Refusenik Shaul Mograbi Berger
Shaul Mograbi Berger aged 19, was imprisoned for the fourth time on 16 October 2005 for refusing to serve in the Israeli army. He was sentenced to 21 days in prison and will be released on 6 November 2005, by which time he will have spent a total of some 65 days in prison.
|In his letter requesting to be exempted from military service Shaul wrote: "When I try to consider in what kind of a world I would like to live, I know that such a world does not include violence. At the moment, there exists a Palestinian movement of non-violent resistance against the separation wall in the Occupied Territories. Villagers, whose land has been confiscated, stage non-violent protests trying to prevent the further construction of the wall. Against these demonstrators, the Israeli army is using insane violence… The army protects those who are in breach of the law - the settlers - while denying the human rights of the Palestinian people… I refuse because I object to what the army is doing. The occupation is the problem. It is the main reason for my refusal to serve in the army. For as long as this army is an occupying power, it won't have room for me. As joining the army is tantamount to approving its actions, I shall not serve… My refusal is one expression of my belief in non-violence, in the power of non-violent resistance...".|
Shaul's refusal letter
Re: My request to be exempted from military service in the Israeli Defense Forces
Through this letter, I would
like to let you know that I refuse to serve in the Israeli army due to
reasons of conscience. I request to be heard by a conscience committee and
to be granted exemption from mandatory military service.
When I try to consider in what
kind of a world I would like to live, I know that such a world does not
At the moment, there exists a
Palestinian movement of non-violent resistance against the separation wall
in the Occupied Territories. Villagers, whose land has been confiscated,
stage non-violent protests trying to prevent the further construction of
the wall. Against these demonstrators, the Israeli army is using insane
violence: tear gas canisters are hurled into village streets – sometimes
almost reaching inside homes – stun grenades are thrown without any
constraints. Soldiers chase and shoot at children who have thrown stones
at them. I am only mentioning the things I saw with my own eyes – but
there is much more.
In spite of the violent
behavior of the soldiers, these demonstrations stay non-violent, and the
local people do not give up.
When I witness how these people non-violently resist their oppression, the confiscation of their lands, the construction of the separation wall, and the occupation – it is obvious to me that I must support the Palestinians' non-violent struggle towards their liberation from the occupation. My refusal is part of my role in that struggle. My refusal is one expression of my belief in non-violence, in the power of non-violent resistance, and it is part of my solidarity with the Palestinians who are resisting their oppression.
The army is executing a
racist and violent policy.
My refusal results from my
resistance against the army's role in keeping things as they are. Things
as they are: The Israeli army is present in the territories that were
conquered in 1967 and oppresses the population of these territories. The
army protects those who are in breach of the law – the settlers – while
denying the human rights of the Palestinian people.
Why do I care? I believe that
we and the Palestinians do not differ – we are human beings, equal under
the law. The situation in the Occupied Territories, at the moment, is one
of discrimination between Arabs and Jews, and the army is responsible for
this state of affairs.
I refuse because I object to
what the army is doing. The occupation is the problem. It is the main
reason for my refusal to serve in the army. For as long as this army is an
occupying power, it won’t have room for me. As joining the army is
tantamount to approving its actions, I shall not serve.
Israel's army, in the Occupied
Territories, is not involved in defense activities. The occupation is a
blatantly offensive enterprise, much like the settlements and the
activities involved in protecting them.
Non-resistance to the occupation, and even more so to military service, is tantamount to approving of the occupation. The army is the executive force, and whether it would be within the national boundaries, or in the Occupied Territories, I am unable to participate in this organization's activities.
Some say that my refusal is a
non-democratic act. First of all – it is a democratic act.
Immoral actions are being
committed in my name, and the army expects me to take part in this. Isn't
it deeply absurd that a citizen is not allowed to refuse to commit an act
he considers immoral? In making my refusal, I do not follow positive law,
according to which it is my duty to enlist for military service, but I am
faithful to substantive law. The latter, as I learned during civics
classes, is, as its name suggests: the foundation and essence of
democracy. Democracy insists on human rights, on minority rights,
equality, liberty and justice. The Israeli army is in breach of all of
these. Instead it functions as an Apartheid police in the Occupied
Territories – it undermines the freedoms of the Palestinian people,
perpetuates the discrimination between Jews and Arabs, and withholds basic
human rights on security-based pretexts.
