Conscientious Objectors - The Worst of Criminals

Published: Wed 24 Dec 2003 10:36 PM
#"Conscientious Objectors - the worst of criminals" report of the court session of Dec. 23 by Adam Keller # 13 elite refusers - and it spreads... # Akiva Eldar in Ha'aretz Dec.23, 2003: Gush Shalom finds: 52 factories exited the Occupied Territories #"Conscientious Objectors - the worst of criminals" report of the court session of Dec. 23 by Adam Keller
This should have been The Day - the culmination of more than a year of legal struggle, the day when the Jaffa Military Court would finally hand down its judgment on Haggai Matar, Matan Kaminer, Noam Bahat, Adam Ma'or and Shimri Tzameret.
More than an hour before the time fixed by the court, hundreds of demonstrators turned up, holding signs: "We are all Refusers!" - "Refusing to Serve the Occupation!" - "Conscience in Prison -Stupidity in Power!"
The news spreads that today admittance to the court is restricted to family members and journalists only - apparently in order to prevent repetition of last week's spontaneous rally inside the military court enclosure. But Anat Matar, mother of Haggai, negotiates with the court administration and succeeds in getting enough of us inside. When the Five filed in, they did get the hero's welcome which has become customary.
Captain Yaron Kostelitz, the prosecutor, was visibly heartened by the court excepting his arguments last week:
"Your honors did well in finding these five guilty, but your verdict must be completed by handing down a suitably harsh punishment. What we have here are ideological criminals, and former Supreme Court Judge Yitzhak Zamir already noted that these are the worst of criminals, since they not only break the law, but flout its authority, and therefore should be doubly punished. The very fact that they are idealistic people and in many ways positive characters should be counted against them, since it helps them find followers and spread their law-breaking further into the society." Kostelitz did not explicitly refer to last week's poll, showing that 30% of Israeli youths regard refusal as legitimate. He went on quoting many precedents on the issue of ideologically-motivated crime - most of them cases of settlers and extreme right fanatics such as he notorious Avigdor Eskin.
"I object to this terminology of 'ideological crime' which my colleague of the prosecution introduces", said defence lawyer Dov Chenin. "It lumps together various criminal offenses which have no similarity whatsoever. Avigdor Eskin of whom my colleague spoke was convicted in several grave charges of assault and arson; there is nothing similar between him and the five standing trial today, who did not commit any violent act and indeed the act of which they have been convicted last week was their refusal to be in any way party to violence."
Meanwhile, Kostelitz makes clear what the military system has in store for the Five: "These persistent lawbreakers must be made to render the military service which they owe to their country. It doesn't matter how long it will take: in the end they will be made to do it. If a heavier punishment and the fear of a still heavier one is the only way, then this way must be taken. It happened before. There were refusers as defiant as these ones, and the military courts knew what to do with them. Take Gadi Elgazi in 1980: he refused four times and was sentenced to a month each time; and when he persisted the military court gave him a whole year." "And that didn't help either!" sounded the voice of Gadi Elgazi in person, from among the public benches....
"Let me complete the story of Gadi Elgazi" said Adv. Chenin. "He was indeed sentenced to a year in prison. But after half a year he was pardoned and discharged from the army by the Chief-of-Staff of that time, Rafael Eitan. There was no question of demanding again and again that he enlist, as it seems the military system proposes to do now. I can only wonder at it that they want to go far beyond the policies of Eitan, who had the name of being a strict disciplinarian. 'What they don't do out of love, they will be made to do out of fear' - this new guideline of the military as expressed by the prosecutor in this courtroom, is not really new. Our people have heard it in past generations from such institutions as the Spanish Inquisition. In this very week we celebrate Hanukka, a holiday instituted to commemorate a provincial priest named Mattityahu who was faced with exactly such a guideline by the constituted authority of his time, an authority which demanded that he bow to an idol and threatened him with death for his refusal. It is part of our tradition to proudly remember his refusal and rebellion.
"Such a guideline" continued Chenin, "has no place in a democratic state, a state which adopted a Basic Law on Human Dignity. My colleague has made extensive quotations of former Supreme Court Judge Yitzhak Zamir and of jurist Ruth Gavison. He submitted many articles by them as corroborating evidence to this court. Let me quote from one of these articles: 'A democratic state may find it necessary to punish a conscientious objector, but it should not try to break his will and force him into acts which are against his conscience.' In your verdict of last week your honors have stated that these five young people have acted out of moral and ideological abhorrence of being part part of an army which they consider to be perpetrating manifestly immoral acts. True, you have added that they also acted out of a wish to change public opinion in general, which you consider an illegitimate motive, but you did accept that the moral motivation was and is there. Let me say, that in the course of the past year i have come to know these young people quite well, and not only are they my clients but I am proud to consider them my friends. i can say quite confidently that they are not going to break, also by the imposition of further imprisonment. It will be no use to them, to the army or to the Israeli society. Much better to give them a chance to do three years of civilian service to the benefit of society as they are willing and eager to do.
"My colleague of the prosecution said that a severe punishment must be imposed to deter other refusers. Leaving aside that a commission of very respectable jurists determined recently that it is inadmissible to impose a harsh punishment on a person not on the basis of his own acts but in order to deter others. Anyway, what deterrence is needed? Is what these young people already endured, more than a year of repeated imprisonment and detention, not enough to make crystal clear that the straightforward declaration of refusal on grounds of conscience is the most difficult, prolonged and painful way of getting out of the army? Is it not well-known that different avenues exist for getting exemption, such as appealing to a psychiatrist, and that the people who take these routes far outnumber the actual and potential refusers?
