Former Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu and
current PM Ariel Sharon. -
Netanyahu's Nephew Refuses Draft 13/04/2003 10:55 AM ScreamingMedia
report to court in uniform, Yonatan Ben-Artzi instead showed up in
blue jeans and a T-shirt - another act of defiance against the
military he refuses to serve in.
The 20-year-old pacifist, a
relative of one of Israel's top hawks, is one of 16 young Israelis
refusing to be drafted.
It's a small rebellion, but one the
military is trying to squash by court-martialing conscientious
objectors and jailing many of more than 500 reserve soldiers
refusing to serve in Palestinian areas.
Dissent of this
scope surfaced before during Israel's 1982 invasion of Lebanon to
drive out Plo fighters, and to a lesser extent during the 1987-1993
It comes at a time when the
Palestinian uprising is well into its third year and troops are
stretched thin in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
resisters have touched a nerve in a country carved out by a century
of sacrifice, much of it on the battlefield. There's been debate in
radio talk shows and in editorial pages over whether the army should
accommodate the protesters or punish them severely.
Ben-Artzi's case is high-profile because he's a nephew of
Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a former hardline prime
minister who served in an elite commando unit during his own army
days and has called for tough military measures against the
Hoping to quell the defections, the army has
started court-martial proceedings against six of the draft
objectors, and about 200 of the reservists refusing to serve in the
West Bank and Gaza have been jailed, some for as long as 35 days.
Some oppose Israel's hold on lands Palestinians want for a
future state. Others, like Ben-Artzi, object to war on moral grounds
and want to forge an alternative national service.
fringe viewpoint. Most young Israelis do serve and believe it's a
necessary sacrifice. ``You have enemies surrounding you, enemies
among you,'' said a young army intelligence officer who gave only
his first name, Yossi. ``We have to defend ourselves.''
Ben-Artzi believes militaries fight avoidable battles
``motivated by the erratic decisions of some government or general
with nothing rational behind it.''
Israel's fight with the
Palestinians is in vain, he says, and though Israel cannot
realistically do away with its army, Ben-Artzi believes it could
make do without mandatory conscription.
One of the events
shaping his views was a visit at age 14 to a cemetery in Verdun,
France, where more than 300,000 people were killed during the
bloodiest battle of World War I. ``You see the graves and you know
those people thought they did something useful. Then years later
people say it was stupid and could have been avoided,'' Ben-Artzi
Military service is compulsory in Israel. Men serve a
minimum of three years and women 21 months. Most men then do yearly
reserve duty, some into their late 40s.
In Israel, military
service is regarded as a rite of passage and is at the core of the
country's ethos. It has also been a social mechanism for forging a
sense of common nationhood among immigrants from countries as
diverse as Yemen, Russia and Argentina. Service in elite units is
also a ticket to good jobs and careers in politics.
Israelis are generally not conscripted, but among the Jews there are
also exemptions and their numbers are increasing.
percent of eligible conscripts have been granted exemptions,
according to army figures. About half are ultra-Orthodox seminary
students, who have always received exemptions. The others released
for medical or psychological reasons.
Last August, a
military committee denied Ben-Artzi's request for an exemption on
grounds of conscience and sent him to a military jail, where he's
served seven consecutive terms - 200 days so far - in a cluster of
tents surrounded by a barbed wire fence.
committee ruled against Ben-Artzi because it found he was not so
much opposed to war but wanted to get out of his service to continue
his physics and math studies at Jerusalem's Hebrew University, said
army spokesman Capt. Jacob Dallal.
Ben-Artzi was offered a
civilian job in a hospital instead of combat duty but refused it
because it meant he'd still have to enlist, making him part of an
army he doesn't want to serve.
In February, the military
started court-martial proceedings against him and Ben-Artzi's lawyer
petitioned the Supreme Court to move his case to a civilian court,
arguing that since he was never a soldier, the military has no
jurisdiction. Ben-Artzi believes he can't get a fair trial in a
Last week a three-judge Supreme Court panel
heard arguments in the case and is expected to rule on the appeal in
several days. If he is court-martialed, Ben-Artzi could get three
years in prison.
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