In 1982, it took over half a year for Israeli officers and soldiers to begin refusing draft and orders to enter into Lebanon. In the beginning of the Al-Aqsa intifada, several months elapsed before the first letter of defiance was handed in. But in 2006, three weeks into the war, First Sergeant Zohar Milchgrub is entering imprisonment today (Sunday) for refusing to be drafted to a reserve force set to enter Lebanon . He is the second Israeli soldier in a week to become a conscientious objector to the new war. I spoke to him after the anti-war rally in Tel Aviv on Saturday.
Our first question would be to which part of the army you belong?
An ordinary infantry combat unit.
When did you first decide to refuse the draft?
I made the decision to refuse further service during my active service in the IDF. It was very clear for me that i won’t be heading back to the Occupied Territories. The decision to refuse to serve in this war was as natural as refusing to serve in the Territories.
Would you say that the approach of the Israeli public to this war is different to its approach to the occupation?
First of all, the pro-war sentiments and the exhilaration in the media have definetly had their effect. Society is following the call without any qualms or reservations. Even people who consider themselves to be on the Left, my own family.
Are people more motivated to serve in Lebanon than in the Occupied Territories?
Absolutely. A close friend of mine is in Lebanon with his unit as we speak. You need to remember that the breach of [Israeli] sovereignty, the raid over the border, all this was very problematic. However, we need to be looking at the bigger picture, and the bigger picture is that Lebanon is a country that we should be talking to. If we have even the slightest hope of ending all of this, we need to speak to Lebanon , and we need to speak even to Hezbollah. We really do believe that this is possible–proper Lebanese sovereignity on all Lebanese lands and a peace agreement with Lebanon which, God willing, will be linked somehow to peace agreements with Syria and with the Palestinians.
How is the Left camp in Israël responding to the war?
I don’t want to speak in the name of the entire Left–and, anyway, I think the real Left are the people here, at this rally. Sadly, people on the Israeli Left need to see casualties before they start demonstrating against the war.
Well, I wouldn’t want to say that they don’t care about other casualties, but there is a greater sensitivity to Israeli casualties, which is a great pity. Nevertheless, we see people joining and our numbers growing every week–this is a part of an ongoing war: people are beginning to sober up from their illusions.
How long do you expect to spend in prison?
As little as possible, maybe around a month. If the war won’t be over until then I’ll leave the country. I was planning to commence studies in Germany this year.
Some of our readers would doubtlessly want to write to you, and you will not be able to respond to them from prison. Would you like to say something to them now?
Even before I committed the actual act of refusing to serve, I emailed all my friends all over the world–in Germany , in Italy , in the States and even in Japan. I told them that what I am going to do in the nearest days is thanks to that wonderful support they’ve always given me. Almost immediately I got numerous responses of encouragement and solidarity. This is very important to us: we may like think we can do anything on our own, but the international support is wonderful and I’m deeply grateful to all those who support us.
DIMI REIDER lives in Tel Aviv and writes for Lebanews. Email: email@example.com