Israelis Refusing to Participate in Occupation

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The world community has become numb to the decades of conflict in the Middle East.  The last nine months of fierce clashes between Israel, which illegally occupies Palestinian territory, and Palestinians who continue to resist this 21st century form of Apartheid has taken the same shape as every previous flare-up.  First, flaming rhetoric from both sides.  Then a spark ignites the fire (in this round, Sharon’s provocative visit to Muslim quarters in the Old City of Jerusalem).  Then rock throwing, shooting, missiles and tanks all resulting in endless and needless funerals.  Then the media moves on to the next world crisis leaving the Middle East in a state of low intensity warfare verging on explosion.

Most Israelis are sheltered from the day to day brutality of their illegal  occupation of the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem. Israelis living  only a few kilometers from the fighting have no idea what is going on and  continue with their daily lives.  Many Israelis have become accustomed to  blindly accepting government policy and shielding themselves with  euphemisms like "closure" "retaliation" "transfer" and "liquidation".  This  prevalent Israeli mindset goes a long way in sanitizing a brutal and illegal  occupation, allowing principals of human rights, equality and democracy to  shatter within the Israeli political character. With more than 500 dead, the  mass majority being Palestinians, and over ten thousand wounded, these  euphemisms allow Israelis to wrap themselves in their own sheets of  personal "plausible deniability".  

However, it should be noted that this time around the media left too soon. The rapidly growing sentiment against occupation within Israel is as much a  powder keg as is the current Palestinian-Israeli political stalemate. The  media has chosen to ignore this important development that has the power to make Israel end occupation by a decision from within.  Israeli soldiers are  refusing to serve within the occupied territories.  A few years ago, an Israel  Defense Forces (IDF) Sergeant who refuses to serve mandatory military  reserve duty if it includes being part of the Israeli occupation would have gone  unnoticed.  Today Israel is jailing Israelis for doing just that, refusing to participate in continuing the occupation of Palestinians.

"I won’t take part in a siege enforced against hundreds of thousands of  people, including women and children, I won’t starve entire villages and prevent their residents from getting to work each day or to medical check- ups; I won’t turn them into hostages of political decisions. A siege against  cities, like bombing raids from helicopters, does not stop terror. It is a sop to  placate Israel’s public, which demands ‘Let the IDF win.’" (Ha’aretz  newspaper, June 15, 2001)

What is interesting is that this author and conscientious objector of the  above statement is not one of the denizens of Tel Aviv’s trendy cafes, but  rather a religious "National Zionist" Israeli, himself a former settler and the  son of the former dean of the Tel Aviv University Law School. His name is  Yishai Rosen-Tzvi. 

Sergeant Rosen-Tzvi is one of a growing number of brave and courageous Israeli reservists who refuse to take part in the occupation of the Palestinian  territories and people. He is also one of a growing number of young men and  women with similar backgrounds who remain religious but refuse to mix  religion with politics, nor do they buy into the growing levels of messianism  and fundamentalism among Israel’s religious settlers. By refusing to serve in the occupied territories (and serving a 13-day sentence in prison for doing  so), Sergeant Rosen-Tzvi is protesting the increasing brutality toward the  Palestinian people.  And maybe more so, he is protesting the deafening  Israeli silence allowing the occupation to continue.

Like Sergeant Rosen-Tzvi, average Israelis and Palestinians terrifyingly know  that this final chapter in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is far from over, that is, if the United States remains distant to a conflict that it brought to the point of  explosion.  This time, when the media is dispatched to cover the next horrific suicide bombing, which is bound to arrive as long as occupation exists, the  fear is that the war-focused Sharon-Peres government may already have  succeeded in creating the next world crisis before they arrive. 

It’s time for the world community, and the U.S. in particular, to actively step  in, otherwise, the Palestinians and Israelis will enter another 50 years of  being the occupied and the occupier.  If this happens, it will no doubt engulf  the entire Middle East into chaos and U.S. strategic interests in the region will be the biggest losers of all.  

Mr. Sam Bahour is a Palestinian-American businessman, born and raised in Youngstown, Ohio, who relocated to his family’s home in Al-Bireh, West Bank immediately following the signing of the 1993 Oslo Peace Accords. He is co-author of HOMELAND: Oral Histories of Palestine and Palestinians (1994). Mr. Michael Dahan is an Israeli political scientist currently conducting postdoctoral research at the University of Cincinnati. Mr. Bahour and Mr. Dahan are co-founders of MEViC, the Middle East Virtual Community.

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