000 people have been killed in the past 16
months of violence, about three-quarters of them Palestinians.
American, European and Israeli human rights groups have
criticized the Israeli army for using excessive force against
unarmed Palestinian demonstrators, for opening fire on
civilians who posed no apparent threat and for failing to
investigate such cases.

2002 The Washington Post Company

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