It is remarkable how easily one learns to live with occupation. When I was born, the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories was already three years old. When I became 18 the occupation was still in full force, only by then the Palestinians had had enough of it. That was the first intifada. I was there, along with many others, ready to serve as the iron fist to crush the Palestinian resistance. Elsewhere people our age contemplated going to university or travelling around the world, but I and many young Israelis found ourselves in the narrow alleys of Jebaliya and other refugee camps. We should have known better, but almost without exception we didn’t.
Nearly eight years later I was still serving in the occupied territories, this time as a reserve soldier. I was manning a roadblock, stopping Palestinians from entering Israel en route to their low paid jobs in the Israeli “slave market”. I remember talking to a friend, trying to justify why I’d collaborated with a policy that denied a Palestinian father the only means of bringing food to his children.
No more. No more excuses. We members of Courage to Refuse, reserve soldiers who have vowed not to serve in the occupied territories, will not set foot beyond the 1967 line unless it is in civilian clothes and as invited guests.
Ariel Sharon will tell you that Israel is fighting a war for its survival against a bloodthirsty enemy. Not so. Sharon and his cronies are fighting a colonial war to keep their pet settlement project in place, to perpetuate the Israeli occupation and the subjugation of the Palestinian territories. It is a one-sided war with a not-so-covert purpose of destroying any hope of a Palestinian homeland and independent national life.
Any suicide attack within Israel, deplorable as it is, is used by Sharon as a pretext for inflicting ever-increasing misery on the 3.5 million inhabitants of Palestine. And if suicide attacks are not forthcoming, you can count on Sharon to provoke them with his so-called “targeted killings”, which usually leave alleged terrorists unharmed but often leave women and children dead.
In this so-called war, any pretext is used to inflict a second Nakba (the catastrophe of 1948) on the Palestinians. Just look at the wanton destruction of the Palestinian ministry of culture, the bureau of statistics, the ministry of education; look at the destruction of such national symbols as the Palestinian international airport and the Voice of Palestine radio station, not to mention the shameful episode of Arafat’s virtual house arrest. All this is aimed not at some terrorist infrastructure but at the basic foundations of a society struggling to attain independence and develop its future from under the Israeli army boot. This is something conscientious Israelis are no longer willing to take part in.
Sharon’s strength is in turning Israeli society into an obedient herd. He did that remarkably well 20 years ago, leading us into Lebanon. No more. Sharon should know that he cannot count on us to fight his war any more.
True, today we don’t have the 400,000 Israelis who swarmed the streets in protest, sending Sharon home after the terrible massacre of Sabra and Chatila. But when Sharon looks over his shoulder he no longer sees an entire enlisted Israeli society mobilised behind him; he sees 467 combat soldiers and officers who are not willing to take part in this colonial campaign and more than 80 conscientious objectors, jailed by the state they so faithfully served.
In the refuseniks, Sharon sees dangerous determination, he sees the unherding of the herd. And he is afraid. University lecturers who support us are threatened with dismissal, artists who sympathise with us are boycotted. Sharon and his generals won’t admit it, but they are afraid of us – the privates, the sergeants and the corporals.
Although Sharon and his government are the elected and legitimate representatives of the state of Israel, he and his generals do not represent the basic values that Israelis, Jews and Arabs, stand for. So to criticise the current government of Israel is not to attack the people of Israel, and it is definitely not anti-semitic. It is not up to Sharon, the “hero” of such human catastrophes as Kibya (1953), Sabra and Chatila (1982), and Jenin (2002), to tell anyone what it is and is not to be Jewish.
By branding any criticism of the suffering he inflicts on the Palestinians as anti-semitic, Sharon is enlisting something sacred for the vile colonial and expansionist ends he pursues. People in Britain, Jews and non-Jews alike, should not lend a hand to such a despicable attempt to desecrate the memory of Jewish suffering, and to use it to justify the oppression of another people.
· Shlomi Segall is a reserve staff sergeant in the Israeli paratroopers and a member of Courage to Refuse.