Breaking Ranks

You know you always have choices. You can go with the flow because it’s easier or you can let your convictions guide your actions if you are prepared to face the consequences.
Helene Grimaud

On January 25, 2002 fifty-two soldiers of the Israeli army published a letter in the Israeli daily newspaper Ha’aretz explaining why they would no longer serve in occupied Palestinian territories of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The major reasons enunciated in their declaration included:

• We…were issued commands and directives that had nothing to do with the security of our country, and had the sole purpose of perpetuating our control over the Palestinian people

• We, who believed the commands issued to us in the territories destroy all the values we had absorbed while growing up in this country.

• We shall not continue to fight beyond the 1967 borders in order to dominate, expel, starve, and humiliate an entire people.

• We hereby declare that we shall continue serving in the Israeli Defense Forces in any mission that serves Israel’s defense.

• The missions of occupation and oppression do not serve this purpose and we shall take no part in them.

Breaking Ranks: Refusing to Serve in the West Bank and Gaza Strip edited with interviews by Ronit Chacham profiles the rational of nine members of the IDF (Israel Defense Force), among the earliest of 1,100 the Israeli soldiers who have now pledged not to serve in the occupied territories.

All of the nine Refuseniks profiled in this book agree they will serve in the defense of Israel but not beyond the borders that existed before the Six-Day War of 1967 since it does not serve that purpose. Instead, it only perpetuates bombing of innocent people, destruction of their homes, humiliation, starvation and needless killing.

The nine live with an intense conflict between the values they were raised with and those displayed by the IDF in the occupied territories. Ishay Rosen-Zevi said, “What happens to a soldier, decent people, in the occupation is that power takes over, power poisons you. You can do anything. I was witness to beatings, roadblocks, curfews, going the in the middle of the night to get people. And I thought it was OK because we were all decent people…”

Most of the Refuseniks have served repeated jail terms, experienced the criticism and loss of friendship of their fellow solders, and resentment of some members of their family and, in some cases, their rabbis and teachers. In reply, they say, how can the Jews who have suffered so much violence and oppression over the centuries perpetuate the very same practices on the peoples who live in Palestine?

Rosen-Zvi comments, “In Gaza, I saw people living in shameful poverty. My heart ached for them. At the ckeckpoints, they look at your fearfully….It’s the unwillingness to see the other side that shackles our ability to comprehend terror and what motivates it….It must be stated clearly: Israeli government policies in the occupied territories are fertilizer for suicide bombings. We produce terror. Who in the right mind thinks that more destruction and humiliation will curb it?”

David Chacham-Herson puts it this way. “I am a soldier in the Israeli army, imprisoned for refusing to take part in the oppression of a people. My position arises from the feeling that you cannot be a Jew, the son of a refugee people, and oppress refugees.”

Finally, Guy Grossman expresses the subject lurking silently in background of this issue. “I see Germany right in front of me. And I hate being told that we should make the comparison. True, you can’t compare systematic Nazi genocide with our own occupation regime. But you can compare the psychology processes [italics mine] that took place there and are taking place here among our soldiers and Israeli society in general.”

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