"I Won't Serve in Your Army"

by Peretz Kidron

The Progressive magazine, May 2002


One Thousand Israeli reservists have signed declarations that they will not serve in the Occupied Territories. Today, twenty-one of these refuseniks are in military prisons. The Spring IDF (Israel Defense Forces) offensive directed at Palestinian cities and refugee camps has involved the call-up of 31,000 reservists to reinforce the regular conscript units spearheading the attack. A growing number of reservists-well over 500 to date-have honored their signed declarations and notified their commanding officers that they want no part in a military crackdown on a helpless civilian population or in the attendant actions that constitute war crimes. Twenty-one are currently serving prison terms for refusal. More than sixty-five refuseniks have been imprisoned since the beginning of the intifada.

Sergio Yahni and Itai Haviv are two of the refuseniks.

On March 19, Yahni was sentenced to twenty-eight days of detention for refusing reserve duty in the Israeli military. Yahni, co-director of the Alternative Information Center, is a longstanding activist with the Israeli peace group Yesh Gvul. At his trial, he stressed that he won't serve with the IDF in any capacity as long as the occupation is in force. This is a step beyond the usual principle of "selective refusal," whereby refuseniks agree to be delegated to other noncombatant duties unconnected with the occupation.

Following his trial, Yahni set out his objections in an eloquent letter to Defense Minister Benyamin Ben Eliezer:

"An officer for whom you are responsible has sentenced me today to twenty-eight days in military prison for my refusal to serve in reserve duty. I did not refuse only to serve in the Occupied Palestinian Territories-as I have for the past fifteen years. I refused to serve in the Israeli army in any capacity.

"Since 29th September 2000, the Israeli army has waged a 'dirty war' against the Palestinian Authority. This dirty war includes extra-judicial killings, the murder of women and children, the destruction of the economic and social infrastructure of the Palestinian population, the burning of agricultural fields, and the uprooting of trees. You have sowed fear and despair but failed to achieve your ultimate objective; the Palestinian people did not give up their dream of sovereignty and independence. Neither did you provide security for your own people despite all the destructive violence of the army over which you have responsibility.

"In light of your great failure, we are now witness to an intellectual debate amongst Israelis of the worst kind: a discussion about the possible deportation and the mass killing of Palestinians. The failed attempt of leaders of the Labour Party to impose a settlement on the Palestinian people has dragged us into a 'dirty war' for which Palestinians and Israelis are paying with their lives. The racist violence of the Israeli security establishment, who do not see people but only 'terrorists,' has deepened the vicious cycle of violence for both Palestinians and Israelis.

"Israelis are also the victims of this war. They are the victims of the irresponsible and failed aggression of the army over which you are responsible. Even when you waged the most deadly attacks on the Palestinian people, you did not fulfill your duty: giving security to the citizens of Israel. Tanks in Ramallah cannot stop your most monstrous creation: the desperation which explodes in coffee shops. You, and the military officers under your command, have created human beings whose humanity disappears out of desperation and humiliation. You have created this despair and you cannot stop it.

"It is clear to me that you have risked all of our lives only in order to continue building illegal and immoral settlements.... For the past thirty-five years, the settlements have turned the Israeli society into a danger zone. The Israeli state has sowed despair and death both for the Palestinians and Israelis.

"Therefore I will not serve in your army. Your army that calls itself the 'Israeli Defence Force' is nothing more than the armed wing of the settlement movement. This army does not exist to bring security to the citizens of Israel; it exists to guarantee the continuation of the theft of Palestinian land. As a Jew, I am repelled by the crimes this militia commits against the Palestinian people.

"It is both my Jewish and human duty to resolutely refuse to take any part in this army. As the son of a people victim to pogroms and destruction, I cannot be a part of your insane policies. As a human being, it is my duty to refuse to participate in any institution which commits crimes against humanity."

Captain Itai Haviv received a twenty-one-day sentence on March 14 for his act of refusal. Here is his statement, entitled "Black Flag." (The black flag symbolizes the soldier's right to disobey unjust orders.)

"As a combat officer in the IDF, I have served all over the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. I am not naive. There are times when you must kill in order to survive. On behalf of the state of Israel, I have chased children who threw stones at me. I have patrolled the alleyways of refugee camps. I have banged on their tin doors in the small hours of the morning. I have searched among mattresses for propaganda material. I have heard babies crying. I have hauled people out of bed to erase slogans daubed on walls. I have imposed curfews. I have dealt with Palestinian flags fluttering from power pylons. I have halted vehicles. I have confiscated identity cards. I have conveyed handcuffed prisoners in the back of my jeep. I have fired at rioters. I have halted hundreds of vehicles at roadblocks. I set up an outlook post on the roof of a cake shop in the main street of Gaza. The routine of occupation. Every day. Every hour. Thirty-five years.

"I believed that this was a war of no-choice. After all, we had left no stone unturned in our pursuit of peace.

"We have built over 100 settlements. We have sent 200,000 settlers to live there. We have lost soldiers, children, mothers. All for the sake of the security of the state. For the sake of peace. To stop the next suicide bomber. For thirty-five years, a black flag has flown over our heads, but we refused to see it.

"No more.

"Or, in Hebrew: Yesh Gvul. There is a Limit."


Peretz Kidron is an Israeli writer and journalist who lives in Jerusalem. Kidron has long been active with Yesh Gvul and other Israeli peace and human rights groups. He is a former reservist, among the first to refuse service in the Occupied Territories as far back as the '70s.

Israel watch

Index of Website

Home Page