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You are here : XtraMSN > Entertainment > News and Gossip Sun 22 June 2003
  News & Gossip

Former Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu and current PM Ariel Sharon. - Reuters
Netanyahu's Nephew Refuses Draft
13/04/2003 10:55 AM

Ordered to 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 Palestinian uprising.

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.

The draft 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 Palestinians.

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.

It's a 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 said.

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.

Arab Israelis are generally not conscripted, but among the Jews there are also exemptions and their numbers are increasing.

About 20 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.

The military 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 military court.

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.

Copyright 2003 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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