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Saturday, 2 February, 2002, 16:23 GMT
Reservists' rebellion highlights cracks
Israelis soldiers
The Israeli army relies on its reservists
Barbara Plett

A rebellion in the ranks of Israeli army reservists is the first real crack in Israel's united stand against the 16-month Palestinian uprising.

So far numbers are small. Around 200 reserve soldiers and officers have signed a petition refusing to serve in the West Bank and Gaza.


We hereby declare we will no longer fight in the war for the welfare of the settlements in the territories

Reservists' petition
They say they had "received orders and instructions that had nothing to do with the security of the state and whose sole purpose is the perpetuation of our domination of the Palestinian people."

But they are hoping to add hundreds more signatures to what an Israeli newspaper has called a burgeoning protest movement.

It has taken awhile.

There has been virtually no Israeli opposition to the country's military policy during this Palestinian intifada, or uprising - unlike during the first intifada, which ended almost 10 years ago.

Israelis soldiers
The petitioners do not want to serve in the territories
This is partly because the Israeli left collapsed after the failure of the Camp David peace summit in July 2000 and partly because the army is now faced not only with stone-throwing children but also with armed militiamen who are viewed as terrorists.

Peace activists say the reservists have begun to protest now because they have come up for their second round of service, and there is no end in their gun-sights.

Vital role

The Israeli army relies on reserves, who do a month's duty every year after they finish their mandatory conscript service.

Now they are needed to man roadblocks and guard Jewish settlements built on land occupied by Israel in 1967 and wanted by the Palestinians for their own state.

Israeli Chief of Staff Shaul Mofaz
Mofaz doubts the petitioners' moral concerns
The dissenters say this goes beyond their duties to defend Israel.

"We hereby declare we will no longer fight in the war for the welfare of the settlements in the territories," they said in the petition.

"We will not continue to fight beyond the Green Line (Israel's pre-1967 border) for the purpose of dominating, expelling, starving and humiliating an entire people. "

They speak of soldiers shooting and abusing Palestinian civilians, of army lies and cover-ups.

All this is strongly denied by the military brass.

Punishment

The Chief of Staff Shaul Mofaz said on Friday that individual cases of irregular behaviour were dealt with severely.

He suggested the petitioners had political motives rather than moral concerns, and said if that was the case their actions would be treated like incitement to rebellion.


The price of the occupation is loss of the humane image of the Israeli Defence Forces and corruption of the entire Israeli society

Reservists' petition
Tough words, but so far no tough action.

At least two of the petitioners have been temporarily suspended with more likely to follow.

Military sources said they would probably not be dismissed but moved to other positions, after which their cases would be re-evaluated.

For activists from the left wing group Yesh Gvul (in Hebrew "There is a Limit, or Border") this is a familiar pattern.

"Although refusing an order is a grave offence against military law, the army has consistently disciplined refuseniks by summary procedure, never once by court-martial," it says in a statement.

Conscientious objectors

"In Yesh Gvul we attribute this striking lapse to the army's fear that a formal trial would allow the defendant to challenge the legality of the order given."

The group emerged after Israel's 1982 invasion of Lebanon to back reservists who refused to serve there.

It says its phone lines are swamped now with people thinking about a similar stand on the West Bank and Gaza.

Yesh Gvul records 400 individuals who have made that decision.

peace protesters
Peace groups are supporting the petitioners
The reservist petitioners, however, are more of a threat.

They are taking a collective and public action, in essence asking the government, where are you taking us?

They cannot be dismissed as left wing radicals: most are officers from combat units who have served on front lines.

And their refusal is couched in patriotic terms.

"We have sensed how the orders we received erode every value we have imbibed in this country," they wrote.

"We understand today that the price of the occupation is loss of the humane image of the Israeli Defence Forces and corruption of the entire Israeli society."

Army protests are the cutting edge of dissent in Israel, say peace activists. They give legitimacy to political opposition, which might otherwise be branded as disloyal.

Of course the petitioners are being branded as disloyal. They are called by some traitors who are threatening the security of Israel.

But some also call them principled men, a recognition that if this is not yet an opposition movement, it is at least a signal to the army and political establishment that Israelis are beginning to look for another way.

See also:

01 Feb 02 | Middle East
Split widens over Israeli reservists
01 Feb 02 | Middle East
Israel's culture of reservists
01 Feb 02 | Middle East
Israel suspends rebel reservists
02 Feb 02 | Middle East
Israeli PM meets top Palestinians
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