Why One Israeli Won't Serve in Army

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On Tuesday, just hours before Israel deployed 20,000 troops into the West Bank city of Ramallah to search for Palestinian terrorists, the nation’s largest military operation since the 1982 Lebanon war, nineteen year-old Matan Kaminer, one of a small but growing number of Israeli refuseniks, explained why he will not serve in the Israel Defence Forces.

“The government’s policy has gotten to a point where it is criminal,” Kaminer says.

“It’s endangering the lives of everyone, of Palestinians and of Jews. We aren’t more secure, we don’t feel safe. (Prime Minister Ariel) Sharon’s policies have only led to more violence and more deaths. The only way it’s going to stop is if Israel gets out of the territories. It won’t solve all the problems, of course, but it will lessen the bloodshed.”

In September, Kaminer was one of sixty-two draft-age students who signed a letter to Sharon protesting government policy and stating their refusal to serve in the army.

“We strongly resist Israel’s pounding of human rights,” they wrote, “and expropriation, arrests, executions without a trial, house demolition, closure, torture, and the prevention of health care are only some of the crimes the state of Israel carries out, in blunt violation of international conventions it has ratified.”

Kaminer, who was in Toronto this week to speak on a panel, has been doing a year of service with a Jewish-Arab co-existence organization in Jaffa. He will be drafted in November and he says, “it’s almost a certainty that I will go to jail when I officially refuse to serve.”

He’s aware that many see his stance as a betrayal. At a time when scores of Jewish civilians have been killed or injured in Palestinian attacks in cafes, restaurants and on buses, Kaminer’s refusal to serve has been criticized in Israel as an unacceptable political move.

To that he responds:
“I love my country. I’m doing what’s right for Israel. When I hear about an attack on Jews, of course I feel awful. I feel afraid and I feel angry. But I try to rationally put those feelings in context.
“There’s an unjust war being waged against Palestinians and they are responding from poverty, hunger and desperation. If we want the violence to stop, we have to end that unjust war.”

Kaminer also has his share of supporters. Since September, at least forty more students have signed the refusal letter.

Kaminer’s father, who refused to serve in Lebanon when he was a soldier in the 1980s, is behind him, as is his mother, who told the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz in January that her son “is a patriot. He will not serve (in the occupied territories).”

Kaminer has found common cause with a group of Israeli soldiers. More than three-hundred reservists, combat veterans in their twenties and thirties recently signed a declaration refusing, for reasons of conscience, to serve in the occupied territories during their annual month of service. Another two-hundred refuseniks are allied with a similar group.

All these soldiers are avowed patriots and are willing to do their regular reserve duty, but refuse to act as occupiers on the West Bank or in Gaza because of the repressive measures they are ordered to take.

Three have been jailed for their stance. (Information about the refusal movement can be found at http://www.seruv.org.il and http://www.yesh-gvul.org )

The reservist refusal movement has had a noticeable impact in Israel, with support coming from artists, politicians and activists, as well as many war-weary Israelis.

Since the intifada began in September, 2000, more than 1,000 Palestinians and some 340 Israelis have been killed — fifty Israelis and 120 Palestinians since March 1 alone.

Recent polls show that for the first time since he was elected in February, 2001, the majority of Israelis (fifty-three per cent) are dissatisfied with Sharon.

Kaminer hopes that by going public, he and his fellow refuseniks might inspire others — Israelis and Palestinians — to take individual, personal steps to end the violence in the Middle East.

“The majority of us want the same thing, I believe. To work, be educated, have families, and live our lives in peace and in harmony.”

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