On Dec. 30, 2002, the Israeli Supreme Court, in Jerusalem, ruled that Army reservists, who have refused to serve in the Occupied Territories, for “reasons of conscience,” cannot be exempted from military duty. Earlier this year, more than 70 Israeli army reservists, including at least two dozen officers, stated they would no longer serve in the West Bank and Gaza because of the brutality of the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories. “We will no longer fight beyond the Green Line, [the border between Israel and the West Bank established after the Six-Day War] for the purpose of occupying, deporting, destroying, blockading, killing, starving and humiliating an entire people”.
The three judge panel, however, held that the Army could not recognize “selective” conscientious objectors, since it might “loosen the links that hold us together as a people.” Such objectors, referring to the petitioners, are “shirking risky duty in a time of war,” and also this could have “security implications as the number of resisters grow.” It could also “create a sense of discrimination between blood and blood,” the majority ruling added (Baltimore Sun, 12/31/02). In a concurring opinion, Justice Dorit Beinisch said, “The considerations of state security and the integrity of Israeli society must be considered against the arguments of conscience and belief. The questions raised by the fight against terrorism are at the crux of an intense political debate. If the debate is conducted in the army, it could cause serious and substantial harm” (Washington Post, 12/31/02).
As a result of the legal precedents set at Nuremberg, Germany, (1945-47), the Israeli reservists were right to demand a clarification of their position. Unfortunately, the court ducked the main issue: Whether Israel’s 35 year occupation of the territories is illegal and violates international law and that the reservists have the right to refuse duty there. After WWII, key Nazi defendants were brought to trial before an International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg. They were charged with, among other offenses, “war crimes” and “crimes against humanity” (Article 6 of its Charter). Some of the defendants insisted they were immune to prosecution, since they were only following the orders of their superior, Adolph Hitler, the Fuehrer, the absolute leader of the German state. In a totalitarian society, they insisted, it was impossible for any individual not to follow the orders of the Fuehrer. Not doing so, they claimed, meant death or imprisonment.
The Nuremberg court rejected their defense. Instead, it adopted the firm principle, embodied in Article 8 of its Charter, that a soldier has a duty to refuse any order from a superior to commit a crime against humanity or a criminal act. It stated, “The fact that a defendant acted pursuant to an order of his government or of a superior shall not free him from responsibility…” The reasoning for the high standard was to restrain war crimes by soldiers, whether carried out against combatants or civilians.
In today’s Israel, it seems like the court is saying, that Israeli Army reservists, called up for duty in the Occupied Territories, must leave their conscience at home. Yet, why can’t an Israeli soldier “debate” an order to commit an offense he or she deems to be unlawful, illegal and/or immoral? What about the precedents set at Nuremberg?
The reservist Petition, now known as the “Officers Letter”, was published in one of Israel’s leading newspapers, Yedioth Ahronoth. In it, the men said they would continue to defend Israel, but they would no longer fight in the war for the welfare of the “Jewish settlements.” The soldiers said that while serving in the occupied territories, “We have received instructions that have nothing to do with the security of the state, and whose sole purpose is the perpetuation of domination of the Palestinian people. The price of occupation,” they argued, “is the loss of humanity in the IDF and the corruption of the whole Israeli society.” As a result of not wanting to have any part in such a tour of duty, many have received jail terms and have been removed from their army positions.
Meanwhile, the last two years have been a living hell for the Palestinian people in the occupied territories. During all of that time, the “Iron Fist” colonial policy of Sharon has been evident from death squads running amuck, to legalizing torture of detainees, to demolition of homes of people, and the building of even more illegal settlements. On May 3, 2002, Sharon boasted to the press that “We have to hit the Palestinians very hard, and make them loose and sacrifice, so that they feel the enormity of the price.” Under the terms of the Fourth Geneva Convention, Article 33, collective punishment is strictly prohibited.
The Israeli Army reservists, named in the Petition, know what has been going on in the Occupied Territories. They have seen the brutal wrongdoing of the IDF first hand and they wanted “no part of it.” These brave souls, now numbering more than 500, understand more than the occupant in the White House, George W. Bush Jr., that the oppression of the Palestinian people has nothing to do with “security of Israel,” and everything to do with “domination of the Palestinian people” by Tel Aviv.
The Israeli court opinion refusing to exempt the Army reservists from duty in the Occupied Territories makes a mockery of justice. It ignores the precedents set at Nuremberg, and other settled principles of international law. It is yet another black mark against a state that continues to violate the human rights of the Palestinian people. And worse, the decision can now be taken as a green light to the IDF to carry out Sharon’s pledge to “hit the Palestinians very hard… so that they feel the enormity of the price.”
WILLIAM HUGHES is the author of “Baltimore Iconoclast” (Writer’s Showcase), which is available online. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
(C) WILLIAM HUGHES 2002