Contents: The Sir! No Sir! blog is an information clearing house, drawing on a wide variety of sources, to track the unfolding history of the new GI Movement, and the wars that brought the movement to life.
Where applicable, parallels will be drawn between the new movement and the Vietnam era movement which was the focus of the film Sir! No Sir!
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This article, by Tal Rabinovsky, was posted to ynetnews.com, July 21, 2009.
A week after activist group "Breaking the Silence" published testimonies of IDF soldiers who said they were urged by commanders to shoot first and worry later about sorting out civilians from combatants, the Rabbis for Human Rights organization called on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak to launch an external investigation into the army's conduct during the recent offensive in Gaza.
"Since February our organization, along with a number of other human rights groups, turned to Attorney General Menachem Mazuz a number of times and asked that he order an investigation (into the Gaza op)," said Rabbis for Human Rights Director Rabbi Arik Asherman on Tuesday.
"We regret that he chose not to do so while claiming that the military probes were sufficient."
The petition was also signed by authors Amos Oz and David Grossman, as well as by former leftist Knesset members Shulamit Aloni, Yossi Sarid and Naomi Chazan.
"There is no doubt that we have a right to defend ourselves, and there is no country in the world that would allow rocket attacks on its civilian population if it had the power to prevent them. We hoped the soldiers' testimonies would stir existential feelings (among Israelis) in the face of the military's denial," Rabbi Asherman said.
According to him, "there is no doubt that some of the soldiers who had testified were afraid to reveal their identity to the army, but 'Breaking the Silence' has already announced that it would ask the witnesses to reveal their identity in case an independent investigation is launched.
"They have all of the names and details; there's no censorship or anything of that nature; it's just a matter of preventing acts of revenge by certain elements," he said.
The following testimony, about the use of white phosphorous by the Israeli army in Gaza, was originally published in the booklet Cast Lead, July 2009. (Click here to download Cast Lead).
Then we went back north, about 500 meters from the fence, and stayed there all night as look-outs. We saw nothing special. The next day we got back to base to get new mission orders and were once again assigned to a force from Battalion *** with whom we went in. We walked with them on the beach and saw all the white phosphorus bombs I've told you about, we saw glazing on the sand. Can you describe it? What did you see?
You're walking along the sand and hear this crunch of something being crushed. We looked down and saw what looked like the shards of thousands of broken glass bottles. What color did it have?
A dirty brown. Did you see remains of this elsewhere nearby?
There was an area of about 200-300 square meters of glazed sand like that. We understood this resulted from white phosphorus, and it was upsetting. Why?
Because in training you learn that white phosphorus is not used, and you're taught that it's not humane. You watch films and see what it does to people who are hit, and you say, "There, we're doing it too." That's not what I expected to see. Until that moment I had thought I belonged to the most humane army in the world, I knew that even in the West Bank, when we go into a neighborhood, we do it quietly so that people won't see us, but also in order not to disturb them, no less. We're not… Even when Molotov cocktails were thrown at us in the West Bank, we wouldn't shoot, the rules are very explicit. If your own life is at risk, you shoot. But under no other circumstances. Practically speaking, how often are you really in a life-threatening situation in the West Bank? Until that moment I had never fired a shot except at cardboard targets, just at the shooting range and maneuvers, and I also understood why. An IDF soldier does not shoot for the sake of shooting nor does he apply excessive force beyond the call of the mission he is to perform. We saw the planes flying out and you see from which building the rocket is launched against Israel and you see the four houses surrounding that building collapsing as soon as the airforce bombs. I don't know if it was white phosphorus or not, and I don't really care that much, but whole neighborhoods were simply razed because four houses in the area served to launch Qassam rockets. I don't know what else can be done, but it does seem somewhat unfair. What, the proportions?
Yes. It's disproportionate. When you went in, the airforce was still in action and the heavy equipment – not rifles, but artillery, armor and auxiliary fire. You were watching what was being fired there, and how the tanks and mortars were used?
From what I saw in our missions, tanks were often sent in, platoons from Battalion ***, to secure close cover, stand together with several tanks on a range, the tanks waited for something to move in order to return fire effectively. I didn't go in with the heavy equipment, we were attached to special units who did not work with the heavy equipment. What do you mean by "waiting for something to move"? What were your rules of engagement? What were you told at the briefings?
"Anything looks suspicious to you, open fire." What is suspicious? Arms and intent are both valid there, too?
