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Wednesday, 4 September, 2002, 15:41 GMT 16:41 UK
Israeli reservists call occupation illegal
Israeli soldier on a tank
Hundreds of reservists have refused to serve
Eight Israeli reserve soldiers who refuse to serve in the West Bank and Gaza have asked Israel's Supreme Court to declare the occupation of the Palestinian territories illegal.

The soldiers, who rank from staff-sergeant to major, are part of Courage to Refuse, a movement of reservists who have refused to serve in the occupied territories.

The group claims to have more than 400 members.


There is no way to have an enlightened occupation

Lieutenant David Zonsheine

"The Israeli Defence Forces' activities, notwithstanding the important goal of fighting terror, have a devastating impact on hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians," the soldiers' petition to the court reads. "For this reason, the occupation is illegal."

It was not known if the Supreme Court would agree to hear the case, but the group says it is the first such legal challenge to the 35-year Israeli occupation.

Military service is compulsory in Israel.

Men are required to serve in the reserves for more than a month each year until well into middle age unless they have a special exemption.

But the "refuseniks" say they should not be compelled to take part in an occupation they believe is illegal.

The West Bank and the Gaza Strip were captured by Israel in the 1967 war, and controlled directly until the Palestinian Authority was created in the mid-90s.

Palestinian schoolchildren throw stones at an Israeli tank
More than 100 refuseniks have come forward in recent months

But during a recent offensive that Israel says was aimed at stopping suicide attacks, the army reoccupied much of the West Bank, enforcing curfews and blockades.

The soldiers argue that Israel has an obligation under international law to provide public services to Palestinians in any territory it re-occupies, and that it is not doing this.

More than 100 refuseniks have come forward in recent months and some have faced prison for standing up for their beliefs.

Lieutenant David Zonsheine said he was sentenced to 35 days in military prison after refusing reserve duty two months ago.

He said that while serving in the Gaza Strip last year he was forced to hold up Palestinian traffic - including ambulances - at a checkpoint because of a suicide attack warning.

"I don't know how many people died because of the 200 ambulances I delayed there," he told the Associated Press.

"This made me realise there is no way to have an enlightened occupation."


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