International Papers

Israel’s New Conscientious Objectors

Last week, 52 Israeli army reservists placed an open letter in the weekend papers stating their refusal to serve in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The reservists believe the Israel Defense Force’s “mission of occupation and repression” doesn’t serve the defense of the state of Israel, and they consider the IDF’s actions there to be designed to “expel, starve, and humiliate an entire people.” By Monday, the Jerusalem Post reported that the number of refuseniks had grown to 150. (To see the reservists’ statement, click here.)

Even the liberal press had little sympathy with the protestors. Ha’aretz noted that reservists “bear much of the brunt of the police actions, the ongoing security details and the fighting in the territories,” tasks that have become more challenging since the conflict has intensified. However, while the editorial supported the right of individuals to protest injustices they “personally eyewitness,” it concluded:

[O]rganized draft resistance must be rejected, as should be resistance as an expression of political protest. There is a real danger to national security if various civilian groups define for themselves the conditions of military service to which they agree, according to their world view or sectorial identity.

The Jerusalem Post’s Sunday editorial characterized the reservists’ letter as “[m]imicking the most lurid Palestinian propaganda.” It continued, “Israel’s critics abroad have already seized on the officers’ letter, using it as a tool with which to attack the government and its policies. Intentionally or not, the officers who signed the letter have given aid and comfort to the enemy, effectively transforming themselves into tools of Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat’s propaganda machine.” The editorial also accused the signatories of “forgoing their responsibility to protect and defend the over 200,000 Jews” living in the terroritories.

A fascinating op-ed by Daniel Bloch in the Jerusalem Post pointed out that as reservists the protestors had already honorably fulfilled their military service and therefore deserved “to be heard and to see that their complaints are fully investigated.” Other sections of the Israeli population have less moral authority:

In Israel we have two very large segments of the population that never serve in the army—the Arabs and the haredi [ultra-Orthodox] Jews. The first group is generally exempted from military service by a mutual tacit understanding. The second group does not serve due to political arrangements enforced by blackmail and extortion, without any real justification. Thus, many thousands of healthy and eligible young men are not carrying out their obligation as citizens to take part in the defense of the country. The government and the army that allows this kind of refusal to serve have lost the moral authority over those who object to serve for secular, ideological reasons.