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Non Serviam - Impressions and Expressions of Ijon
September 4th, 2002
06:29 pm

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Non Serviam
My cousin, a bright young man named Ro'i Berlin, who is about halfway into his mandatory three-year military service period, is now incarcerated in an Israeli Defense Force military prison for refusing to serve in the occupied territories. A page in the Amnesty International Web site reports that he "said at his trial that his refusal to serve in the Occupied Territories was in protest at the Israeli government's policies."

I'm proud of him for having made such a bold decision to be true to his morals. I intend to refuse to serve in the occupied territories if and when the IDF would require me to do so in future military reserve duty periods, but refusing as a reservist, on your own, is easier than walking out on your platoon and condemning activities that the rest of them are presumably going to at least passively allow/enable. I wanted to write him a letter (having been incarcerated in military prison myself, I know what it's like behind bars), but his mother informed me today that it would just not make it in time. I guess I'll have to settle for talking to him when he's released.

The Amnesty site, like many other refusenik and peace initiatives, urges me to e-mail/fax the Minister of Defense to petition for the "immediate and unconditional" release of all conscientious objectors including my very own cousin. I stare at the fax numbers and e-mail addresses bitterly, and close the page. There's simply no use at all. Even if these faxes and e-mail were to somehow reach the Minister himself (and let's not kid ourselves here, eh?), I know enough about him to bet that there is simply no chance of any positive effect.

The change must come from the political system, and it must be led by different people; this whole current political gvardia is ruinous and irresponsible in ways I did not even imagine as recently as three years ago. As for the conscientious objectors, they make a noble sacrifice, and I am prepared to make it too, and it is only by numbers, by the sheer volume of people who won't fight the Minister's war, that the government's and the military's arms may be twisted into realizing the absolute necessity of completely retreating from the occupied territories.

Current Mood: bitter
Current Music: Keith Jarrett -- Köln Concert -- Part I

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From:kynn
Date:September 4th, 2002 10:37 am (UTC)
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Ro'i is your cousin? That is cool. I have heard of him.

--Kynn
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From:ukelele
Date:September 4th, 2002 03:42 pm (UTC)
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I was in Amnesty in high school. Wrote a bunch of letters; the only one I ever had a reply to was one in Israel. It said something to the effect of 'we're not doing anything terrible to so-and-so, but even if we were so-and-so is a pretty bad guy, and we're a country, so, yeah' -- in short, between the lines, 'we're torturing the hell out of him, like we'd listen to you.' One of the scarier things that has happened to me.
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From:ijon
Date:September 8th, 2002 09:49 am (UTC)

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Thank you for writing this. The tone of the letter you received does not surprise me in the least; we get this sort of response both from the government and the IDF every day. But I am glad that you added a testimony suggesting how useless it would be to fax our detestable Minister.
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From:heine
Date:September 4th, 2002 05:40 pm (UTC)

How much power does an individual have?

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First, I admire Ro'i for his courage. I served in the (at that time West) German army when I was 19. Somehow I doubt that at that age I would have had the courage to act in a similar way, facing a month of incarceration in a military prison. Today I would but I needed a long time to get here.
As you know I sypmathize with his or your view. And I also agree with you which kind of changes it needs to achieve progress in that conflict. But you don't show any way that could lead to political changes and sometimes I have the impression that you doubt that you could be able to change much - being just one single individual.
I for myself have decided to try, and joined a political party recently (working on completely different topics here). Of course I chose a political party where I think my personal views have a chance to get a majority. So what I try to do is to convince more and more people within that party of my views - promoting them on each party meeting. And I hope that if they got convinced, they'll convince others and so on - basically the snowball principle. I hope by these multiplying effect to reach a greater audience (even when it might be indirectly - not the origin of an idea is important but that you get it spread).
Another way to reach a greater audience is to make use of the media. Although I guess in your case it is not that the debate is not taking place but that you need maybe a new or differently focused approach to get people convinced that the continuation of politics as we see it now is not achieving any goals.
What I try to say is that I agree with you that sending letters to the political leaders ruling now will probably have little effect. Therefore I would concentrate the efforts on changing the government - and that can only be done if you convince people to vote for different politicians at the next elections.
I know that multi-party coalition governments like in Israel are very fragile constructions - hence forming them and keeping them together is a delicate task. But on the other hand this emplies the chance even for a relatively small political groups to gain quite a big influence. And this can be both, good ar bad.
So my question is: what is better, to give in because one doesn't have that much influence, or to (politically) fight for one's beliefs, trying to gain as much influence as one can get. If one still doesn't succeed, one can at least say: I tried.
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From:ijon
Date:September 8th, 2002 10:08 am (UTC)
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Your impression is not quite accurate; I have not given in. I, too, focus my hopes on a change of government. The problem is that there are simply no good options. There isn't a single party whose platform (yes, even that ideal set of mostly-impossible promises!) I can wholeheartedly endorse.

