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Israel was once again in a big fuss: 13 fighters from one of the most prominent elite commando units of the IDF, “Sayeret Matkal”, a unit which took part in some of the most famous Israeli military operations – such as the operation to liberate the Israeli civilians kidnapped in 1976 in Entebbe, and other similar operations – and that among its former soldiers and commanders one can find many leading figures in the political and military establishment – 13 of its fighters declared in a public letter that they are no longer willing to take part in military service in the occupied territories.
This was not the first time in the last 3 years since the beginning of the current violence between Israel and the Palestinians that such a thing happens. 3 months ago it was a letter from 23 Israeli air force fighters (that in the meantime was signed by several more while others consented to the massive pressure on them from the army and the political establishment and cancelled their signatures), and before that other letters from Israeli fighters and officers in the Israeli army – as well as Israeli youths before their military service – that declared they will refuse to take part in the Israeli occupation.
And indeed these events are beginning to become a kind of a routine. Just like in the previous cases, there were condemnations from almost all the political wings: the rightwing denounced the “refusniks” as traitors, that are using their military status and past as a platform to sound their political views, while the so called “Zionist-leftwing” – though calling for the government and the military establishment to coop with the appealers pledges – condemned the step as illegitimate and illegal measure in the political struggle against the occupation, and called for the signatories “not to deepen the political gaps in the Israeli society”. The Zionist so called “leftwing” politicians also claimed that such steps might legitimize disobedience from rightwing-soldiers to evacuate Jewish settlers in the occupied territories.
However, as it is usually the situation with cases that become a routine, the Israeli media ended the ritual as soon as it had something else on its table – and it has a lot: new developments in the corruption-inquiries of the Israeli prime minister and his family, the debates around the new state-budget, the escalations in the occupied territories, etc’. and so, after only 2 days the new letter almost disappeared from the headlines.
Trying to diminish from the importance of the letters, many Israeli politicians and army-officials indicate the relatively small numbers of the signatories: 13 in the last letter, 27 in the pilot’s letter of about 3 months ago, and in all “only” several hundreds of active servicemen from a force of hundreds of thousands. However, they know very well that the true extent of the phenomena is much beyond the official numbers: behind every soldier that is willing to openly and actively disobey orders and refuse to take part in the occupation – as well as willing to pay the price for such a measure - are hiding dozens and hundreds that do it passively, using all kinds of different and strange excuses to avoid being sent to the occupied territories.
And more: in the same day the letter was published by the mentioned commando soldiers, a survey was published by “the Israeli Institution for Democracy” referring, among other issues, to the general support among the Israeli public to the issue of refusing to obey orders by Israeli soldiers. The survey showed that about 28% of the public justifies refusal to serve in the occupied territories (it should be mentioned that the survey asked also about refusal to take part in evacuation of Israeli settlements in the occupied territories and got a similar number, but this questions is so far only a hypothetical one, and should it become real, the numbers are expected to drop down dramatically). This data is unprecedented: in the past only the radical leftwing supported such measures. The support to the refusal to serve in the occupied territories is now making its way into the heart of the Israeli consensus.
But the fact that should really worry the Israeli political establishment that carried on with the occupation so far – whether it is the current government or the governments before it – is that, unlike their claims, the present “frefusniks” do not come with a political-radical agenda. Unlike the “traditional refusniks” in the past and in the present, the signatories of the commando-letter, like those of the pilot-letter before them and the officers-letter before them, served for many years in the forces of the occupation. They didn’t think of refusing to serve in the occupied territories until the current war, and they had no problems following the policy that oppressed the Palestinians in these territories for the last 36 years (even if they may have not completely agreed with it) – and they did so always in the most efficient way.
Not values lead these new “refusniks” and the relatively massive support to their acts – nor does a radical political agenda. The Israeli perception of war begins to change:
In the past, almost no one dared to say that Israeli soldiers die for nothing. Every death was “justified”, Israeli soldiers “gave their lives so that innocent civilians could live safely”. The grieved families carried their pain with pride. No longer: as time goes on, more and more voices are being heard, even from families that lost their suns and daughters in the war, that are criticizing the Israeli army and the political leadership for sending their beloved ones towards a pointless death, protecting in many cases illegal acts and provocations of the Israeli settlers in the Palestinian occupied territories. Criticism on this issue can be heard not only from the Israeli opposition – but even from moderate rightwing supporters and politicians: a former parliament member from the governing rightwing “Likud” party, Nechama Ronen (which was not elected to the current parliament), was quite straight forward about this when she complained in a speech in the Israeli parliament of the fact that her husband and his reserve IDF unit had to protect an illegal settlement, even when its inhabitants were only several goats. Such views can be heard now also from others in her wing, even if in a more apologetic way.
But for many Israelis it is no longer clear also why should Israeli soldiers be killed protecting even legal settlements that will be dismantled for sure in the future. Such views could be heard very clearly on the Israeli media in the words of a sister of an Israeli officer that was killed in the settlement “Netzarim” in the Gaza strip, in the same week the commando-letter was published. Another father ordered his daughter not to obey the orders of her commanders that decided to send her to serve in that same settlement.
For many Israelis, the war is no longer something that the Israelis are forced to deal with only because of the Palestinians. Many understand now that in many cases the escalation is a result of an Israeli policy. It becomes more and more clear for many that the terror attacks are the result of the Israeli oppression. Justifying his act, one of the signatories of the commando-letter told the Israeli radio that while he understands and justifies completely the need to arrest and do everything needed to “neutralize” Palestinian suspects – at the same time he understands that when he enters a house in the middle of the night and make the arrest in front of the eyes of the humiliated suspects’ children, he is creating the next generation of Palestinian terrorists.
More and more Israelis share these views, and even in the Israeli political and military establishment there are some that express their frustration in face of the fact that the measures Israel takes to protect its citizens may make it difficult on the Palestinian militants to act on the one hand – but on the other hand increase their motivation and the motivations of others constantly.
The new “refusniks” are not being led by values. They just understood, finally, the stupidity of fighting a war that can’t be won in the name of wrong aims and values. The Israeli establishment may repeatedly claim that only a small amount of soldiers decided to refuse actively, but they know the truth and they are not blind to the trend that in the end makes it impossible for them to carry out their plans. That is what is standing behind the latest declarations from the Israeli prime minister and his aids about their intention to “end the occupation unilaterally. They are just trying to buy some more time, but they also know that the longer cynical politicians and army generals will conduct a pointless war, more and more soldiers will understand what they must do – or to be more exact, what they must not do.
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