Thursday, February 19, 2004

Yes, Refusal Is In The Air

Four separate Refusal-centered events are currently occurring these days in the country. In Tel Aviv, a high level IDF committee discussed at length a demand from the IDF prison authorities to ‘relocate’ the five anti-occupation conscientious objectors, Hagai Matar, Noam Bahat, Adam Maor, Matan Kaminer and Shimri Tsameret to the civilian prison system.

The infamous IDF Conscience Commission turned down for the fourth time, Yoni Ben Artzi’s demand that he be exempted from service on the basis of his clear pacifist convictions, but did redirect him to the Incompatibility Commission with a recommendation that he be released from the IDF.

Amid Zahad from the town of Dalyat El-Karmel belongs to that section of Israeli Druze who have opted for military service. Therefore, his decision to join the Israeli refusal group, Courage to Refuse, was newsworthy and led to his designation as the first Druze refusenik. Zahad told the media that his action met with general approval in his community.

Laura Miloh will not be alone this Sunday morning, February 22, 2004 when she presents herself to the IDF mobilization base in order to be jailed. Laura wrote to the “Conscience Commision’ that she refuses to participate in the crimes perpetrated by Israel through the IDF. I am not a pacifist. My refusal is motivated by my opposition to the occupation.” And the Commision wrote back that her request was rejected because her position was not related to a question of conscience. Laura, a member of Hashomer Hatzair, has recently completed a year of community service in the Yeruham development town. She will receive deep expressions of solidarity from members of the High school seniors group (the ’shministim’), New Profile and members of the Refusers Parents’ Forum. If indeed jailed, Laura will join Inbal Gilbart, serving her third sentence in jail after her right to follow the dictates of here conscience was rejected by the Conscience Commission.

The Dangerous, Disruptive Five Subversives

Pity the poor military prison system. Just a few days after the five entered Military Prison #6, the chief wardens sounded the alarm by requesting that an internal high-level IDF relocation commission send the five to civilian prisons. Colonel Major O. told the committee that “ever since they arrived the five, their presence is completely undermining discipline and order in the prison…the chief warden and the entire staff are mainly busy with them and do not have any time and energy left for the other five hundred prisoners.” The clincher came when the IDF official explained that as a group the five were quite problematic, by this example: If we would send the prisoners to work on the Wall isn’t it clear that they would refuse?

When asked to detail the sins of the five, O. demanded that the courtroom be cleared of the public before he would indulge the secret information.” Certain members of the commission asked the five, almost enticingly, that since you do not want to be in army, wouldn’t you be better off without the troublesome yoke of military discipline. The prisoners replied that if they are considered unfit for military service, then they should be released and sent home and not shoved off to serve time with hardened criminals. After it became clear to the five and their counsel that the IDF was going to do everything to make life miserable for them, including attempts to force them to do prisoner assignments in the occupied territories, the five withdrew their opposition to the transfer.

Vicious, Savage Character Assassination by an Official IDF Panel

The lengthy 9 month proceedings in the case of the IDF v. Yoni Ben Artzi propelled the IDF Conscience Commission into the public limelight. The Commission became the object of justified media criticism and public ridicule. Nobody could accept that it was reasonable that Army officers with no previous training or minimal understanding of the problem, and who never bothered with small matters like rules of procedure or criteria regarding the nature and the definition of pacifism, should be the ones to decide the fate of conscientious young men and women. A while back, a panel of military judges expressed their belief that Ben Artzi was indeed a pacifist and with this in mind sent Ben Artzi back to the Conscious Commission instead of sentencing him for refusing to obey orders.

It wasn’t a complete surprise when the CC stuck by its previous decision. However, in a fit of vengeance and anger, the CC proceeded to release a flood of vilification against Ben Artzi, accusing him of ‘ego-centricism’, inconsistency and indifference to the welfare of fellow soldiers. In an action probably unparalleled in the annals of military bureaucracy in this country, an official IDF panel defended its crude behavior by an act of totally uncalled for character assassination against a young Israeli who had been in confinement for over a year struggling to make his totally honest case before them. The IDF prosecutor chimed in trying to convince the public that Ben Artzi was devious and dangerous because he expressed on one occasion that dangerous idea that the state should not force people to act against their will.An official government bodies seized on partial and distorted quotes from hundreds of pages of testimony to defend themselves, at the expense of an honest young person, from the justified suspicion that they really had no understanding of the subject and just enjoyed setting themselves up as all powerful and all knowing.

Divide and Conquer

The manipulation of the Druze community in Israel is one of the stellar achievements of the government policy to set Arab against Arab by extending preferential treatment to candidates for co-option. Thus, most young Druze, at the insistence of their elders become regular and often professional soldiers in the IDF. The idea that a young member of the community can set up his own ideals and feelings as the only guide to his behavior can, in unchecked, spoil the deal that is based on the strange idea, promoted by Israeli quasi-intelligence ‘academic’ experts that Druze are not Arabs. A Druze soldier has declared that he will not serve in the occupied territories. What a lack of gratitude for all the Israeli government has done for the Druze by separating them from their Arab brethren.

A Matter of Slight Lack of Proportion

I have little chance of being appointed an advisor to the PR division of the IDF. But here is a bit of free advice for them. Be very careful about throwing women into military prison because they have a conscience and refuse to participate in the crimes of the occupation. We have witnessed a surge of solidarity here and abroad with the anti-occupation five serving their second year in jail. If you insist on imprisoning all the young women who openly and clearly tell you that they refuse to serve the occupation, you are going to get into a very serious battle, indeed.

The glare of publicity on the Conscious Commision may be indirectly responsible for the current wave of arrests against young women. During the Ben Artzi proceedings, it was revealed that 97% of male requests for exemption are rejected while 97% of requests from women are accepted. Two things have to be said here. The first is that the reason for the discrepancy is obvious: men are cannon fodder in demand and women are less suitable in this respect. The second is that the only ‘logical’ explanation of the discrepancy is that the women are all devoted pacifists and the men are just a bunch of fakers. The problem with this explanation is that no one will believe that it is true. It may be that the CC is trying to even up the numbers by jailing more female conscientious objectors. If this is true, boy, are they making a mistake.

(Special thanks to Adam Keller of Gush Shalom)