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My Statement, in English - Impressions and Expressions of Ijon — LiveJournal
March 13th, 2004
04:29 am


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My Statement, in English
(many thanks to arnulf, who translated this into English, and to shunra, who helped him.)

Statement regarding refusal to serve in the Occupied Territories

The State of Israel holds territories that are the home to millions of people, in an ongoing state of occupation and oppression since the 1967 war.

Had the state held the territories merely to return them as part of a peace agreement with its neighbors, without transferring civilian population into them, in violation of the Geneva Convention (of which the State of Israel is a signatory) the situation would have been tolerable.

It would have also been tolerable had Israel declared ownership over these territories due to its victory in the war (as had happened in other places) and annexed the territories, imposing Israeli law on them and granting citizenship to their inhabitants, like it has done in the Golan Heights.

But the State of Israel wishes to have its cake and keep it, too -- on the one hand, it does not annex the Occupied Territories, doubtless in order to deny the rights of citizenship from their inhabitants, and on the other, it transferred Israeli civilian population into the Occupied Territories to create a Jewish presence and establish a new demographic reality, de facto. In the meantime, the inhabitants of the Occupied Territories were held by the State of Israel as an inferior class, that of an occupied population, without minimal rights (no right of representation, no full right of ownership, no right of assembly, and others) and were treated with unreasonable force.

As a citizen of Israel and a soldier in its reserve forces, I have now been called to serve in the Occupied Territories, guarding settlements in the Jordan Valley. As a human being, I cannot answer that call. I cannot answer it because it is immoral -- it is immoral because it calls upon me to join a force that oppresses people due to their ethnicity; that by brute force supports illegal acts, from the act of settlement itself (which violates paragraph 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, signed in 1949), through administrative arrests and collective punishments, to the killing of innocent people. The violation of human rights and the abuse of the Occupied Territories' residents have become routine -- so much so that they are no longer reported in the news sections of the newspapers.

I would like to be clear on one thing: I do not turn a blind eye to the actions of the Palestinian side. They are engaged in a most despicable and abhorrent campaign of terror. It could be said that Jews, too, have exercised terrorism in the past (the actions of Etzel against Arab citizens during the British mandatory rule from 1937 on (following the 1936 riots), including killing of women and children in bombings in markets and shooting at bus passengers), and in that they closely resemble organizations such as the "Islamic Jihad" and the "Hamas". The difference is in the population's support: most of the Jewish population opposed the actions of the Jewish underground movements during the mandatory rule, while among the Palestinians, according to various polls, there is massive support for terrorist and violent methods for attaining their legitimate national aspirations. This support of violence on behalf of the Palestinians is a moral weakness that shall be forever remembered to their disgrace. The rampant incitement against Jews, Israelis and the USA is immoral as well, in my opinion.

But morality, in my opinion, is absolute, not relative; it is not enough to be "better" or "less evil" than the other side of the conflict, and one must obey one's conscience, even when engaging those less conscientious than oneself.

I am now being tried under military disciplinary law, on grounds of having refused an order. I should be found guilty of disobeying that order only if the order itself is not illegal. In my opinion, there definitely is "a black flag flying over the order", as Judge Halevi wrote in his famous verdict following the massacre in Kfar Qassem, the order to take part in actions of occupation and settlement in the Occupied Territories. Therefore, to the best of my judgment, I am obligated to refuse, even according to the army's own laws.

But beyond all the reasons I have given stands my own conscience. I refuse because my conscience will not allow me to obey.

I am not a deserter or a dodger, and I am ready and willing to serve in the reserve forces, in acknowledgement of my duty as a citizen of this country, and in recognition of the importance of the reserve forces for the country's security. I will serve without complaint on any mission, anywhere, as long as it doesn't transgress the borders of Israel, and those of my conscience.

Sgt. Asaf Bartov


Comments regarding the trial and the events preceding it:

1. I read the above statement today, in a trial for refusing to serve in the Occupied Territories. I was allowed to deliver the statement in full without interruption, and the judging officer even raised several questions at the end of my defense speech to further clarify my position.

2. I have been found guilty and was sentenced to 21 days of imprisonment, starting March 14, 2004.

3. Before the trial, I had participated in the unit's training (within the borders of Israel). All the officers I had any contact with, from my company's commander to the commanding officer of the current "employment" unit, treated me respectfully and politely. The "employment" commander even tried to find a compromise that would allow me to take part in the mission, but all the settlements that the force was called upon to guard were in the same region, deep inside the Jordan Valley, and I couldn't accept that sort of compromise.