Yes. You have to detect weapons, verify that person is not one of ours. If he has something on him, that is grounds enough to… No intent, even without intent.
They were assuming that anyone present in a bombed-zone, carrying a Kalashnikov, is no weapons collector. You go into Al Atatra, and you see buildings, houses?
Ruins. I entered Al Atatra after seeing aerial photos and didn't identify anything, and my photographic memory is not that bad. I remembered that 200 meters further on down the track there should be a junction, with two large houses at the corners, and there wasn't. I remembered there was supposed to be a square with a Hamas memorial monument, and there wasn't. There was rubble, broken blocks. How did destruction affect your ability to communicate, to navigate?
It got to the point where we would try to report to field intelligence about a figure sticking out its head or a rocket being launched, and the girl (at field intelligence) would ask, "Is it near this or that house"? We'd look at the aerial photo and say, "Yes, but the house is no longer there." "Wait, is it facing a square?" "No more square." She would ask us if this was the third or fourth junction, and we'd tell her the houses are all crushed over the junction and you don't see a single junction. It got to the point where we could hardly see our way. Later I went in to the lookout war-room and asked how things worked, and the girl-soldiers there, the lookouts, resented the fact that they had no way to direct the planes, because all of their reference points were razed. So they would direct them in general terms or rely solely on coordinates. They found their reference points on aerial photos shared by the pilots and the war-room, and very approximated, which also annoys me. What is this, approximation? It's highly possible that now the pilot will bomb the wrong house. Were you told of this approximation, or is this your own take on things?
It was my own take on things. She tells him, "Take some 800 meters east of the sea and so and so meters at such and such an azimuth from this or that line," and you say, "Wait, if he does not use the compass and other instruments in his cockpit for these measurements, then possibly he'll miss targets, it's not so far-fetched. This is not the 'smart bomb' we had been working on so hard. Could be he's using such a bomb, but aiming at the wrong target."
Several months have passed since the end of Operation Cast Lead in Gaza, and many israelis are still not aware of what really happened there. For lack of basic facts, we are forced to accept unconditionally the positions of the official bodies, which assure us that in spite of any doubts, the idF’s conduct was faultless and public accountability is uncalled for. this publication includes the testimonies of around thirty combatants who took part in the operation in early 2009. the testimonies that appear here were gathered over the past few months from soldiers who served in all sectors of the operation. the majority of the soldiers who spoke with us are still serving in their regular military units and turned to us in deep distress at the moral deterioration of the idF. although this publication does not claim to provide a broad, comprehensive review of all the soldiers and the units who carried out the operation, these narratives are enough to bring into question the credibility of the official IDF versions.
There are many significant gaps between the testimonies we gathered. These testimonies describe use of the ‘neighbor procedure’ and of white phosphorus ammunition in densely inhabited neighborhoods, massive destruction of buildings unrelated to any direct threat to israeli forces, and permissive rules of engagement that led to the killing of innocents. We also hear from the soldiers about the general atmosphere that accompanied the fighting, and of harsh statements made by junior and senior officers that attest to the ongoing moral deterioration of the society and the army. during the operation, the military rabbinate made its own contribution to these expressions when it introduced controversial religious and political interpretation under the auspices of the idF and with its blessing. Although certain features characteriz introducyed this operation as a whole, significant differences can be found among the various geographic areas and units. such variation is also addressed in this publication.
In the past few months, the idF spokesperson has gone to great lengths to prove that if there were any moral problems with the war at all, they were merely on the level of the ‘delinquent soldier,’ rather than a widespread, systemic issue. the stories of this publication prove that we are not dealing with the failures of individual soldiers, and attest instead to failures in the application of values primarily on a systemic level. the idF’s depiction of such phenomena as ‘rotten apple’ soldiers is a tactic used to place the responsibility solely on individual soldiers on the ground and to evade taking responsibility for the system’s serious value and command failures. the testimonies of the soldiers in this collection expose that the massive and unprecedented blow to the infrastructure and civilians of the Gaza strip were a direct result of idF policy, and especially of the rules of engagement, and a cultivation of the notion among soldiers that the reality of war requires them to shoot and not to ask questions.
This collection of testimonies offers a brief glance at Operation Cast Lead, and what occurred during the operation at the hands of the idF on behalf of israeli society. We believe that the existence of a moral society clearly requires a profound, honest discussion, of which the voice of soldiers on the ground is aninseparable part.
