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.