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Notes on the Present Stage of the Refusenick Struggle
by Reuven Kaminer
2:23pm Thu Feb 20 '03
The IDF top brass has recently decided to judge refuseniks by the military courts system - a criminal court for soldiers. Thus, we face the danger that the prisoners of conscience will be sentenced to up to three years in military jail for their devotion to the cause of peace and their refusal to take part in the occupation apparatus, an apparatus already hovering on the edge of the commission of a major war crime. It is obvious that this step is designed to break the will of Ben Artzi, the first to be judged, and the other refusenicks.
Notes on the Present Stage of the Refusenick Struggle - February 2003
Yoni Ben Artzi is a pacifist who, for some strange reason, has been denied pacifist status by the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF). Even according to present IDF policy, pacifists recognized as such are exempted from military service. The pacifist status is either bestowed or denied by a committee composed of seven IDF officers. Of course, none of these officers has any training in political philosophy. It seems that the only way to impress the members of the committee is to bring biographical material proving that the applicant for pacifist status has demonstrated a clear connection to non-violent theory and behavior long before he was mobilized.
The relevant committee refused to bestow pacifist status on Ben Artzi. When Ben Artzi appealed the IDF committee's decision, the Israeli High Court of Justice refused the appeal on the grounds that they had no reason to interfere in the work of the committee - without taking upon itself the messy little problem of checking for itself whether the decision was correct.
Thus, the decision taken months ago, is so to speak, frozen in legal ice. This legal 'fact' remains in the center of the proceeding against Ben Artzi though any half way intelligent person who knows Yoni Ben Artzi's personal history or has an opportunity to discuss his philosophical position with him, will come to the clear and decisive conclusion that Ben Artzi is a very mature and totally committed pacifist. In military prison for more than eight months Yoni Ben Artzi has imposed on himself a very strict code of behavior, refusing any order involving support for the military side of army life and expressing willingness to do any task that was in essence unrelated to the army apparatus such as kitchen duty. He has paid and pays a daily price for maintaining his principles in matters large and small.
Now the plain fact of the matter is that there are shades of opinion among the different prisoners of conscience. Some are philosophically articulate in their commitment to non-violence, while many, if not the majority, are prisoners of conscience essentially because they refuse to join an apparatus whose main purpose is the subjugation of the Palestinians in the territories. It is highly relevant to note that all of the conscription resisters whatever their philosophical approach have offered to do civilian humanitarian service in lieu of their military service. Ben Artzi happens to be a brilliant student of Math and Physics and he could be opening up great horizons for some disadvantaged kid in a development town, instead of parrying the cruel and idiotic attempts of the military bureaucracy to break him.
This week the IDF decided to adopt a more severe and brutal policy towards all of its prisoners of conscience. Up to now, the refusenicks were subject to IDF disciplinary action. In such proceedings a ranking officer can send the offender to jail for a period of up to 28-35 days for each violation. Between sentences, the offender usually has a two or three day furlough. Every time the refusenicks come back to the induction office he is ordered to continue with the mobilization process. He refuses and is re-sentenced. The mounting criticism of these repeated sentences and senseless cruelty involved in the process has, it seems, upset both the nerves and the judgment of the IDF top brass. They have decided to opt for a more menacing tribunal, i.e., the military courts system. The military court is really a criminal court for soldiers. Thus, we face the danger that the prisoners of conscience will be sentenced to up to three years in military jail for their devotion to the cause of peace and their refusal to take part in the occupation apparatus, an apparatus already hovering on the edge of the commission of a major war crime.
Yoni Ben Artzi will be the first prisoner in the current round of draft resistance to appear before a military court and this appears to be the first time this kind of case has been prosecuted by the IDF in these courts for twenty years. It is obvious to any observer that this step is designed to break the will of Ben Artzi and the other refusenicks.
One needs to know the Israeli scene to appreciate how vindictive the IDF action really is. About one tenth of the potential draftees are released for psychological reasons. It is clear that the IDF would like to push Yoni Ben Artzi and his fellow resisters to opt for a psychological discharge before their induction instead of fighting for their principles. Tens of thousands of ultra-orthodox males are exempted for reasons of conscience to study in yeshivoth (seminaries). Religious, and for that matter secular women too, can receive an exemption without any difficulty, or choose to do alternative civilian service. But the IDF threatens to throw the book at Ben Artzi and this still small band of prisoners of conscience. The cruel and the inane nature of the occupation are taking over the minds and the souls of those who lead the IDF.
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7:56pm Wed Feb 26 '03
Re Ben Artzi
Can a state that depends on conscription for a citizen's army, allow the draftees to opt out if they disagree with the political order? Ben Artzi has chosen to be very public in his refusal to serve. Having chosen the path of civil disobedience, rather than either emigration, or adherence to the law of the land (serving), he should be willing to accept the consequences. Shall we honour taxpayers to refuse to pay all or part of their taxes because they disagree with this or that government policy, or right wingers who refuse to serve because they don't wish to protect Arab citizens?
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