Tags: Israeli | Soldiers | Protest | Occupation

Israeli Soldiers Protest Occupation

Friday, 08 February 2002 12:00 AM

When the petition was first published last week, 50 officers and men had signed it. By Friday, their numbers had quadrupled amid a heated debate on what soldiers in uniform may and may not do in a republican society.

The group, including majors and lower ranking officers in paratroop, infantry, armored corps, artillery, intelligence and other units, said they had served all over the occupied territories and were issued "commands and directives that had nothing to do with the security of our country." The orders' sole purpose was "perpetuating our control over the Palestinian people," they said.

The West Bank and the Gaza Strip were occupied by Israel in the 1967 war. Gaza and areas of the West Bank were returned to Palestinian control as part of the 1993 Oslo agreement. Israeli troops have moved back massively into Palestinian areas since September 2000 when violence erupted as the start of a new intifada, or struggle.

The price of the continued occupation "is the loss of the Israel Defense Force's human character and the corruption of the entire Israeli society," they added.

The petition initiators belong to a paratroop company that recently concluded a tour of duty in the Gaza Strip. They were reluctant to talk to foreign reporters but outlined their criticisms in interviews to the local press.

Soldiers talked of settlers beating Palestinians.

"They place you at roadblocks, you break into houses and make arrests and then tell yourself: 'God, I am a good guy. How did I get to be on the bad side?'" Yishai Rosen-Zvi told Ha'aretz.

Lt. David Sonnestein, a computer engineer, complained to Yediot Aharonot about the callousness in which the army destroys Palestinian greenhouses, fields and houses. Having served in the settlement of Kfar Darom, in the central Gaza Strip, he said, "You stand in a position with soldiers shot at all the time, because they do not want us to be there and you, as a commander, shoot and order to destroy houses."

Staff Sgt. Ariel Shatil, an artilleryman in the reserves and a computer specialist in civilian life, said he was at Nisanit in the northern Gaza Strip. "Every night there was shooting. We begin, then react," he said.

Uri Dotan, discharged from an infantry unit, recalled a boy who ran to their roadblock with a rubber bullet stuck in his bleeding hand, and a pregnant woman who was not allowed through a roadblock his soldiers manned because she did not seem to be in her ninth month. The woman was forced to take a route around the roadblock and lost her baby, he told the Ha'ir weekly newspaper.

Military Chief of General Staff Lt. Gen. Shaul Mofaz slammed the petition signatories as having an ideological axe to grind.

"There is no room for reservists to decide which tasks they fulfill and which they do not," he told the army's general staff. Mofaz said the move was "incitement to rebellion."

Critics have argued soldiers have every right to protest when they are out of the army and express their preferences when they vote, but they must perform such tasks when ordered. Others argued it is precisely these type of people, who are sensitive to morals and human rights, who should be out there in Palestinian areas to keep others in check.

Some senior officers have talked of sacking men who refuse to serve wherever ordered, but the army seems to be inclined to settle the problem quietly. Sometimes it is possible to do so by sending soldiers to watch towers or army kitchens so they do not come in contact with Palestinians.

Combat reservists units are under special strain as their numbers are small and anyone who wants to get out can. The way to deal with the problem is to try to persuade them rather than punish them, a senior military source indicated Friday.

The move nevertheless signals an undercurrent that pervades apparent Israeli unity in the face of the year-and-a-half intifada.

"When we get to the point at which reserve soldiers think they're in the wrong war, that's when we'll know we have crossed the red line," commentator Joel Marcus wrote in Ha'aretz Friday.

The petition initiative recalls past protests by combat officers who returned from the front lines.

The commander of one of the Israeli positions that the Egyptians overran near the Suez Canal in the 1973 war launched protests that eventually led to the downfall of Golda Meir as prime minister.

In 1978 three officers who feared then-Prime Minister Menahem Begin was going to renege on peace arranged another protest that led to the creation of the Peace Now movement, which is still active.

Officers who took part in the 1982 Lebanon War played a key role in causing unrest over the real aims of the conflict and misleading accounts by then-Defense Minister Ariel Sharon.

That unrest, and the massacre of Palestinians by the Lebanese Christian militia allied to the Israelis in the Sabra and Chatila Palestinian refugee camps in Beirut sparked protests that eventually led to Sharon's resignation. Sharon remained in the cabinet but was barred from being defense minister.

Copyright 2002 by United Press International.

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When the petition was first published last week, 50 officers and men had signed it. By Friday, their numbers had quadrupled amid a heated debate on what soldiers in uniform may and may not do in a republican society. The group, including majors and lower ranking officers...
Friday, 08 February 2002 12:00 AM
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