February 21, 2006

How can one refuse to refuse?

Posted in Uncategorized at 1:45 pm by yisraelmedad

January 16, 2005

The statement that follows reflects what many social and political activists have believed over the decades in coming to terms with their consciences even, and especially, at the risk of punishment.

“I believe that in matters intrinsically linked to the rights of man and citizen that cannot be negated, a free man is permitted, and at times, even obligated, to disobey formalistic instructions, if the essence of those matters impairs those rights, on the condition that he is prepared to take the consequences for his act.”

The above could have been spoken by Mahatma Gandhi, Bertrand Russell or Martin Luther King. They were spoken by an Israeli, but I doubt if any members of the radical left groups promoting refusal, such as Yesh Gvul, Courage to Serve, etc., know who the author was.

Indeed, it would be a surprising for the pilots who last year refused to bomb targets near civilian areas they decided were irrelevant to Israel’s defense, or for the soldiers in the elite sayeret matkal unit who last autumn expressed their unwillingness to serve across the Green Line, to discover that it was Menachem Begin who said those words. He made that statement in the Knesset on June 18, 1955.

Genuine refusal, as Begin makes clear, takes into consideration the very real probability that the government of the day will apply all legal and judicial instruments to force the conscientious objector to retreat. Such a person must know that there can be no promise of freedom. In fact, the real possibility is one of financial punishment and even jail.

The question is one of conscience. What justifies refusal?

There are those who claim that a civil disobedience campaign is illegitimate because it can be used only in oppressive, non-democratic regimes. Israel, they continue, is not such an entity.

This is arguable, since even some outstanding figures of the progressive camp say that several fine lines separating democracy from dictatorship have been crossed. The dismissal of ministers by Ariel Sharon prior to a vote so as to assure a majority in his favor during a government debate on disengagement was patently illegal. Worse, the High Court of Justice declined to review the petition of the ministers involved, thus weakening its independence and integrity. Academics such as Professor Mordechai Kremnitzer, no right-wing nationalist, are extremely uncomfortable with that decision. Prime Minister Sharon also reneged on his agreement to act in accordance with the Likud poll on his withdrawal plan, just as he reneged on the party’s central committee decisions.

Potential military refusers have been supplied with the moral basis that aids their step towards refusal.

If basic human rights are affected, this also justifies a refusal campaign. Here is another Israeli’s opinion on this matter:

“If I would be obligated to destroy a house in the territories, where women, children and the elderly live, due to the fact that one of its members engaged in terror against Israel, I would refuse. He who was brought up on the ethics of our Prophets must refuse to destroy homes.”

Gush Katif residents are not associated with acts of terror and so these remarks apply even more to them. And their author?

Shulamit Aloni, former Knesset member and minister, spoke them as published in the Hadashot newspaper on February 25, 1990. One could assume that what cannot be done to an Arab should not be visited on a Jew.

Gush Katif and northern Samaria residents are living in areas recognized by international law, I maintain, as being part of the Jewish homeland. I am referring to the League of Nations decision to reconstitute in these areas, at the very least, the Jewish national home. The residents of Gush Katif and Samaria should not be turned out of their homes, farms and schools. One cannot violate the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, specifically Article 17 regarding property and Article 18 relating to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. Are Jews – and only Jews, not Arabs – to be victims of discrimination?

Furthermore, civil disobedience is not some foreign idea. We read in the Bible, Exodus 1:17: “And the midwives did not do what they were commanded because they feared God.” They considered what they were instructed by Pharoah to do to have been an immoral crime. Their refusal was later rewarded.

Would it be too much to ask the current Attorney-General, Menny Mazuz, to recall the words of his predecessor, Michael Ben-Yair, as they appeared in Haaretz, on March 3, 2002: “[T]heir refusal [of those opposing Israel’s administration of Judea, Samaria and Gaza – YM] to serve is an act of conscience that is justified and recognized in every democratic regime. History’s verdict will be that their refusal was the act that restored our moral backbone”.

Another issue is that Sharon’s withdrawal plan will expose 46 western Negev communities to Kassam rocket fire. Colonel Uzi Buchbinder, head of the Home Front Command’s civil defense department, told a Knesset committee that communities located seven kilometers from the border with the Gaza Strip face threats of missiles and infiltration. The terrorism will not stop, as we witness improved firing systems, tunnels dug under the security fence and attacks at crossing points.

Quite simply put, Sharon is endangering the welfare of Israel’s citizens. How can one, then, refuse to refuse?

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