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Israeli “Refuseniks” Speak Out In Washingto n

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    More Israeli soldiers refuse to serve in the Palestinian territories By Ayesha Ahmad, IOL Washington Correspondent WASHINGTON, April 5 (IslamOnline) – The
    Message 1 of 1 , Dec 23, 2003
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      More Israeli soldiers refuse to serve in the Palestinian territories

      By Ayesha Ahmad, IOL Washington Correspondent 

      WASHINGTON, April 5 (IslamOnline) – The latest, deadliest wave of bloodshed in the Middle East did not deter David Enoch and Yoav Di-Capua, two New York graduate students and former soldiers in the Israeli army, from voicing their minds Thursday evening at Georgetown University in Washington D.C. 

      They are both “refuseniks,” a term coined to define Israeli soldiers who refuse to serve in the Palestinian Occupied Territories. The growing group – more than 390 now – signed their names to a petition in which the soldiers refuse to fight “beyond the 1967 borders to dominate, expel, starve and humiliate an entire people.” 

      Despite the concerns of many – including his own friends – who said this was not the right time to speak out, because of the swiftly rising Israeli death toll, Di-Capua said, “We think it’s the very right time – especially because not only Israelis are dying, Palestinians are dying, innocent people are dying on both sides.  

      “There is a sense of urgency and I think it’s our obligation to speak at every possible campus, synagogue, wherever we can,” he said. 

      On Thursday evening, with a simultaneous protest underway in front of the Israeli embassy in Washington, they explained their decisions to a packed room of close to 300 students and community members. 

      For Enoch, a reserve lieutenant in the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) who served time in military jail in 1997, the best way he could clarify his view was to ask the audience to put themselves in the shoes of those who are suffering on both sides. 

      “Try to think about what an occupation is like,” he said. “I want to encourage people to really think about what it is really like.” 

      He read several excerpts from personal testimonies, including those of soldiers who refused to serve because of things they were asked to do, and those of humanitarian workers who see the daily tragedies suffered by civilians. 

      “I’m no pacifist,” Enoch said. “I have no problem with fighting terror; terrorism is completely unjustified.” But he posed the following situation: 

      “I’m in the territories as a part of the occupying army; and I am facing what has to be seen as a Palestinian fighting for his liberation,” he said. What it comes down to, he said, is “it’s either me or him. What drives me crazy… is that I might have to kill someone, even in self-defense, even when I am not in the right.  

      “This is not a situation I am willing to be in, so I refuse to serve in the territories.” 

      Di-Capua, who served as an officer from 1988 to 1992, explained that the Israeli “refuseniks” are still Israelis, many of them ardent Zionists. But they believe that the nature of the ongoing occupation – not just the atrocities of the current intifada, but the occupation of the past 35 years – is one that corrupts all of Israel. 

      “You cannot have a democracy in Jerusalem and ten miles north… you don’t have human rights, you have nothing,” he said. 

      “Understand: to be a male citizen in Israel means you constantly have to negotiate on the one hand, your civil position, and on the other hand your military position.” 

      After 10 years for Di-Capua, it became “hypocrisy… you know, you really start to hate yourself.” 

      “There is no such thing as… destroying homes, uprooting a grove of olive trees… you cannot do that and keep being moral.” 

      Di-Capua emphasized the extreme difficulty of their position; “the road to refusal is long” and poses an agonizing decision for those who are loyal to their country – “the hardest thing when you refuse is your friends back home… you betray them.” 

      But Enoch explained, “As an Israeli citizen, I have a special kind of responsibility to fight against the wrongs of my country.” 

      As Elliot Ratzman, a self-defined “Israel-identified American Jew” and Princeton graduate student, told the audience, the “refuseniks” feel that it is a mark of their loyalty to Israel to criticize what they see as harming their country immeasurably. 

      “Our [Jewish-American] community likes to think of ourselves as progressive and liberal… protecting what is best about America,” Ratzman said. “This story seems to stop when it comes to Israel.” 

      They have accepted “the story that whatever the Israeli government does is appropriate… the occupation is enlightened.” 

      “This is a story that needs to be questioned.” 

      Ratzman called the refuseniks’ decision “an act of true patriotism, of responsible patriotism.” 

      “There are too many lives at stake, there are too many generations poisoned by this violence to do otherwise,” he said. 

      “It’s not about seeing Israel as a problem state, it’s about seeing Israel as a state with profound, deep… problems that need to be resolved.” 

      The three Israeli activists, as well as moderator Joshua Ruebner of the Washington-based Jews for Peace in Palestine and Israel, spoke to an audience that largely agreed with much of what they had to say, as evidenced by the loud applause that followed statements of principle. 

      One audience member, Nadia Itraish, was moved to tears by the power of their words. 

      “It gave me hope,” she told IslamOnline after the speeches. “It made me reaffirm my belief that there can be a solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.” 

      “These are the most courageous men that I’ve ever had the honor to listen to,” she said, her awe of their actions apparent in her voice. 

      Itraish, a Palestinian-American from McLean, Virginia has reason to want this hope: her father, a 64-year-old American citizen named Shawqi, is currently barricaded inside his home in Ramallah. 

      Shawqi called America home for 35 years before retiring and fulfilling a lifelong dream of moving back to Ramallah, and “now he’s caught in a nightmare,” Itraish said. 

      But not everyone in the audience felt so positively about Enoch’s and Di-Capua’s statements. In a crowd of supporters, Georgetown student and teacher Yair Fuxman’s comments drew loud disagreement from the audience, but he argued some of the points made by the speakers. 

      “I disagree with [the characterization that] unethical behavior is predominant,” Fuxman told IslamOnline, referring to the refuseniks’ condemnation of actions carried out by the IDF in the Occupied Territories. “And it’s not policy, it’s Israeli soldiers acting out of line.” 

      Some refuseniks remain in Israeli jails and have been threatened by both the Israeli government and some right wing members of the Israeli and Jewish American population; as a result, cameras were barred from the Georgetown event for the purposes of ensuring the safety of the conscientious objectors.

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