That this voice was missing from public discourse around the fighting in Gaza obliged us to hasten publication of these testimonies them. Because of time pressure and the complex process of verifying the testimonies, we are not able to publish here all the materials in our possession. the testimonies in this book are categorized by subject and appear in the exact language of the soldier speaking. Military terminology is explained in parentheses.
Those who break their silence in this publication describe in their testimonies how actions defined as anomalous yesterday become the norms of tomorrow, and how the emissaries of israeli society continue, along with entire the military system, to slide together down the moral slippery slope. this is an urgent call to israeli society and its leaders to sober up and investigate anew the results of our actions.
We would like to take this opportunity to thank our many volunteers and supporters who enabled the publication of this booklet on such short notice. Without their extensive assistance and support, this publication would not have reached your hands.
This article, by Jess Rosenfeld, was published in Haaretz, January 21,2009
I had just returned to Tel Aviv from a demonstration in the West Bank village of Ni'lin last July, when I caught word that the Israeli military had shot 11-year old Ahmad Musa in the head during a protest against the separation wall. Twenty minutes later, three Israeli anarchists and I were speeding back to the West Bank to see what had happened.
Soon we were again in the West Bank, where Israeli suburban-like settlements interrupt Palestinian farmland and villages. Apart from the occasional phone call by the activists to spread the word, we drove mostly in a stifling silence of despair.
As we were waved through a military checkpoint by an Israeli soldier with an M16 dangling carelessly around her neck, activist Yonatan Pollack kicked the glove compartment. "Fucking child killers," he spat out.
On November 7, Haaretz reported that the army had requested that the Shin Bet - Israel's domestic spy network and internal security service - provide information on left-wing Israeli activists traveling to the West Bank.
The stated goal was to make it easier for the army to issue restraining orders to prevent the activists from entering.
Since the beginning of the anti-wall campaign in Ni'lin last May, village residents have been joined by Israeli and international activists in non-violent attempts to block the army's bulldozers.
At the same time, the youth in the town have responded to the army's use of tear gas, rubber bullets and live ammunition with stone throwing. Their collective effort has created heavy delays in construction, and the wall - scheduled for completion last June - is still unfinished.
The struggle has not only generated robust participation by Israel's small radical left, it has also regalvanized the military refusal movement after two years of relative quiet.
Inspired by the resistance of Ni'lin villagers and horrified by the brutality Israel has used to repress the village uprising, the "refuseniks" - as they are locally known - are back in the news.
"If the army backs off in Ni'lin it will be an example to the refusal movement and Israeli society. It will show that the army can't break us," explains Omer Goldman, a Ni'lin solidarity activist who went to military prison this past September at age 19 for refusing to enlist on her conscription date.
Because military tribunals usually hand out numerous consecutive small sentences for refusal rather than dealing with drawn out public trials, Goldman received a second sentence immediately following her first.
Army service is compulsory for all 18-year-old Jewish and Druze Israelis, with men serving three years and women two, and it has long been seen as a sacred cow in Israeli society. The refusenik movement first emerged during Israel's invasion of Lebanon in 1982 and was re-launched at the height of the second Intifada with a refusal letter of 200 high-school graduates in 2001.
The refuseniks have now been thrown back into the national spotlight following the imprisonment of five Israeli draft dodgers - including Goldman last August and September. The jailings began after an open letter from graduating high school students refusing to enlist was published in the August 15 edition of Yedioth Aharonoth. Over 60 high-school students signed the letter, declaring their intention to evade conscription, once again taking aim at Israel's 41 year occupation of the West Bank and Gaza.
"Our refusal comes first and foremost as a protest of the separation, control, oppression and killing policy held by the State of Israel in the occupied territories," reads the published letter that was also sent to both IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi and Defense Minister Ehud Barak.
"We cannot hurt in the name of defense or imprison in the name of freedom; therefore we cannot be moral and serve the occupation," concludes the letter.
Goldman, whose father was a deputy head of the Mossad foreign intelligence agency, echoes the sentiment. I first met her hiding out in a Ni'lin medical clinic as the army invaded the village spraying live bullets.
As we sit in a trendy Tel Aviv cafe talking about both her political influences and activist experiences, it becomes clear that what drives the admirer of the 1968 Paris student revolt is both philosophical and visceral: she refuses to participate in what she has seen the military do in Ni'lin and rejects what the army represents.
