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Courage to Refuse > Press > Elite Israeli commandos take heat for refusal to serve - By Conal Urquhart
Elite Israeli commandos take heat for refusal to serve - By Conal Urquhart 11/02/2004
 
 

The shock for many Israelis is that the latest dissidents are fighters of Sayeret Matkal. Militarily, these men are like the U.S. Army's Delta Force commandos, but as politically glorified symbols of patriotism, they have no equivalent in America.

REHOVOT, Israel -- When Zohar, Avner and Moshe sent their letter to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon several weeks ago, it triggered an uproar in Israel. With 10 other commandos of the army's most elite unit, the men refused to serve any longer in what they declared is Israel's oppression of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

 

What sparked the headlines, hate mail and death threats was not that they were the first soldiers to declare Israel's war unjust. Since the current round of Israeli-Palestinian warfare began 40 months ago, hundreds of soldiers have done so.

 

The shock for many Israelis is that the latest dissidents are fighters of Sayeret Matkal. Militarily, these men are like the U.S. Army's Delta Force commandos, but as politically glorified symbols of patriotism, they have no equivalent in America.

 

Sayeret Matkal's heroes have freed Israelis held hostage--as in their epic assault on hijackers at Uganda's Entebbe Airport in 1976--and have drawn Israel's most dangerous military missions, including a 1992 plan, never carried out, to assassinate Iraq's Saddam Hussein.

 

On Dec. 21, the 13 commandos wrote to Sharon that they no longer could serve, "out of a deep sense of foreboding for the future of Israel as a democratic, Zionist and Jewish state."

 

The army has made clear that the men face dismissal or jail if they do not recant. But in an interview last week, Zohar, Avner and Moshe said their conversion from gung-ho warriors to conscientious objectors cannot reverse.

 

The men declined to have their full names published, saying they could become targets for Palestinian militants.

 

Moshe, 33, a father of three who recently got his medical license, said he could define no precise moment for the change.

 

"It was a process," he said. "There are things that you don't question and then you realize that nothing is beyond question. . . . The whole situation has become very troubling."

 

Zohar, 35, an actor when he is not pulling reserve duty, also had no doubts at first.

 

"What brought us to serve in the Sayeret Matkal was maximum loyalty to Israel and its system of government, and absolute confidence" that the targets they were being ordered to attack were people guilty of crimes, he said.

 

Sayeret Matkal is known to perform some of Israel's most sensitive counterterrorism operations and has been involved in clandestine attacks on Palestinian militants.

 

Moshe's doubts began "the first time I went to the occupied territories," he said. "What struck me was that all the roads from the Palestinian villages were blocked. As a medical student, my first thought was, `What if someone has a heart attack or a woman needs to give birth? How will they get to the hospital?"'

 

Avner, 27, voiced concern at what the war's transformation of Israeli soldiers is doing to life here.

 

"I have a very uncomfortable feeling when I think of the masses of men leaving the army for normal society who may have been shot at, who may have killed people, who may have killed innocent people."

 

For now, Israel's military dissidents face nearly unanimous condemnation in the country, a reflection of the broad sensitivity to dissent in the ranks. Former Prime Minister (and Sayeret Matkal member) Benjamin Netanyahu said refusing to serve is impermissible and would lead to the country falling apart.

 

For the commandos, the truth is the reverse. Their dissidence "is very Zionist," Zohar said.

 

"If a plane is going to crash, you can jump out or you can try and prevent it from crashing. That is how we feel about the state of Israel."

 

 

Link to the source (free membership needed): http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/nationworld/chi-0402110339feb11,1,4022913.story?coll=chi-newsnationworld-hed


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