because they fear us, say teenage refuseniks jailed by Israeli army
Mr Matar is one of
five young men starting one-year sentences at No 6 military prison near
They all refused
to serve because they object to the occupation.
"I take it as
a compliment that they are so afraid of our ability to persuade others
that they called us dangerous and have to lock us up," said Mr
objectors have generally been allowed to walk free, or have received
administrative sentences of a few weeks in jail, to save the military
But Mr Matar and
his col leagues went public with their protest, and encouraged others to
join them, at a time when the Israeli army is confronting a wave of
school leavers and reservists have signed refusal letters, and members
of elite forces such as fighter pilots and commandos say they will no
longer attack Palestinian targets because the large numbers of civilian
casualties amounted to war crimes.
To deter the
movement, the army made it known that Mr Matar and his colleagues had
been hauled before the first such court martial since 1981.
"To date the
army's policy against the refuseniks was to put them in prison for three
or four months," Mr Matar said.
verdict and sentencing they said they were punishing us much more
severely because we went public, because we affect other people."
The three judges
said they were guilty of a "very severe crime which constitutes a
manifest and concrete danger to our existence and our survival".
One judge, Colonel
Avi Levi, stopped just short of accusing them of treason.
made their refusal public so as to put in question the justification for
the army's operations and the morality of taking part in the army,"
so doing they undermine the international legitimacy of the state's
actions and help hostile nations by providing them with new
The five are not
typical of Israeli youth, nor of the broader refusenik movement. They
mostly come from radical families with long attachments to the peace
camp. Noam Bahat, 20, touches on issues rarely discussed among Israelis.
people in the West Bank and Gaza Strip suffer abuse, humiliation,
poverty and hunger - things that happen because of the occupation,"
"You begin to
understand that there is a reason for the bombings, the terror attacks.
You ask how people can get to the situation where people kill themselves
and kill others, and you realise they are desperate."
that his is not a popular view.
people react badly to what I say. They say that we're destroying the
country, we're anti-democratic, we're the worst criminals."
willingness to ask penetrating questions about the cause of the violence
has made them a less embarrassing target for court martial than pilots
and commandos with distinguished records.
But the five are
confident that their trial will backfire by encouraging, not deterring,
the growing ranks of refuseniks.
So far, more than
400 have signed the "high school letter" refusing to serve. A
further 550 who served and are now reservists have signed a similar
document objecting to policing the occupation.
In recent weeks,
28 pilots and 13 members of an elite commando unit have joined the
The five each
spent 14 months or more in detention before their court martial, so know
what to expect behind bars. After that, they are not so sure.
|Letters to the Editor
10 January 2004
Your article on the Israeli refuseniks (Guardian 7 January) claims that these five young men were not "typical of the broader refusenik movement" because they come from radical political backgrounds. But what distinguished them is that they invited others to join them in their public protest - at a time when the global refusenik movement is growing. We have gathered similar cases in other countries on www.refusingtokill.net. The best known is perhaps Stephen Funk, the US marine of Filipino/Native American origin who is currently in jail for having called on other soldiers to refuse to serve in Iraq. Stephen said that as a gay man he knew about oppression and stands with oppressed people. The anti-war movement -- which seems to be most of the world --welcomes the actions of women and men in the military who are refusing to obey orders, the Nazi excuse for state atrocities and genocide.