Theoretically, in this case I should start my own party, to promote my ideas. Realistically, however, I am quite confident that my views do not have enough support nor my personality enough clout in order to attract enough voters for at least one seat in parliament. Given that, it would make no sense to put the rest of my life on hold for this abortive effort.

A compromise is to support the lesser evil (so I shall vote for one of the inadequate parties, the one that I think will do the least damage, and possibly even some good), but I can't honestly join that party.

What remains is to be politically active outside party organizations; writing essays, conducting public debates, private discussions, and supporting various unofficial political organizations (such as the conscientious objectors non-profit organization, and New Profile, a movement for the civil-ization of Israel).

This I do, while trying to balance this political activity with the rest of my pursuits.

So, I have not despaired, but I am pessimistic.
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From:wildernesscat
Date:September 5th, 2002 12:35 am (UTC)
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Unfortunately, I don't subscribe to this point of view. I think that refusing to serve in one place or another misses the point of your struggle. The military is just a tool in the hands of the government, and does not lay down the rules. The government does.
Refusing an order (which is not "pkuda lo hukit ba'alil" - "a genuinely illegal order") is a dangerous precedent. Smells like the beginning of mutiny.
All this said, I still think that we should leave the territories, or at least large parts of them. I only object to your means.
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From:ijon
Date:September 5th, 2002 08:06 am (UTC)
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I agree about the military being a tool. But the refusal is not an act against the military. By refusing to serve in the military in the OT, I am causing the government a problem (the government is the "client" who wants work in the OT done). The government must be shown that the people will not stand for the use it is choosing to make of this tool, the military.

As for the precedent being generally dangerous, I agree as well, but I feel that it is time to act dangerously in response to the government's acts, which are a lot more dangerous, in my opinion. It is not mutiny, but civil disobedience. It is a dangerous but important act.
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From:ygurvitz
Date:September 6th, 2002 01:58 am (UTC)

One major problem

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I think that taking a long, hard look at the relation between the government and the military in Israel will show you that the premise that the military merely implements government policy is false.

There's a long article in Maariv today (sorry, no link; it's in the mussaf, written by Ben Kaspit) to that effect: it shows how the military has, time and time again, subverted orders to calm the situation and managed to avoid carrying them out.
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From:heine
Date:September 6th, 2002 07:32 am (UTC)

The role of military in a democracy

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Basically I agree with wildernesscat's view for principle reasons. The military is designed to be a tool for government use. It is not a political institution.
For keeping it functional it is necessary that it follows the principle of command and obedience. If you'd allow individual soldiers to follow only those commands they politically agree with, an army could never work.
I am aware of the fact that hardly any revolution in the world would have ever worked if the military hadn't refused to work as a tool of the government any longer. But for me this move seems to be justified only on the background of totalitarian regimes.
A representative democracy justifies the ruling power of a government by the fact that its members have been elected in a democtratic election by the people (whom they represent). That is the government's authorization. If you allow the military to play an active role in politics rather than being just a functional tool of the government, you have two means of political power in your country. And the military is not authorized for that task. It has not been elected by the people. It is not controlled by a parliament, representing people's will. Especially not if you grant it the right to make decisions contradicting the government's policies.
ygurvitz, I have read your comments. This is also my reply to you. I'm definitely not an expert on Israeli politics. So what I ask is whether the role of the army that you stated is justified in the light of the basic principles of a representative democracy. No offence meant here. My comments are strictly based on theoretical considerations.
For me the places for fighting for your political beliefs are still political institutions. On a national level parties and interest groups or on a supranational level international political institutions (like UN) or supranational interest groups (like amnesty international, greenpeace etc).
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From:ygurvitz
Date:September 6th, 2002 08:11 am (UTC)

Re: The role of military in a democracy

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I couldn't agree more. You are correct on all points. Problem is, our Army doesn't think so. Virtually every Chief of Staff has been a politician. Of the four Chiefs of Staff between 1991-2001, one has become a prime minister, another a hot contender for the role, the third one tried - and failed - to create a deadlock-breaking party, and the fourth - General Mophaz, who has been a persistent target of mine - has left office a few months ago, and is widely believed to join a political party as soon as possible. He has already cancelled his paid vacation, lasting a year. Since it looks like we'll have elections in the spring (or at most, summer), it is widely believed he did so so he could join in the political game (which he couldn't do if he was on vacation, since he would be officially an officer). The current prime minister is a former general who lied to the government which he served as Minister of Security, and most likely is a war criminal to boot -
both these factors, amazingly enough, helped him to get to where he is now. Ad because he looks "tough" (read: ruthless), he is popular - even though more citizens were murdered during his short term of office than under any other prime minister.

The military has always played a significant - many would say dominant - role in political life, and this has been increasingly noticed during the last two years. Weak prime ministers - Ehud Barak, a former Chief of Staff - and Ministers of Security (Barak again, and lately Gen. Ben-Eliezer) have virtually let the military do as it wishes. The army, naturally, wants victory, and is willing to ignore the fact that the cost of victory (if, indeed, victory is possible) would be immense.

