Shooting and Handing Out Candy

Gideon Levy

17 February 2002

   It is only a very small minority of people who support the refusal to serve in the territories and also back up their beliefs with actions. A decisive majority of Israelis oppose non-compliance with draft orders; some are convinced that Israel is not guilty of war crimes, others think that Israel has the right to carry out crimes, while still others hold that refusing to serve is prohibited in all cases, especially where the Israel Defense Forces is concerned. 

But there is a third group that is attempting to have its cake and eat it, too. Members of the moderate Zionist left, from Ami Ayalon to MK Ran Cohen (Meretz), from the left of the Labor Party to Meretz, say - often halfheartedly - that Israel is doing terrible things but fiercely oppose the refusal to serve in the territories for various reasons and call on soldiers not to carry out illegal orders. 

The supporters of this position, who want both to be seen as enlightened (after all, they are against doing terrible things), and as obedient, law-abiding citizens who do not question the existing order (after all, they are against refusing to serve), must explain exactly what they mean. 

First of all, they must explain their position to the soldiers. What does it mean, to say "no" to refusal to serve and "yes" to the non-performance of illegal orders? How exactly is a soldier who is attempting to fulfill this group's demands of conscience supposed to behave? Should he or should he not stand at an army checkpoint? After all, every one of the checkpoints, which divide the territories and prevent civilians from moving around within the territories (but not entry into Israel), are illegal according to the Geneva Convention, which prohibits the prevention of free movement of civilians in occupied territory. With this in mind, is an order to serve at the Qalandiyah checkpoint legal, or is preventing people, including old people and children trying to get to work, school or the hospital, an illegal order to be refused? 

Is dispersing demonstrations using the means that the IDF makes available to the soldiers a legal activity? Should the soldier obey or refuse a command to shoot rubber-coated bullets at rock-throwers? What about an assassination in which the person carrying out the operation does not always know whom he is killing and, above all, why. What about entering a home under the cover of darkness and frightening children, when the soldier has no idea why? Or bombing a police station in the middle of a city, or blocking the only entrance to a village with giant concrete cubes, or demolishing a home and uprooting crops - are all of these legal orders or not? 

Is there any possibility at all of serving in the territories without following all of these orders? The answer is no. That is the daily task of soldiers in the territories: to detain, uproot, delay, eliminate, block, confiscate, shoot and destroy. 

Those who support the third position have taken the easy way out - they tell the soldiers don't kill small children, don't prevent women in labor from going through checkpoints, don't beat up civilians for no reason, don't torment the innocent. But at the same time, don't refuse to serve in the territories, God forbid. Stand at the checkpoints and smile at the inhabitants whose lives you are embittering. That way, you will be both obedient and moral soldiers. Hand out candies to children after an operation, as battalion commander Lieutenant Colonel Tal Hermoni told his soldiers after they arrested, killed, destroyed and wreaked terror on Beit Hanun. Inadvertently, the battalion commander fully actualized this position of the left: Shoot and sweeten. 

Apparently, more than 35 years of occupation and more than 16 months of siege are needed to claim that even from a practical point of view, a soldier who is attempting to preserve his humanity has no other option besides the refusal to serve in the occupied territories. Apparently more time must pass and more blood must be spilled before Israeli society realizes that it is impossible to serve in the territories today without breaching the Geneva convention. 

The Americans who refused to serve in Vietnam and the French who refused to serve in Algeria said - without engaging in evasive, casuistic formulations of refusing illegal orders - that they would not serve in occupied territories. They were considered traitors, but today they are considered heroes by most of their compatriots. 

Service in the occupied Palestinian territories, just like service in Vietnam or Algeria in the past, cannot be done without carrying out illegal orders. It is, itself, completely illegal.





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