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Refusal to serve in the Israeli military

Refusal to serve in the Israeli military includes both refusal to obey specific orders and refusal to serve in the Israel Defense Force (IDF) in any capacity due to disagreement with the policies of the Israeli government as implemented by the army. People who refuse to serve in either capacity are sometimes called "refuseniks" (sarvanim סרבנים in Hebrew).

Table of contents
1 Overview
2 Refusals movements
3 Reaction to the refuseniks
4 External Links


Some distinguish between refusal to serve in the military because of a pacifist world view that rejects any manifestation of violence and encompasses a refusal to submit to compulsory military service in any form, and partial refusal to serve, such as the refusal to serve in the West Bank or Gaza Strip. The diverse range of opinions regarding the refusal to serve is the reason why there is no single umbrella organization that encompasses all groups of refuseniks. While most instances of refusal to serve can be found among left-leaning Israelis, there was one instance in which a soldier refused to evacuate his brother from an illegal settlement. It is believed that there will be an increased tendency among rightist soldiers to refuse commands if and when they are ordered to evacuate settlements in the so-called "Occupied Territories".

Contemporary instances of refusal to serve occur among individuals and in groups. Some claim that the rise in instances of soldiers refusing to serve, as well as the gradual shift in public opinion regarding the phenomenon, has been influenced by the growing politicization of the IDF.

The issue of refusal to serve is now stands in a middle of an hot, passionate and emotional debate within the Israeli public.

The first well-known instance of an individual refusing to serve in the IDF occurred in 1954 when Amnon Zichroni, a lawyer, asked to be released from military service as a pacifist. Initially, then Minister of Defense Pinchas Lavon refused to release Zichroni, though he was eventually discharged from the army reserves. Other famous instances include:

Refusals movements

The High School Seniors' Letter

This letter was sent by a group of high school seniors about to be drafted to Prime Minister Golda Meir on April 28, 1970. In it they expressed their reservation about the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, the War of Attrition, and the government's failure to take steps to avoid conflict.

Yesh Gvul ("There Is a Limit")

Yesh Gvul (יש גבול) is a movement founded in 1982 at the outbreak of the Lebanon War by reservists who refused to serve in Lebanon. A petition, delivered to Prime Minister Menachem Begin and Defense Minister Ariel Sharon was signed by 3,000 reservists, some of whom were court martialed and served time in military prison for refusing to obey orders.

HaOmetz leSarev ("The Courage to Refuse")

In January 2002 , 51 reserve soldiers and officers signed a "Combat Troops' Letter" in which they stated their intention to refuse to serve in the Occupied Territories and announced the establishment of a new group, HaOmetz LeSarev (האומץ לסרב) to support their position.

The Pilots' Letter

"The Pilots' Letter," published on September 24, 2003, was signed by 27 reserve pilots and former pilots already exempt from reserve duty. One of signatories was a famous former pilot Brigadier General (res.) Yiftah Spector. In their letter, the pilots stated:

"We opposing obeying illegal and immoral orders to attack, such as those carried out by the State of Israel in the Occupied Territories." They continued by explaining their reason: "These orders are illegal and immoral, and the result of an ongoing occupation that has had a corrupting effect on all of Israeli society."
The signatories clarified that they do not reject military service in the IDF:
"We will continue to serve in the Israel Defense Force and the Israeli Air Force in any assignment in defense of the State of Israel."
In response, the Chief of Staff announced that the pilots would be grounded and will no longer be allowed to train cadets in the country's flight school. In response to their letter, hundreds of IAF pilots signed a petition denouncing the pilots' letter and their refusal to serve. Because of the harsh response, several of the pilots who originally signed the letter reneged and removed their signatures. Later, in an interview given to Israeli journalist Dan Margalit, Yiftah Spector told that the letter was misunderstood and that pilots should not refuse to perform "targetet killing" of terrorist leaders.

Letter by Commandos in the MaTKaL Unit

The letter by commandos in the MaTKaL unit, dated December 2003, was signed by 13 reserves soldier of this elite unit, serving in the "Occupied Territories" (nine commandos in the MaTKaL unit, 2 soldiers who had been removed from reserve duty because of prior refusals to serve in the Territories, and 2 additional combatant soldiers). In it they announced that they would refuse to serve in the Occupied Territories. Their letter, addressed to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, states that they will continue to defend Israel against enemy attack, but that they will not participate in acts of oppression in the Territories and in efforts to deny the Palestinians their rights, and that they will not serve as a defensive wall for Israeli settlements, explaining:

"We have long since passed the boundary of soldiers justified in their actions, and have reached the boundary of soldiers oppressing another people."
The letter, released just three months after the Pilots' Letter, was condemned sharply by politicians on both the right and the left of the Israeli political spectrum. Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz claimed that the soldiers were exploiting the reputation of their unit in order to attack the government's policies.

Refusal to remove settlements

There are some settlements' Rabbis who call soldier to "refuse to take part in the brutal uprooting of a family from it house, ripping out bloosoming settlements". They were condamned by the majority of the settlements' Rabbis and by the settlers leadership.

Reaction to the refuseniks

Almost all the political factions in Israel have condemned refusal to serve on ideological grounds, and called it a "dangerous undemocatic way of protest". The refuseniks found support only within the Arab parties (Hadash, Balad and Raam) and within the left wing of Meretz (Zehava Galon, Roman Bronfman and Shulamit Aloni). The Israeli Labor Party and other Meretz members have condemned the refuseniks and said that although their protests against the occupation are justified and understandable, the means they are taking to manifest it are undemocratic and dangerous. Some major leftist politicians expressed the fear that leftist-oriented refusal to serve in the territories will lend legitimacy to right-oriented refusal to remove settlements.

Right wing politicians have claimed that the refuseniks' refusal to serve is helping the enemies of Israel in their anti-Israeli incitement. Some have even accused the refuseniks of treason during war-time.

The Israeli High Court of Justice ruled in 2002 that refusal to serve was legal on the grounds of unqualified pacifism, but "selective refusal" which accepted some duties and not others was illegal. The court said that allowing selective refusal would “weaken the ties that bind us as a nation”. The court also said that the refusal to serve in the territories is selective refusal and not conscience objection.

On January 4, 2003, a military tribunal imposed one-year prison terms on five young activists who refused to enlist in the IDF. The court accepted that the five acted in accordance with their conscience but "ruled that they did not refuse to serve as individuals, but rather as a group, with the explicit goal of bringing about a change in Israeli policy in the territories. As such, the court ruled, their action strayed from the norms of classic conscientious objection into the realm of civil disobedience" (Haaretz).

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