The current Chief of Staff expressed his political opinions - thinly disguised as "professional opinions - two weeks ago, and made a series of blunders. He dubbed the Palestinians a "cancer", claimed he was using "chimotheraphy", that "amputations" may be in order; admitted that "we went easy on ourselves" and allowed the killing of the wife of a target alongside the target itself (and the air force, dropping a 1-ton bomb, got the target, his wife, their children, and other 14 innocent people); publicly criticised the (former) government's decision to withdraw from Lebannon, and claimed that when the press attacks him, it risks the country (!).

Other officers have allowed themselves to criticise elected officials (always annonymously, of course); others disregarded orders they did not like.

A leading publicist, Doron Rosenbloom, has dubbed the situation "a self-imposed military dictatorship". I think he is correct.
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From:ijon
Date:September 8th, 2002 10:28 am (UTC)

Re: The role of military in a democracy

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Indeed, discipline is crucial for the army. But as I wrote elsewhere in this discussion, the refusal is an act that transcends the intramilitary implications -- it is a very clear signal to the government, as well as to the general public, that citizens willingly serving in the military have not given the government a carte blanche.

The fact is that the general refusal movement taking place in Israel in the past year is delivering that message; public debate on questions of morality and the legitimacy of the occupation have arisen with new force, and the government, while still uniformly condemning the objectors, is in a quandary, and must think its way out of this problem.

There is no actual national danger in the objectors' deeds, because the moment the military lacks personnel to perform its duties, it will clamor to high heaven and demand a solution from the government; this will force the government to come to terms with the people -- it can't send thousands and thousands of people to military prison, and that won't help man the positions anyhow, so it will have to make satisfactory changes in its policy, after which the objectors will dutifully resubmit to the general rule of military discipline.

That is the plan, and I think it has a chance. That is why I support the conscientious objectors, and that is why I intend to refuse myself, if/when I am summoned for military service in the occupied territories.

We differ, then, on the question of when such an act is permissible. You draw the line at totalitarian regimes, and I draw it at totalitarian symptoms of a supposedly-democratic regime, such as the decision to drop a one-ton bomb on Shchada's hosue, which was not properly passed in government, or the fact that the Prime Minister is also in charge of the Israeli Broadcasting Authority, and the obvious implications of that.
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From:wildernesscat
Date:September 8th, 2002 11:13 pm (UTC)

a fix-up

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Let me refine what I said in my previous comment. Following heine's line of thought, I came to the following conclusion. If I'd want to protest against the government's policy in the territories, I'd refuse to join the "so called Israeli Defense Forces" altogether. I don't think there's a moral justification to being part of the military, and following orders selectively, according to your political views. I see it more as a black-and-white thing.
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From:ijon
Date:September 9th, 2002 05:12 am (UTC)

Re: a fix-up

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It certainly ought to be a black-and-white matter, yes. But we (ygurvitz and I) have already submitted to the mandatory draft, and did not refuse at the time. Today we are reservists, and our line is black-and-white (NO to the occupied territories, YES to everything else, whether we like it or not), it's just drawn inside the IDF-service realm, not outside it.
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From:wildernesscat
Date:September 9th, 2002 05:38 am (UTC)

Re: a fix-up

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Today we are reservists, and our line is black-and-white (NO to the occupied territories, YES to everything else, whether we like it or not)), it's just drawn inside the IDF-service realm...

I have a feeling that neither you nor ygurvitz have served any significant amount of time in the territories. (Neither have I, but I am not making any such statements). Am I correct in assuming this?
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From:ijon
Date:September 9th, 2002 05:49 am (UTC)

Re: a fix-up

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No, you're not. I haven't served in the territories, but ygurvitz has spent most of his service in Dir-el-Ballach, near Gaza.
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From:wildernesscat
Date:September 9th, 2002 05:59 am (UTC)

Re: a fix-up

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I see. According to my acquaintance with the IDF, the general rule is "what was, will be". In light of this, it's interesting to compare your entries in this thread to those of ygurvitz.
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From:ygurvitz
Date:September 6th, 2002 02:06 am (UTC)

I think it is harder for reservists

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While I admire Ro'i for his courage, which in our country is almost superhuman ("Nowadays it takes a hero to act like a decent human being" and all that), and while I agree with his action, I think his choice (while correct) is much harder for reservists to follow.

The laws in Israel force employers to acknowledge reserve service, and forbids them to fire workers on duty. Employers sometimes disregard this law, and fire workers who are called for (repeated) long-time service. Refusniks do not even enjoy this defense, and the military's practice of sending them to prison (for which period they are not paid), and then calling them to another period of service immediately after release, almost ensures that they will lose their job.

Given that finding a new job in the current economic climate borders on the impossible, and given that most people are not self-employed, it takes, I think, greater courage for a reservist to refuse to serve than for a regular soldier, who, as a rule, is free from economic burden.
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From:ijon
Date:September 8th, 2002 09:46 am (UTC)

You're right

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Good point. It is indeed more difficult for reservists, due to the economic situation. When I wrote that it's more difficult for regulars, I was thinking of the social aspect -- the reaction of their peers etc.
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