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Cracks in the Occupation?

To date, 272 officers and soldiers of the Israeli army have signed the initiative to refuse to serve the illegal Israeli occupation of Palestinians, while thousands of other Israeli citizens have expressed their support. Those that have signed are not pacifists nor are they particularly radical. They are well- trained combat officers and soldiers who are no longer willing to take part in the crimes being committed against the Palestinians.

In their letter, which has raised a great deal of public debate within Israel and beyond, the soliders state that:

“We, combat officers and soldiers who have served the State of Israel for long weeks every year, in spite of the dear cost to our personal lives, have been on reserve duty all over the Occupied Territories, and were issued commands and directives that had nothing to do with the security of our country, and that had the sole purpose of perpetuating our control over the Palestinian people. We, whose eyes have seen the bloody toll this Occupation exacts from both sides… We, who sensed how the commands issued to us in the Territories, destroy all the values we had absorbed while growing up in this country… We, who understand now that the price of Occupation is the loss of IDF’s [Israeli Army] human character and the corruption of the entire Israeli society… We shall not continue to fight beyond the 1967 borders in order to dominate, expel, starve and humiliate an entire people.” [The full text of the letter is available at http://www.seruv.org.il].

While critics claim that these soldiers are only a small fraction of those serving in the army reserves, the initiative of these brave reservists has succeeded in bringing the horrors of the Occupation to the front pages of the newspapers, radio and TV talk shows, as well as in the street and in living rooms all over Israel. The chilling personal accounts of the reservists have served to shatter the silence and the ignorance of the Israeli public. This is even more crucial considering that Sharon has been quoted as saying that Israel is restricted in its response to Palestinian violence because “The world today is not the same as as it was 50 years ago. It is another world. The media is everywhere. Every event is seen around the globe within seconds.” Perhaps around the globe, but not necessarily within Israel, and in this lies the importance of those that have decided to refuse to serve in the territories.

No longer can people claim that they were not aware of what is happening: the daily humiliation of the Palestinian civilian population, the senseless deaths of infants, children and teenagers, the daily abuse of basic human rights, the indignities that Palestinian civilians face at the hands of Israeli soldiers at the various checkpoints and blockades throughout the Occupied Territories. No longer can the actions of the IDF be swept under the carpet or ignored as “isolated incidents”. For too long, the majority of the press in Israel has supported the official positions of the government and the army, thus maintaining the status quo, and neglecting their role as watchdogs of society. Indeed, these reservists have succeeded in providing a wake up call for the Israeli public in general, and the Israeli left in particular. Over the past few weeks, tens of thousands of Israelis have taken to the streets to protest against the Occupation, to speak out against the violence and to call for a return to the negotiating table with the purpose of ending the Israeli Occuption, once and for all.

As was clearly shown by his address to the nation last night, Sharon and his cabinet are incapable of drafting any kind of clear and positive political strategy, nor are they capable of seeing beyond the next few hours. With an unprecedented 10.2% unemployment within Israel, a 17% redcution of immigration to Israel and a drastic decrease in foreign direct investment in 2001, the government must realize that it has to choose between “Occupation and Prosperity” as noted in a recent editorial in Ha’aretz newspaper (http://www.haaretzdaily.com). The Occupation is not only corrupting Israeli society and values but it is also pushing Israel towards economic disaster.

The only way to move forward is for Israel to rid itself of the Occupation, to withdraw to 1967 borders, to dismantle the illegal settlements and to wholeheartedly support a free, sovereign and independent Palestinian state. This will guarantee the prosperity of both Israelis and Palestinians alike.

Sam Bahour is a Palestinian-American living in the besieged Palestinian City of Al-Bireh in the West Bank and can be reached at sbahour@palnet.com. Michael Dahan is an Israeli-American political scientist living in Jerusalem and can be reached at mdahan@attglobal.net.

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Sam Bahour is managing partner of Applied Information Management (AIM), a policy analyst with Al-Shabaka: The Palestinian Policy Network, a secretariat member of the Palestine Strategy Group, and chairman of Americans for a Vibrant Palestinian Economy. He blogs at www.epalestine.com. Twitter: @SamBahour

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