Israeli soldiers refuse to kill Palestinians

Israel jails 600 reserve soldiers in crackdown on draft dodging

By Inigo Gilmore in Jerusalem Telegraph (London) January 31, 2002

ISRAEL has jailed 600 reserve soldiers in an attempt to halt a growing
rebellion against military service in the West Bank and Gaza Strip,
where the six-month-old Palestinian intifada has claimed the lives of
several reservists and shows signs of spiralling out of control.

At least 2,500 reservists have gone absent without leave, while
thousands of others have become "grey conscientious objectors", meaning
that they have fabricated medical or personal reasons why they should
not be called up for duty.

Under Israeli law, every male is required to do three years of national
service between the ages of 18 and 21, followed by a liability for
reserve duty every year - usually about 30 days - until they are
between 40 and 50. They make up a 400,000-strong army which supports
the regular force of 200,000 conscripts and professional soldiers.

Most of the reservists have little sympathy with the settlers who
justify occupation of the territories seized from the Arabs by Israel
in the 1967 Six-Day war on religious grounds, claiming that the
settlements are part of biblical Israel. Many of the mostly secular
reservists' objections have a moral and political basis.

The crisis comes at a time when settlement leaders are looking to
expand their neighbourhoods, partly in response to terrorist attacks.
Last week's shootings and bombings will spur settlers to push for wider
development on occupied territory.

Ehud Sprinzak, an academic specialising in politics,
said: "Since Sharon came to power many plans for new settlements have
been submitted and the settlers have found a sympathetic ear. Of
course, the issue of reserve soldiers protecting the new settlements is
going to be problematic."

Independent peace monitoring groups say that the number of reservists
refusing service has escalated sharply as the intifada has intensified.
Several reservist soldiers have been killed and, in the past few weeks,
settlements in the Gaza Strip area have come under regular mortar
attack for the first time. Clashes that came after a sniper attack in
the West Bank town of Hebron - which left an 11-month-old baby dead -
and a series of bomb blasts last week have underlined the risks that
they face.

Ishai Menuchim, a reservist tank commander and leader of Yesh Gvuel
(There is a Limit), an independent pressure group, said: "The
reservists do not care about the territories. Many are in their
thirties and forties, they have families and care more about their
businesses or studies.

"So they are not willing to pay the price and risk their lives for
something they don't believe in. This is a big problem for the army
because it will affect their operations. The army needs to understand
that fewer and fewer people are willing to do their dirty work in the
territories."

The issue is a divisive one in Israeli society because many Orthodox
students win exemption from military service on the grounds that they
must put their religious studies first. The problem is particularly
pressing now as reservists are being brought in to replace regular
soldiers who are due for a rest at the end of a four-month tour of
duty. Some senior army officers believe that jailing draft dodgers
could exacerbate the situation by uniting opposition to the draft and
even spurring greater numbers to avoid duty.

One battalion commander said: "This may lead to a terrible crisis. More
draft dodgers means fewer soldiers for the missions. The workload will
increase, not to mention the level of danger. I do not want my men to
feel like suckers."

The army is also having to deal with thousands of petitions from
parents who do not want their sons to do their national service in the
occupied territories. Many have telephoned commanding officers begging
them to find safe desk jobs for their sons.

Ruth Hiller, whose 19-year-old son is a conscientious objector, has
gone to the supreme court to prevent her him from being drafted. The
mother of six says the army has attempted to buy her son Yinnon off by
offering him a job in a hospital.

Mrs Hiller said: "We are shaking their tree and the army is worried
because it knows this case could open the floodgates. The youth in
Israel is saying no but the political establishment is not listening.
It is time that we started looking at a very different type of army - a
professional army that can operate in a professional way."

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