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Teen refuseniks jailed by Israel

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    It s because they fear us, say teenage refuseniks jailed by Israeli army By Chris McGreal in Tel Aviv The Guardian 7 January 2004 Haggai Matar, centre, and
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 7, 2004
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      It's because they fear us, say teenage refuseniks jailed by Israeli
      army

      By Chris McGreal in Tel Aviv

      The Guardian
      7 January 2004

      Haggai Matar, centre, and fellow refuseniks speak to journalists
      outside their court martial in Jaffa, near Tel Aviv Photograph:
      Yossi Aloni/AP

      Haggai Matar never expected that his sentence would be so harsh. But
      as the teenage refusenik reports to a military prison today, he says
      he will draw comfort from the judges' description of him as a threat
      to the survival of Israel.

      Mr Matar is one of five young men starting one-year sentences at No
      6 military prison near Haifa.

      They all refused to serve because they object to the occupation.

      "I take it as a compliment that they are so afraid of our ability to
      persuade others that they called us dangerous and have to lock us
      up," said Mr Matar, 19.

      Until now, objectors have generally been allowed to walk free, or
      have received administrative sentences of a few weeks in jail, to
      save the military public embarrassment.

      But Mr Matar and his col leagues went public with their protest, and
      encouraged others to join them, at a time when the Israeli army is
      confronting a wave of objections.

      Nearly 1,000 school leavers and reservists have signed refusal
      letters, and members of elite forces such as fighter pilots and
      commandos say they will no longer attack Palestinian targets because
      the large numbers of civilian casualties amounted to war crimes.

      To deter the movement, the army made it known that Mr Matar and his
      colleagues had been hauled before the first such court martial since
      1981.

      "To date the army's policy against the refuseniks was to put them in
      prison for three or four months," Mr Matar said.

      "During the verdict and sentencing they said they were punishing us
      much more severely because we went public, because we affect other
      people."

      The three judges said they were guilty of a "very severe crime which
      constitutes a manifest and concrete danger to our existence and our
      survival".

      One judge, Colonel Avi Levi, stopped just short of accusing them of
      treason.

      "The accused made their refusal public so as to put in question the
      justification for the army's operations and the morality of taking
      part in the army," he said.

      "Further, by so doing they undermine the international legitimacy of
      the state's actions and help hostile nations by providing them with
      new arguments."

      The five are not typical of Israeli youth, nor of the broader
      refusenik movement. They mostly come from radical families with long
      attachments to the peace camp. Noam Bahat, 20, touches on issues
      rarely discussed among Israelis.

      "Every day people in the West Bank and Gaza Strip suffer abuse,
      humiliation, poverty and hunger - things that happen because of the
      occupation," he said.

      "You begin to understand that there is a reason for the bombings,
      the terror attacks. You ask how people can get to the situation
      where people kill themselves and kill others, and you realise they
      are desperate."

      He acknowledges that his is not a popular view.

      "Sometimes people react badly to what I say. They say that we're
      destroying the country, we're anti-democratic, we're the worst
      criminals."

      The group's willingness to ask penetrating questions about the cause
      of the violence has made them a less embarrassing target for court
      martial than pilots and commandos with distinguished records.

      But the five are confident that their trial will backfire by
      encouraging, not deterring, the growing ranks of refuseniks.

      So far, more than 400 have signed the "high school letter" refusing
      to serve. A further 550 who served and are now reservists have
      signed a similar document objecting to policing the occupation.

      In recent weeks, 28 pilots and 13 members of an elite commando unit
      have joined the refuseniks.

      The five each spent 14 months or more in detention before their
      court martial, so know what to expect behind bars. After that, they
      are not so sure.

      "It's very unclear where the army is going with this," Mr Matar
      said. "It is possible that, when the year ends, they will send us
      back to be inducted into the army - and we will refuse, and it will
      all start again."

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