It makes no sense that I am called to serve in the army in the name of democracy, as there can be nothing more remote from any notion of democracy than the occupation. Israel treats the Occupied Territories as if they were part of the sovereign state and has even settled them with its citizens, while ignoring the fact that on these annexed lands other human beings are living. Human beings, though admittedly not Jews. The Israeli state treats the land on which these people live as though it was its own, and yet these people do not accede to any of the civic rights to which they are entitled by dint of Israel's imposed sovereignty. They have even been deprived of their human rights in favor of others – the settlers – who actually and without good reason are granted excess rights.
Some say that the army can be
changed from within. I don’t believe that the army can be changed from
within. The military is an extremely rigid hierarchical organization in
which the simple soldier cannot act on his own judgment. It is based on
blind obedience and on the fact that soldiers act under their superiors'
orders, and not as thinking and autonomous subjects. In the absence of
well-defined criteria, the existence of a notion such as that of a
manifestly illegal order still does nothing to prevent the trampling
of rights. A soldier who has been taught to obey unconditionally is not
likely to refuse an order, even just for fear of the consequences (court
martial for refusing an order).
I am not prepared to be under the command of an Israeli army officer. I believe that brute force corrupts. Those soldiers at the army checkpoints who treat human beings as though they were animals are not evil by nature. They simply cannot resist the power they have over other people who are subject to their authority. Could I, too, find myself tempted to behave like that? I don't intend to put myself to the test.
My refusal has a very personal origin too. The army is an organization whose aim is to fight (kill or be killed). It seems to me that if I am required to be part of such an organization, I should, in the very least, have faith in it and its aims. Once I do not believe that the organization's actions are just and right, once I actually object to these actions, I cannot be part of it. Can I really be made to carry responsibility (to whatever extent) for the life and death of people when I do not have any faith in what I am doing?! And do I – or indeed does anybody else - have, in principle, the right to be involved in activities that sacrifice lives?
One thing that led me to this refusal is my visits to the Occupied Territories. I visited there several times. I participated in Ta'ayush demonstrations, joint actions with villagers in the Jerusalem area; I came along to shifts of MachsomWatch; I participated in demonstrations against the separation wall, and met people on a personal basis, too. The most fundamental impression I gained from these visits was that many people there are suffering for no good reason. Villages find themselves cut off from all sides; the wall crosses straight through a neighborhood's main access road; people cannot move from one neighborhood to another for arbitrary reasons; the army demolishes houses; settlers and soldiers fire at civilians, and more.
The army wants me to be involved in these activities – whether more or less directly, it does not matter – which I regard as immoral and inhuman. Thus I have no other option than to refuse to participate.
Almost all of the Palestinians I have met have had horrific experiences with the Israeli army or authorities: a relative who died; a house demolished; a bullet fired by a settler or soldier and lodged in their bodies; months or even years in Israeli prison, sometimes under "administrative detention" – and endlessly many other things.
When I see all this suffering, most of which has been caused by the army or under its auspices, it's clear to me that there's no chance a solution will be found in this way. These people's pain will only yield hatred. It's obvious that this will not bring about a solution.
Due to my opposition to the suffering I have encountered I find I have no other option than to refuse to join the army and to contribute to the creation of more suffering.
Conscience is an entirely private matter. It is our conscience that either motivates or prevents each and every one of our actions. Since I have absolutely no doubt that my arguments are arguments of conscience, I know that there is no reason not to exempt me from military service.
I will never be part of the army of occupation and I will never take part in the oppression of the Palestinian people. That is why I demand to appear before a conscience committee and to be released from military service on grounds of conscience. I am ready to do alternative civilian service, outside the military context.
Shaul Mograbi – Berger