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Who Are... The Righteous and Courageous Jews In Israel:

by New Profile-dalto Sunday, May. 25, 2003 at 2:09 PM

As the brutality of the military State of Israel continues to wage its unmerciful oppression against international peace workers AND the people of the Occupied Territories, young Israeli conscientious objectors wage their own courageous battle against the IDF.

A New Stage in The Battle Against the Occupation

Seventeen young Israelis, almost all of them high school graduates, are presently in prison for refusing to serve in the IDF. This is a totally unprecedented phenomenon. It involves intense personal sacrifice and a sharp battle between enlightened public opinion, in Israel and abroad and a growingly brutal military bureaucracy. The intervention of human rights

activists and friends of a just peace in the Middle East is both urgent and justified. It can be effective.

A Long Battle in the Courts and for Public Opinion

Ben Artzi’s trial will be continued on May 28th 2003. The trial of the ‘five’ (Matar, Kaminer, Bahat, Maor and Tsameret) should reconvene soon afterwards. Ben Artzi is fighting to be classified as a pacifist by the court or by being resent to the Conscience Committee. As strange as this may seem, a panel of military officers is entrusted by the IDF with the task of

deciding who is and who is not a pacifist. The legal battle of the ‘five’ centers on the demand that they be recognized as conscientious objectors, though they are not pacifists. Their argument is that it is perfectly reasonable that any person who knows and understands the workings of Israeli policy and its implications for the human rights of Palestinians under occupation would refuse, as a matter of conscience, to participate in military activity to that end. One cannot foresee how many other trials we will have to go through. It may be necessary to appeal vital questions of procedure and points of law to the High Court of Justice. It may well be

necessary to appeal the verdicts to higher levels, up to and including the Supreme Court.

The refuseniks are ready to fight and sacrifice. Their parents have organized a special action group named the Conscientious Objectors Parents’ Forum (COPF). It may be a long and arduous battle. We want and need all

the moral, political and material support we can gather.

Content and Background of the High School Students’ Letter:

The key development in the growing movement for conscientious objection among high school students was a collective letter, sent

(September, 2001) by sixty-two students to the Prime Minister. The letter came to be knows as the shministim (eighth-form students) letter. Not only did it reflect growing opposition to the occupation. It went further and linked this consciousness to refusal to serve in the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF).

Refusal by reservists in the IDF in Lebanon and later on in the occupied territories had become, since 1983, an important element in the Israeli peace movement. The high school letter was of particular importance in that it expressed the dissemination of the idea of refusal to a new important constituency. The high school seniors, as group, are a vital source for highly talented and specialized conscripts for the military. The educational elite is usually recycled, via the draft, into the military

elite. There were, over the years, several attempts by dedicated young leftists to avoid service, but nothing came close to the present scope of resistance.

Thus an organized, collective letter to Prime Minister Sharon, declaring refusal to join the IDF, on its terms, was a new phenomenon in the

history of the relationship between Israeli youth and the military authorities. To date, more than 300 young people have signed the letter.



Universal Conscription is Far From Universal

One needs to know the Israeli scene to appreciate how vindictive the IDFaction really is. More people evade the draft than are drafted. More than

one tenth of the potential draftees are released for psychological reasons. It is clear that the IDF would prefer that prisoners of conscience opt for a psychological discharge, instead of fighting for their principles. Tens of thousands of ultra-orthodox males are exempted for reasons of conscience to study in yeshivoth (religious seminaries). Religious, and for that matter

secular women too, can and do receive exemption without any difficulty, or choose to do alternative civilian service. But the IDF threatens the seventeen young men, who are genuine prisoners of conscience with military

courts and severe sentences. The cruel and the inane nature of the occupation seems to be taking over the minds and the souls of those who lead

the IDF.

The IDF Decided to Get Tough

A serious deterioration in the IDF policy towards the high school refuseniks occurred in or around the famous Ben Artzi case. Ben Artzi, a

genuine and authentic pacifist, was denied recognition and re-sentenced again and again in disciplinary proceedings until he was finally brought before a military court martial tribunal. The charge, of course, was refusing to carry out a legal order, i.e. to cooperate in the procedures

that would make him a full fledged member of the IDF. Five other young men (Hagai Matar, Matan Kaminer, Noam Bahat, Shmri Tsameret and Adam Maor also refused to complete their induction and were simultaneously charged and arraigned in a parallel proceeding. Another group of refuseniks is receiving repeated disciplinary sentences, and can expect to be arraigned before a military court in the near future.

The Amazing Refusenik Manpower Chart

We wish to address your attention to the enclosed list of refuseniks currently under different forms of military detention for refusing to join

the IDF. A few comments are in order. The number of young people in

detention in these circumstances is totally unprecedented in the history of

Israeli society. The dry numbers reflect no small amount of torment,

degradation for the young people and a tremendous amount of anxiety and

alarm for their parents and their loved ones.

When did this current wave of repression start?

