Published on Sunday, April 14, 2002 in the Chicago Tribune
Some Israelis Refuse to Serve as the Only
by Shamai Leibowitz
Israel's rule over 3 million Palestinian Arabs in the territories has forced it into a position of
committing a number of moral outrages. To maintain our rule, we have in the past months
committed war crimes, killing and maiming thousands of civilians. Rather than bring
security, the occupation has caused a great number of casualties on both sides. Shooting
civilians, bulldozing homes and firing at ambulances, we have violated the most important
articles of the Geneva and Hague conventions.
How ironic and sad this is, considering that had the European countries abided by these
conventions during World War II, Jews would have been saved from the Holocaust.
There is no such thing as an "enlightened occupation." Our government has proven what
was clear all along, namely that in the end, every occupying nation becomes cruel and
barbaric, causing thousands of unnecessary casualties and mass destruction.
Resorting to cruel collective punishment is against our own heritage. One could consider
our forefather Abraham as the first conscientious objector to collective punishment. He
was even willing to risk punishment himself in order to try to dissuade God from his
intention to mete out punishment to Sodom and Gomorrah.
His argument with God is described in Genesis:
"If there are 50 righteous within the city, will You indeed sweep away and not forgive the
city for the 50? . . . It is far from You to do such a thing, to slay the righteous with the
wicked . . . ? Shall not the Judge of all the earth do justly?" (Genesis 18:24-25).
Here Abraham courageously questions God and appeals his decision to mete out
collective punishment. Finally, after a lengthy dispute with Abraham, God acknowledges
that he will not punish the innocent with the guilty.
Instead of following Abraham, we have done the opposite. We have killed hundreds of
unarmed men, women and children, destroyed buildings and property, and enclosed
millions of Palestinians in their cities, towns and villages. Having enforced strict and cruel
curfews, we have expropriated their land and other property.
Yes, we are undergoing difficult times in Israel. Working in Netanya, I have been twice
within 100 yards of the terrible suicide bombings committed by fanatic Palestinian
terrorists. I have mourned the loss of innocent lives.
But these acts of terror are no excuse for our continuing acts of aggression, for the tanks
and helicopters firing at innocent civilians, razing residential areas, and wreaking havoc
and destruction everywhere in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Since the Palestinian uprising began, I, as a lawyer, must sadly admit that Israel has
behaved as a dictatorship that has strayed so far from the morality of order that it ceases
to be a democratic legal system. Certainly, the extra-judicial killings of Palestinian
political leaders are tantamount to premeditated murder.
These killings have the trademarks of terror groups. They have no justification in any sane
polity. This leads to a conclusion that since Israel has implemented terror tactics, it has
become itself a terror organization.
The U.S. government should consider adding Israel to its list of terrorist organizations.
In order to save our country from complete moral collapse, we have decided to refuse to
serve in the occupied territories. It is our most imperative duty, both as soldiers and as
human beings. Since our government has no intention of bringing an end to the
occupation, it is now time for all officers and soldiers in the Israel Defense Force to come
to the aid of their country and cry out loud: We will not commit these atrocities.
In a democracy, the elected government has every right to demand the obedience of its
army. That rule still applies, and should, where Israel remains vibrantly democratic--inside
the pre-1967 borders. But in the West Bank and Gaza no democracy has applied for 35
years; to demand citizens enforce a military occupation in the name of democracy is
No, we are not "self-hating Jews." As soldiers in the Israeli army, we are still committed to
defending Israel in its pre-1967 borders. But since the Israeli army has resorted to forays
of terror and is committing daily atrocities in the service of a colonial regime, we have
refused serving in the occupied territories. We would rather go to jail than suppress a just
uprising of people who have been held in bondage for so many years.
Shamai Leibowitz is a criminal law attorney who lives in Tel Aviv. He is also a tank gunner
in the reserves of the Israel Defense Force and a signer of "Courage to Refuse"