Date: Fri, 01 Feb 2002 16:30:09 PST
Subject: [R-G] Rebellion grows among Israeli reserve officers  - Independent

The Independent                     1 February 2002

Rebellion grows among Israeli reserve officers

     By Phil Reeves in Jerusalem

Israel's armed forces are struggling to contain the most serious internal
challenge of the 16-month Palestinian intifada after more than 100 combat
reservist soldiers signed a petition saying they would not serve in the
occupied territories.

At least four of the signatories have been stripped of their command
positions, and the army's chief of staff, Lt-Gen Shaul Mofaz, declared that
"there is no place in Israel's military forces for such occurrences". The
petition, which by last night had attracted 104 signatures, has prompted a
national debate, and a backlash within the army. Another group of several
hundred reservists has signed a counter-petition accusing the petitioners of
"lies, distortions and unbridled defamation of the army".

The issue erupted when a group of reservists, led by two young lieutenants,
published an indictment of Israel's 35-year occupation in the newspaper,
Yedioth Ahronoth, saying that it was "corrupting the entire Israeli
society". Some of the signatories are officers and others are from frontline
units - the paratroops, infantry and armoured and artillery corps.

The petition said soldiers had been issued commands while serving in the
occupied territories that "had nothing to do with the security of our
country", and had "the sole purpose of perpetuating our control" over the
Palestinians. "We shall not continue to fight beyond the 1967 borders in
order to dominate, expel, starve and humiliate an entire people," it stated.

The reservists' protest is the most compelling example of the simmering
dissent within Israel over the conflict. In September, more than 65 Israeli
teenagers signed a letter to the Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, saying that
they would refuse to do compulsory military service because of the
"aggressive and racists policies of the Israeli government and army".

A fortnight ago, an article appeared in the Ha'aretz newspaper by Dr Yigal
Shochat, a physician who used to be an Israeli fighter pilot, who called on
F-16 pilots to refuse to bomb Palestinian cities. At the same time, the army
faced intense domestic criticism for demolishing 60 Palestinian homes in a
Gaza refugee camp, while the Israeli left has begun to accuse the army of
war crimes. The divided opinion in the military ranks was further exposed by
revelations that a group of senior reserve officers, led by a
brigadier-general, were planning to present the government with proposals
for the reoccupation of the West Bank and Gaza, and the destruction of the
Palestinian Authority.

Refusals to serve are not a new problem for the Israeli army. There were
conscientious objectors in the 1982 Lebanon war and the first intifada, from
1987 to 1992. According to a group that represents Israel's refusenik
soldiers, Yesh Gvul (translated as "There is a limit"), 49 have been jailed
this time round for refusing to go to the occupied territories, 14 of them
regular soldiers. Most Israeli men and women are conscripted into military
service at age 18 -- men for three years, women for 21 months. Israeli men
also usually serve up to one month of reserve duty every year until the age
of 45.

Organisers of the reservists' petition say they want to attract the support
of at least 500 reservists. They have declined to speak to the foreign
press, for fear of fuelling international anti-Israel sentiment. But the
Israeli media has pounced on the issue. Itay Sviresky, a lieutenant in a
reserve paratroop unit, told Channel Two TV that, "as a human, a citizen and
as a Zionist, I feel that there are certain things that I can't take part
in. You have to be an occupier -- you can't be an enlightened occupier, you
have to be ... a cruel occupier."

The Israeli army has countered with a statement saying that the petitioners
were unrepresentative, and pointing out that there is no place for soldiers
to choose what jobs they do and do not want. A press officer cited the
example of a 56-year-old Tel Aviv lawyer, Avraham Dviri, who finished
reserve service eight years ago, but volunteered again last year.

After several Palestinian suicide attacks, Israelis feel even more embattled
than ever. Mr Dviri represented the mood of many when he said he "despised"
the refusing reservists. "An officer who says that he cannot serve somewhere
should not command other soldiers. He should be dismissed with dishonour,"
he said. 

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