Sometimes towards the end of 2002, the IDF authorities decided to depart

from their more traditional policy of discharging conscientious objectors,

after three or four jail sentences, as unfit for service. As a result, by

mid-May, 2003, Yoni Ben Artzi had accumulated three hundred days in jail! At

the tail end of the chart are the last three to enter prison, Pearlman,

Ronen and Reiss. Their sojourn in jail may be the most significant of all

because when they were called up in the beginning of March, 2003, they knew

full well that they were facing a long and hard battle to defend their

integrity.

Who are the prisoners?

The group is rather heterogeneous. Many are graduates from elite high

schools, and most from affluent homes; but even in this group there are

those who are from single parent homes - where the struggle for subsistence

is no easy matter. Please note also the presence of three brave youngsters

from the recent immigration from the former Soviet Union. In addition to

the ‘normal’ difficulties and tensions, they and their families suffer a

tremendous sense of indignation at their treatment - not to mention the

dire straits at home where these refuseniks had helped to augment the sparse

family income. Sa’ad Rabia is a special case. He is an Arab, but the state

has classified him as a Druze. The Druze elders actually ‘sold’ him and

many young Druze to the IDF in return for favors and special treatment. Do

we have to add, that each prisoner is an individual with his own hopes and

dreams?

Difference in Status

Six prisoners are in ‘camp detention.’ This status was achieved after a

legal battle by defence attorneys who argued that full detention in a prison

stockade, before any conviction, violated natural justice. Most of the

other seventeen are in one of the two main military prisons, which are

rather ugly affairs. Some of them suffer the additional rigors of the

isolation ward, a disgusting affair best described as a prison within a

prison. Some on the list are absent without leave, having decided to accept

the danger of increased punishment just in order to enjoy some sort of

breather from the pressure. And still others are waiting for the verdict of

one of the many military commissions that are charged with deciding their

fate. One young soldier was sent home for eight months by the ‘Conscience

Committee’.

A Conscience in Common

These young men do not belong to any single political group. Even

so, there is an important difference distinguishing between them. Many of

the youngsters have become deeply convinced pacifists; many others base

their decision on opposition to serving in an army whose main mission is

maintenance of the occupation. Moreover, whatever the philosophical

conclusion of each person, their humanist convictions and beliefs were

formed under the impact of the Intifada and the attempt by Sharon and his

government to drown legitimate demands in a sea of repression. It is highly

relevant to note that all those struggling against conscription, whatever

their philosophical approach, have offered to do civilian humanitarian

service in lieu of their military service.

A Long Battle in the Courts and for Public Opinion

Ben Artzi’s trial will be continued on May 28th. The trial of the

‘five’ (Matar, Kaminer, Bahat, Maor and Tsameret) should reconvene soon

afterwards. Ben Artzi is fighting to be classified as a pacifist by the

court or by being resent to the Conscience Committee. As strange as this may

seem, a panel of military officers is entrusted by the IDF with the task of

deciding who is and who is not a pacifist. The legal battle of the ‘five’

centers on the demand that they be recognized as conscientious objectors,

though they are not pacifists. Their argument is that it is perfectly

reasonable that any person who knows and understands the workings of Israeli

policy and its implications for the human rights of Palestinians under

occupation would refuse, as a matter of conscience, to participate in

military activity to that end. One cannot foresee how many other trials we

will have to go through. It may be necessary to appeal vital questions of

procedure and points of law to the High Court of Justice. It may well be

necessary to appeal the verdicts to higher levels, up to and including the

Supreme Court.

The refuseniks are ready to fight and tosacrifice. Their parents have organized a special action group named the Conscientious Objectors Parents’ Forum (COPF). It may be a long and arduous battle.

We want and need all the moral, political and material support we can gather.

Your Help Is Needed:

Make any donation you are able to support objectors in prison and on trial.

(Mark your contribution “legal aid to objectors “ to ensure it is earmarked for.)

Contributions can be made by:

1. Direct bank transfers to New Profile’s account:

HaPoalim Bank, account no. 421121 Branch 769, Trumpeldor Street Ramat

HaSharon, Israel

(Please email our treasurer kisch-e@zahav.net.il, or write us at the POBox

below, to let us know that the contribution is for legal aid.)

2. Posting checks directly to New Profile, at:

New Profile

POB 6187

Ramat HaSharon 47271

Israel

3. Making U.S. tax exempt contributions to New Profile via:

Via Us/Israel Women to Women -

Please make out checks to US/Israel Women to Women, and add a cover letter

directing the donation to New Profile; post to:

US/Israel Women to Women

45 W. 36th St.

New York, NY 10018

USA

Further information is available at:

The New Profile website: http://www.newprofile.org/english/> .

The High School Seniors' Letter website: http://www.shministim.org/> .

The Yesh-Gvul website: http://www.yesh-gvul.org/> .

The Refuser Solidarity Network website: http://www.refusersolidarity.org/>

http://members.fortunecity.co.uk/noamkaminer/index.htm> - Hebrew

http://members.fortunecity.co.uk/noamkaminer/matan-english.htm> - English

New Profile – Movement for the Civil-ization of Israeli Society

POB 48005, Tel-Aviv 61480, Israel

E-mail: mailto:newprofile@speedy.co.il

Voice box: ++972-(0)3-516-01-19

Website: http://www.newprofile.org/

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