4. At least four officers have explicitly informed me that the Jordan Valley is not part of the Occupied Territories. After I tried, for clarity's sake, to speak of 'Beyond The Green Line' instead of 'The Occupied Territories', the officers adamantly claimed that settlements such as Tomer and Yafit are not beyond the Green Line, meaning they are inside Israel. Regarding the settlement Na'ama, they said that it is on the Green Line. If it were not for the very positive impression that these officers have left on me, far from my views though they may be, I would have suspected that they intend to mislead me; But I assume this was not a premeditated attempt at deception but a blurring of distinctions that runs from top to bottom in the army, and basically from the goverment to the junior officers. In other words, I think a new concensus is being established, according to which all of 'Area C' has been annexed de facto, meaning it is not merely under military and municipal control according to the agreements with the Palestinians [Are those still in effect? I'm not sure.], but belongs to the State of Israel in the full sense of the word. This is very worrying. It was on the grounds of this conception that the "employment" commander promised me that I would not have to serve beyond the Green Line; he had 'Area C' in mind.

5. Conscientious refusal was never encountered before, in my company. There wasn't a man in the company that supported my position, even off the record, but some of the soldiers appreciated my standing for my principles; others told jokes about good Arabs and dead Arabs. The officers oppose my opinions as well, but they showed a lot of appreciation and sympathy.

Current Mood: sleepy
Current Music: Yoni Block -- A Nice God

(17 comments | Leave a comment)

[User Picture]
Date:March 13th, 2004 03:25 am (UTC)
I got home from work not too long ago; there I get to see many of the worst aspects of human nature daily.

Thank you for showing me some of the best.
Date:March 13th, 2004 06:42 pm (UTC)
Having just read your account Asaf, I very much want to communicate my respect and support for you, but I am having real problems coming up with the right words.

As a citizen of the UK, I cannot claim to have an intimate understanding of the situation in Israel and the Occupied Territories. My knowledge only extends as far as what is reported by the British media. As such my sympathies extend to those Israelis who have become a victim of terrorism, as well as those Palestinians who have had their moral rights, and lives, trampled on.

I think you are doing the right thing, which is often a more difficult path to follow. Your actions give me hope that the situation there will one day be resolved. I want you to know that I will be thinking of you during your 21 days imprisonment, which I hope will come to a swift conclusion for you.

Take care friend.

[User Picture]
Date:March 14th, 2004 12:00 am (UTC)

Fare thee well!

O ijon, it would be unsuitably naive of me to say how I wish that only good will come of this move of yours. I can't help but feel it, though (and to tell you...)!

Know, at least, that I'm stepping up my own activity in MachsomWatch, and shall think of you as I do so. Courage! [= take heart!]

Are you allowed visitors? (I'll check with arnulf...) This might be as good a time as any for me to demonstrate my devotion, that I would and just might conquer my reluctance to travel from my ensconced position up on the periphery, to stand - if not where you stand, then at least as nearby as a friend can.

Meanwhile, till next we meet, you have (as ever) my deepest and best regards.
[User Picture]
Date:March 14th, 2004 07:51 pm (UTC)
I admire you greatly for standing up to your own moral code. If only more people would do so, instead of giving in to outside pressure. Good luck!
[User Picture]
Date:March 15th, 2004 01:27 am (UTC)
Thanks you for voicing your position so clearly and eloquently. You have said what I have felt, but as an American and not an Israeli citizen, I have not believed that I have the right to voice this opinion. You have given me courage to speak up for my position on this. I wish you well, and I applaud your courage and your honor.
Date:March 15th, 2004 04:47 pm (UTC)
חזק ואמץ
[User Picture]
Date:March 16th, 2004 12:53 am (UTC)
This puts me to mind of a 1971 play by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee, entitled The Night Thoreau Spent in Jail. It's about American author and civil disobeyer extrordinaire Henry David Thoreau, who spent a night in jail (way back in 1846) for not paying his taxes, arguing that the money would support the United States' war against Mexico, something his conscience would not allow.

While I can't find the exact quote online, and it's been years since I read the script, I remember the scene -- allegedly based on actual conversation -- where fellow writer and trancendentalist Ralph Waldo Emerson comes to see Thoreau. Emerson looks at him and asks, 'David, why are you in there?' Thoreau responds, without missing a beat, 'Waldo, why are you out there?'

For what it's worth, I, like many of the others who have responded, support your decision and will keep you in my prayers.
Date:March 19th, 2004 02:20 am (UTC)
Thank you for being so brave.

With love,

Asch (an Australian Jew.)
Date:March 19th, 2004 03:29 pm (UTC)

To be more conscientious...


The Israelis in the military court, in your military unit, and among your friends on this blog all understand that the statement you read before the court is a gross simplification of the situation. They further understand that notwithstanding the simplistic view, there are reasons for being a conscientious objector.

Despite this implicit understanding, it is a shame that you do not make the intellectual effort to justify your objection within the framework of the situation’s complexities. Moreover, it is a shame that you have publicized the statement in English to a world community that does not appreciate the complexities of the conflict. Validating their view that Israelis are immoral neither promotes peace nor improves the situation of the Palestinians. You can not bring peace by speaking in slogans.