"Ni'lin's [struggle] is a window that shows an example of Israeli-Palestinian solidarity," Goldman explains.
It is a perspective that grinds against the Israeli mainstream. For Defense Ministry spokesman Sholomo Dror, the issue of military refusal is one of a small minority of Israelis breaking the law and not fulfilling their national obligations.
Dror argues that Israelis have a "democratic" responsibility to serve in the state's armed forces.
"If you want to oppose the government's policies, then serve in the army and oppose the policies afterwards," he says in a phone interview from his Tel Aviv office. "I don't think serving in the army is violating people's rights."
According to Dror, refuseniks represent a fringe movement that poses no real threat to the military or challenge to Israeli society. "We have more people volunteering for elite unit enlistment being turned down," he says. The war on draft dodging
Despite this claim, Defense Ministry statistics show that 25 percent of Israeli's avoided military service in 2007. While 11 percent of those were exempt for religious reasons, the majority falls into what is commonly referred to as "grey refusal." This category refers to those exempt for mental or physical health reasons, or marriage, in the case of women.
In response to these statistics, Defense Minister Barak and IDF Chief Ashkenazi called for a "war on draft dodging" - an operation to publicly shame those avoiding service.
A vigorous television and billboard campaign was launched across Israel last year, under the slogan "A real Israeli doesn't evade the army."
The ads featured a group of Israelis on a post-army tour of India - a rite of passage so popular it has almost become a social institution - trying to impress a group of Swedish travelers with tales from the battlefront. The Israeli who avoided military service is the one who doesn't end up with a beautiful blond.
Following publication of high school refusenik's open letter, Attorney General Menachem Mazuz last September launched a criminal investigation into the New Profile organization - which provides support and information for people planning on or actively refusing military service.
Haaretz reported then that the inquiry into whether the organization was guilty of "incitement to draft dodging" was launched in the wake of a February request by the military.
The "incitement to draft dodging" law has never before been investigated, but New Profile organizer Haggai Matar said the group is careful to ensure that all its work is legal.
"We are trying to offer an alternative to Israel's security discourse, to ask who's secure and whose security we are talking about," he explains. "We argue that perhaps we should talk about a different kind of security - social security, equality and security from needing."
During our chat after a refusenik demonstration at a Tel Aviv military base, Matar talks about the importance of the support he received from New Profile during his own army refusal in 2001. The bushy-bearded, strawberry blond radical was a leader in the first high school refusal letter of the Second Intifada, faced a high profile public trial for rejecting enlistment and spent two years in jail as a result. The case is now taught as precedent in law schools across Israel.
"New Profile helped me a lot when I was refusing, and therefore, all I can do is offer the support that I got," Matar smiles.
He is part of a small minority of the 25 percent of Israelis who avoid the draft by publicly opting out. Public refusal continues to receive prominent national attention and vicious social backlash.
Like Goldman and Matar, refusenik, Sahar Vardi, received national media coverage when she was jailed for the first time on August 25 for refusing her military induction.
"I'm going to tell the recruitment officer that I'm not serving because of the occupation," Vardi said, just before entering the Tel Aviv military base for new conscripts. "I've seen Palestinian kids get shot and beaten by the army in the West Bank and this is something that I'm not going to be a part of." She seemed calmed and defiant, wearing a "courage to refuse" t-shirt with the graphic of a broken M-16.
In spite of facing both jail time and public backlash for their actions, refusenik activists are headstrong in their determination.
On December 18, the refuseniks rallied in front of Defense Ministry base in Tel Aviv - which also serves as a central army base - to present to Barak 20, 000 letters of international support calling for the release of jailed draft dodgers and commending their actions.
The action was organized by a coalition of Israeli and American anti occupation groups supporting military refusal, with most of the letters coming from supporters in the United States.
The crowed of 150 chanted "from Iraq to Palestine, choose refusal, stop the crimes," while several draft dodgers attempted to deliver the 20,000 letters. They were stopped by police, at the gate of the base.
"They're the army, they don't deal with these sort of things," said a police officer preventing the delivery of letters.
Since the beginning of Israel's offensive on Gaza three weeks ago, the refuseniks have been furiously organizing anti-war action, demonstrating at army bases and joining in mass demonstrations demanding an end to the war.
For many Palestinians, especially activists in Ni'lin, Israeli military refusal is an important act of solidarity for joint struggle against occupation.