"To sum up: You have determined that these young people are guilty of an offence under the military legal court, and deserve a punishment. In determining what the punishment should be you should be guided by the practice of your fellow judges in the military courts of the Israeli Defence Forces. I have gathered here for your attention several cases which I think are relevant. --Sergeant Yosef Bachar has been found guilty on three separate counts of beating up Palestinian detainees, and got three months of actual imprisonment and four suspended. --Soldier Saguy Harpaz wa found guilty of beating up a Palestinian detainee and got five months suspended. On appeal. one and half months of these were turned into actual imprisonment. --A Lieutenant Colonel publication of whose name was forbidden by censorship gave his soldiers orders, the fulfillment of which led to an unarmed Palestinian being shot to death. The military court which judged him stated that 'he had given an order whose illegality cries out'. They found that the fitting punishment was one month suspended. --Four soldiers of the Givati Brigade have repeatedly beaten up two handcuffed Palestinian children of whom one died later. Some of them got three months and some two months, plus demotion. --Four soldiers of the elite Duvdevan unit shot carelessly at a Palestinian car, killing its driver. They got a fine of one Agora [less than a US Cent]. On appeal this was changed to short terms of suspended imprisonment.
"I could go on and give more examples. I can also mention that these represent the few cases of which the perpetrators were at all apprehended and punished. But it is enough to show the standards which the military judicial system applies with regard to offences committed out of moral callousness. I think it is self-evident that moral callousness is a worse phenomenon than moral sensitivity, which was the motivation recognized by this court for the act of which my clients are convicted. It would be only right and proper that their punishment be lesser."
It was already long into the evening when the Presiding Judge Colonel Avi Levy made his dry announcement: "You understand of course that a judgment cannot be expected tonight. We need quite a bit of time to take all this into consideration." And so, we have still another act before the curtain falls, and the Five must wait several tense days more before they know their fate.
[A phonecall to somebody's mobile told of a solidarity vigil, held for the second consecutive week outside the Israeli Embassy in Rome.] ***
# 13 elite refusers - and it spreads...
Also this day, the papers carried headlines about the letter of the 13 elite commandos of Sayeret Matkal - the same unit which conducted the legendary hostage-freeing operation of Entebbe 1976 - who now declared their refusal to serve in the Occupied Territories. It was reported that the discontent has spread also to the equally elite Naval & Air Force Commandos, and includes no less than seven Israeli Navy Gunship Captains [Itay Asher, Ma'ariv p. 18 and 19].
See also: ***
# Akiva Eldar in Ha'aretz Dec.23, 2003: Gush Shalom finds: 52 factories exited the Occupied Territories
Factories exit
Soldiers who are not responsible for one of the dozens of roadblocks stand guard, among other things, over the industrial zones scattered throughout the territories. The compromise reached recently with the European Union , which requires Israel to include the place of origin of every product on its label, outraged the settlers and their patrons. Based on the amount of noise they have made, one might have thought that the West Bank compete s with Silicon Valley. But an operation mounted by the Gush Shalom ("Peace Bloc") organization raises the suspicion that at some of the industrial parks in the territories, only non production personnel - from CEOs to cleaning ladies - remain. The factories that operated there have left.
To update its boycott list, Gush Shalom's Boycott Committee sent letters at the end of November to the managers of 120 industrial plants whose products it is urging the Israeli public not to buy. The letter noted that man y factories have apparently left the settlements and returned to Israel, and that the number of departures can be expected to grow in the wake of the agreement with the EU regarding the labeling of Israeli exports. Manage rs whose plants had returned to Israel were therefore requested to give Gush Shalom their new addresses so that they could be removed from the boycott list.
Gush Shalom's mailbox was too small to hold the flood of returned mail. The post office sent back no fewer than 52 letters stamped "moved" or "address unknown." Most came from the industrial parks in Mishor Adumim (18 let ters), Barkan (11), Atarot (5) and Ariel (3). A few letters were also returned from industrial parks in Karnei Shomron, Ma'aleh Efraim and Kiryat Arba. Telephone calls to some companies were answered by security guards. G ush Shalom discovered that some businesses maintain two addresses. One enables them to obtain customs breaks in Europe, and the other allows them to obtain tax breaks in Israel.
"The fact that more than one-third of the factories in the territories have quietly packed their bags and returned to Israel gives us great satisfaction," says Gush Shalom's Uri Avnery. "Israeli governments - both Likud a nd Labor - invested enormous efforts in enticing factories to the settlements, and their efforts have failed." Avnery sees the failure of the occupation industry as proof that it is impossible to conduct serious economic activity in a region of violent conflict. The veteran peace warrior believes that this failure, like the closure of the European market to products from the settlements, will hasten the inevitable evacuation of the settle ments.
//Full article: *** -- If you want to be among those from all over the world who prepare to welcome Mordechai Vanunu ("the nuclear whistleblower ") upon his release in April (imprisoned since 1986), write to:
-- (òáøéú/Hebrew) (English) (selected articles in Arabic)

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