As an example, your first objection to the settlements is that they violate the Geneva Convention. This is effective propaganda for Palestinian spokesmen, as the link to the Geneva Convention provides immediate association with Nazi war crimes. However, while the implication of atrocities is effective propaganda, the issue of whether or not the settlements are in compliance with Geneva Conventions is tangential to a rational discussion of how the settlements exacerbate the plight of the Palestinians.

By contrast, you contend that Palestinian terrorism is tangential, even though it is this terrorism that forced Israel to re-occupy West Bank Palestinian cities in April 2002*. Have you forgotten that in the prior month there had been 11 successful suicide bombings that killed more than 80 people and left hundreds injured?

For people not intimately involved in the conflict, vilification of Israel is convenient. Israel is occupying land. The inhabitants want freedom, are oppressed (by definition), and the moral stance is to insist on withdrawal. If the moral stance is so obvious, then Israelis are unthinking and immoral (a conclusion you endorse). It is not surprising that movements in Europe are pressing for embargos against Israel, not only of arms, but of all exchange.

But are these conclusions really so obvious? Didn’t Israel try to give the Palestinians a state under the Oslo Accords? Isn't it reasonable for Israel to require some level of assurance that such the state will exist in peace with Israel? In hindsight, we know that the Palestinians exploited the Oslo years to continue inculcating their youth to hate Israel, while building a social and technical infrastructure to facilitate attacks against us. In mid-2003, Israel returned civil and security jurisdiction in Bethlehem to the PA. Recently, even this modest move has seemed like a mistake, as the PA has abetted the launching of terrorist attacks from the area. Responsible Israelis are still trying to promote political directions that could lead to peace, with one of those directions being a unilateral separation from the Palestinians. But any direction that Israel takes, including maintenance of the status quo, requires sacrifices on Israel’s part and uncertain consequences for both Israelis and Palestinians.

By framing your objection to service within the paradigm of Palestinian propaganda, you forego an opportunity to convey reasoned arguments to your Israeli audience. At the same time, you convey to the international audience the same message as those whose ultimate goal is to eradicate occupation not only of Jenin, but of Tel Aviv, Haifa, Ashdod, Beer Sheva…

--Jonathan Kagan

[User Picture]
Date:March 19th, 2004 03:30 pm (UTC)
The best of luck to you. On behalf of Jews with a social conscience everywhere, thank you.
Date:March 19th, 2004 03:36 pm (UTC)


* Note on the “re-occupation” of 2002: Under the Interim Period of the Oslo Accord that was operative before the Intifada in the year 2000, Israel had transferred jurisdiction over all major Palestinian population centers to the Palestinian Authority. These Area A regions were complemented by the more sparsely populated Area B regions, where the PA had civil, but not security jurisdiction. In the Area B regions, the PA security forces worked together with Israeli forces to implement security. At the same time, Israel was maintaining security and civil jurisdiction over Region C, where Israelis were living, a region whose status was to be determined through continued negotiations.

I can’t help but point out here that while there is rather broad international consensus that the West Bank is “occupied territory,” this position, and its corollary that settlements are illegal by “international law”, are not founded in historical fact. The green line of 1949 was never recognized as an international border, and Jordon’s role in setting that border was a violation not of international law but of UN GA Resolution 181 (which had been the basis for the UK withdrawal from Palestine). The Geneva Convention notion of “occupied territory” is territory captured in war from an established and recognized sovereign. Again, this whole issue is useful for Palestinian propagandists, but not for resolving the real problems.
[User Picture]
Date:March 19th, 2004 07:41 pm (UTC)
Traitor! Just because there are people like you, our country has so much problems! A soldier does not discuss orders, He obeys them!
[User Picture]
Date:March 20th, 2004 03:45 pm (UTC)
nice satire. I think that portraying Israel as a sort of third-Reich lookalike is rather over the top, of course... ...but I can understand why you'd be angry enough at the Israeli army to use arguments used by Nazi soldiers in their trials at Nuremberg.

or - did you actually mean what you said?
Date:March 20th, 2004 04:29 pm (UTC)
The guy appears to be a troll. Take from that what you will... :)
[User Picture]
Date:March 20th, 2004 04:30 pm (UTC)
I guess that you haven't served in the army, if you see in my words correlation to the arguments used by Nazi soldiers in their trials at Nuremberg, because "A soldier does not discuss orders, he obeys them!" is the slogan of EVERY army in the world at any given time in history! It's very sad that you see that correlation because i'm a jew living in israel, a jew who loves his country, served it's army and as a soldier, i never discussed orders.
[User Picture]
Date:March 20th, 2004 05:29 pm (UTC)
Thanks for your response.

In fact, Israeli law requires soldiers to disobey orders that are blatantly illegal. This has been tested in Israeli courts, and soldiers who have obeyed blatantly illegal orders have gone to prison.

This has nothing to do with ethnic derivation or religious practice.
[User Picture]
Date:March 21st, 2004 04:00 am (UTC)
Serving in the occupied territories cannot be a blatantly illegal order because it's our government policy!
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