"Despite being a small part of Israeli society, [the refuseniks] give us hope that even inside Israel there are people who are really rejecting occupation," says Hindi Mesleh, an energetic 25-year old activist with Ni'lin's popular committee who regularly engages with Israeli solidarity activists. His family is currently fighting to save their own farmland from being confiscated by the separation wall.
Mesleh speaks about the refuseniks with same glint of the admiration that comes out when discussing Palestinian prisoners. "It's hard for Palestinians to conceive of someone serving on a checkpoint one day and going to demonstrate in Ni'lin the next," he explains, two weeks after Musa's death.
According to eyewitness reports, Musa was fatally wounded by an M-16 sticking out of a rifle slit at the back of an Israeli jeep, as he turned to flee troops. His corpse in the Ramallah morgue, with his skull split diagonally in two on the cold metal table, corroborate his cause of death.
The anger that arose in response to the shooting was exacerbated at his funeral the next day when 17-year old Youseph Amira was killed by two rubber bullets to the head during a checkpoint clash.
That day in July, as we arrived in Ni'lin on the eve of Musa's funeral, Pollack jumped out of the car and walked towards the barricade lines, hugging the store front walls to avoid the army's rubber bullets.
Evaluating the situation, he turned to group of local children, and asked them in Arabic what needed to be done.
This article, by Dee Knight, was originally published in Workers World, January 18 2009. The accompanying photograph was published in the September 1969 issue of The Bond.
Liberated GIs in the Church of the Crossroads, Honolulu
The current surge in GI resistance, as reported in earlier articles in Workers World, has begun to stimulate calls for a sanctuary movement. In such a movement, people massively communicate unconditional support for GIs who refuse to fight in unjust wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere. Sanctuary cities have been established in Ithaca, N.Y., and Berkeley, Calif.
Such a movement has also been underway in Israel. Dozens of young Israelis have refused to be part of the Israeli occupation force on the West Bank or in Gaza, scene of the latest slaughter of civilians.
Workers World spoke with John Lewis, a national field organizer of the American Servicemen’s Union (ASU) in August 1969, when an earlier sanctuary struggle took place in Honolulu in protest of the war against Vietnam.
The struggle started when Louis “Buffy” Perry entered the Crossroads Church there amid a flurry of publicity on Aug. 6. “I’ve chosen to begin a lifestyle of noncooperation, on any level, with the military establishment,” Perry told reporters. “I urge all my brothers and sisters to do the same.”
Began with a mass protest
The local anti-war movement, known as the Hawai’i Resistance, held an anti-war march and rally of 350 people on Aug. 10 to commemorate Nagasaki Day. GI participants and their civilian supporters demanded “a bill of rights” for military personnel. By the end of that day, six GIs went AWOL and sought sanctuary inside the Church of the Crossroads, joining Perry.
During the next week, Black Marines rebelled at the nearby Kaneohe Marine Corps Air Station and a delegation from the sanctuary church demonstrated support for them. Marines and soldiers from other bases and from the tens of thousands visiting Hawaii on rest and recreation break from Vietnam began to join those in the sanctuary. Some who didn’t join the sanctuary brought food and other material aid
The Hawaii People’s Coalition for Peace and Justice quickly formed to support the soldiers. Two “sanctuaries” for AWOL soldiers were established: the Church of the Crossroads and the First Unitarian Church of Honolulu. During the next four weeks, Honolulu became a hotbed of GI resistance, with over 100,000 military personnel on the island of Oahu at Pearl Harbor, Wickham Air Force Base, Scofield Barracks and Kaneohe Marine Corps Air Station, plus GIs on leave from Vietnam. According to legal records from a case brought three years later, at least 24 soldiers refused to cooperate in a war they didn’t agree with and took refuge in the churches.
“You have to picture the grounds of the Crossroads teeming with people,” said Cindy Lance, who stayed at Crossroads Church during the sanctuary struggle. “In the evening there would be maybe a couple hundred support people bringing food and other supplies or just coming to stay for the evening, singing and talking with the GIs.”
About dawn on Friday, Sept. 12, military police stormed the two churches and seized some 12 AWOL GIs. Others escaped. The Unitarian Church caretaker remembered waking up with an MP’s gun to his head. The raids occurred simultaneously and were over quickly. The soldiers would face court-martial.
“It was a dramatic end to a dramatic demonstration,” Unitarian pastor Gene Bridges said of the raid. He explained that the sanctuary idea derives from medieval Christian practice, when a person fleeing authorities could find safe haven inside a church.
Cindy Lance continued to work with Liberated Barracks, an organization spawned by the sanctuary movement that continued to reach out to GIs after the sanctuary raids. “I think the military simply wanted the sanctuary movement to die,” Lance said. “They probably thought we would be demoralized after the bust and just fade away. On the contrary, we continued to visit the guys in the brigs and attend their trials.”
Many GIs defied the MPs’ efforts to arrest them. The cops only caught John Lewis after a dramatic chase across Honolulu by a convoy of vehicles—documented by a BBC-TV news team in Honolulu to cover the sanctuary movement. Lewis ended up in the Fort Dix stockade in New Jersey.
Other GIs who had participated in the sanctuary decided to leave the country and go to Canada. The life-and-death gravity of the situation changed not only the lives of the GIs, but also the thinking of some anti-war activists. Community members began secretly housing AWOL GIs in their homes.
An earlier sanctuary movement was integral to the anti-slavery abolitionist struggle of the 19th century, known as “the Underground Railroad.” Thousands of runaway slaves found freedom and a new life through the heroic support provided to them by churches and individuals who sheltered and guided them, often at extremely high risk to themselves. This legacy is important to the current struggle. Then, as now, those who provided sanctuary were consciously doing everything they could to win immediate freedom for the victims of a criminal government and its institutions arrayed against them.
Today, it is unknown how many GIs are living a semi-underground AWOL existence, although thousands are AWOL. During the Vietnam War, hundreds of thousands were AWOL, and non-white GIs especially were sheltered by their families and other community members.
Today, to the extent it exists, this embryonic form of sanctuary has been largely clandestine. It may be possible to make it public if it can be made clear to those who remain in hiding that there is widespread public support for them in their communities and in society at large.
Some worry about the difficulty of providing sanctuary. In a 2003 article, Cindy Lance commented: “Wasn’t it difficult for Germans to help Jews escape, or for whites to smuggle slaves to freedom? It’s not a question of degree of difficulty, it’s a question of doing what’s right.”
The folowing description of the events in Hawai'i, was originally published in the GI Paper The AWOL PRESS, issue no. 9:
Some two dozen GIs opposed to the Vietnam war have sought sanctuary at the Church of the Crossroads in Honolulu. The action began August 6 at a Hiroshima Day demonstration, when aa member of the air force named Louis Parry announced that "further cooperation with the US military on my part, would be to commit crimes against humanity."
Parry, surrounded by civilian supporters, then took sanctuary in the church.
On August 9th, Parry was joined by five other servicemen. One of them, Marine Pfc. Vincent Ventimiglia, announced that he was a member of military intelligence who had been ordered to bring in the "defectors," but had decided to join them instead. Another of the GIs who took sanctuary that day was on R&R from Vietnam.
Since that time, the number of GIs in the sanctuary has fluctuated around two dozen, about one--third of the Vietnam veterans. Ventimiglia was arrested Aug. 20 when he left the sanctuary to try and meet his parents at a Honolulu hotel. Four of the servicemen have left the sanctuary and surrendered to authorities voluntarily.
The military has so far not made any move to break up the sanctuary and arrest the GIs. The New York Times quoted "officials" to the effect that they would ask local police to arrest the GIs for desertion once they had been AWOL for thirty days.
The custom of sanctuary is not legally recognized today, but has been invoked by several churches as a protest against the war in Vietnam.
Even very few “select” people like computer experts can prevent war crimes on a large scale. Due to reliance on computer systems, there has never been so much power concentrated in the hands of so few “simple” individuals. Such experts can now prevent and stop war crimes.
“Passive” refusal is not enough to prevent war crimes
This I know from my own experience as a young Nahal soldier in the Six Day War of 1967. We were attached to a makeshift Golani battalion whose commander was Lieutenant-Colonel Ganz (I don’t remember his first name) and we were part of the force that occupied Nablus. We were at the outskirts of the city when the commander brought to us a group of young Palestinian civilians. He claimed that they were Jordanian soldiers who had discarded their uniforms. Therefore, according to Lieutenant-Colonel Ganz, they were to be treated as spies, meaning that they were to be executed, and he ordered us to do so.
We refused to obey to this manifestly illegal order, but then two of our platoon (one was Sergeant Ilan Polivoda) volunteered to slaughter the poor guys. We were shocked and we felt that by our refusal in the battlefield we had done our utmost as simple soldiers vis-à-vis the Lieutenant-Colonel. We were not aware of the illegality of the order and merely reacted according to our feelings and upbringing.
The bottom line is that the crime was committed and our refusal did not prevent it. This is obviously the limit of “passive” refusal, because it does not prevent others from committing war crimes.
To this day I am haunted by the image of one of those poor guys condemned to die, who somehow anticipated what awaited him. He crawled on the ground and scratched it with his nails and whined like a wounded animal. And I just stood there with a bleeding heart and could not help.
This is only one of many such stories from that war. I have heard similar stories from many soldiers. And the uncensored version of the cult book of soldiers’ testimonies “Siah Lohamim” (The Seventh Day: Soldiers' Talk About the Six-Day in English), as published in the PhD. thesis of the historian Alon Gan, includes similar descriptions. Today soldiers can more easily prevent war crimes in the making. They must do so, and we must draw their attention to that fact.
Even very few “select” people like computer experts can prevent war crimes on a large scale. Due to reliance on computer systems, there has never been so much power concentrated in the hands of so few “simple” individuals. Such experts can now prevent and stop war crimes.
Politics is much too serious a thing to be left to politicians and generals.
In his enclosed legal analysis the lawyer Shamai Leibowitz proves that it is actually the duty of Israeli soldiers to do all in their might to prevent and disrupt ongoing war crimes. Shamai refers directly to the Israeli army’s computer experts.
“…Accordingly, soldiers in a position to prevent or disrupt war crimes are under the obligation to do so. For example, if they can access computers, communication systems, electricity or supplies and thus prevent a war crime, then the result of the above-mentioned analysis shows they are obliged to do so. By accessing the war crimes perpetrator’systems to prevent the commission of war crimes they are exercising their duty under international law norms to prevent mass killings or other grave breaches of the Fourth Geneva Convention. As mentioned above, their action would also be mandated by Israeli jurisprudence.” It is beyond any doubt that it is not and cannot be defined as illegal to draw the attention of Israeli soldiers to their moral and legal duty. It is even our duty to do so (See the appeal to Israeli soldiers in three languages).
The stratagem used by the legal experts of the Israeli “defence” ministry to try to render war crimes “kosher” is nothing but a squalid ruse. On 7 December 2008 the legal advisor of the “security” system, Ahaz Ben-Ari, issued an expert opinion stating that if the Israeli army warns the civilian population in advance to evacuate the area to be attacked, artillery shelling or other attacks are allegedly allowed under international law. Prof. Ruth Lapidoth, a leading expert, alleged on Israeli radio on 5 December 2008 that even according to the Geneva Convention the presence of civilians in a military target does not automatically disqualify it as an objective for an attack.
Without being a legal expert it seems to me that according to international law and not just according to the moral code, there is a barrier to such attacks, and it is called “the proportionality principle” by jurists. This principle cannot be just arbitrarily expanded (see an interesting discussion on the subject on the Israeli Social TV. The discussion is in Hebrew with Arabic, English and Russian subtitles). Please distribute widely the call in three languages to Israeli soldiers immediately to act accordingly
This urgent legal call should be publicized in all media. It is our duty to support it in every way. A continuation of the present situation or further escalation means even more bloodshed.
Even if not a single soldier heeds the call, this would still constitute additional crucial pressure upon the Israeli leadership to seek a just political. As this leadership will not be able to tell if there is still at least at least one righteous person in Gomorra
Bethlehem – Ma’an – At least ten soldiers have opted for prison terms rather than going through with their deployment.
The refusals would be the first of their kind since Israel launched its massive air, sea and ground assault on the Gaza Strip,
On "conscience’s grounds," the soldiers refused orders to head to the Gaza Strip, they said.
Preferring a 14-day prison stint and rounding criticism from fellow soldiers and society at large, at least ten are awaiting trial for violations of orders. One said he simply could not go through with the deployment.
No'em Levna, a first lieutenant in Israel's army, refused to serve in Gaza, saying, "We killed 900 Palestinians in 17 days, including hundreds of children."
"If violence must be used, it should be used minimally, and that isn't what’s happening," he added. "Killing innocent civilians cannot be justified. Nothing justifies this kind of killing. It’s devilish."
"It is Israeli arrogance based on logic. It’s saying, 'if we hit more, everything will be okay,'" he said. "But the hatred and anger we are planting in Gaza will rebound on us."