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I. Articles

Reservists' Courageous Choice

As published in The Forward

By Leonard Fein
March 1, 2002

As war stories go, this one isn't all that bad. "One night in Nablus they asked us to send a team to accompany some Shin Bet and Mossad men to arrest suspects. The team that volunteered complained over the radio that the suspect had a four-year-old boy at home, and that they were not prepared to leave the boy alone in the house. The solution? Take the boy together with this father. Because the orders are to cover suspects' head with sacks, at dawn I found a four-year-old boy sitting in the detainees' shack next to his handcuffed father, both of them with sacks over their heads. They didn't hesitate to put a sack over the head of a four-year old. Worse, they didn't understand why I lost my temper."

What shall we do with such a story? Here are some alternatives:

1. Dismiss it. It's a lie, put forward either by the Palestinian Authority or an Israeli self-hating Jew.

2. Dismiss it. War is hell, and at least the boy didn't have to see his father with the sack over his head.

3. Dismiss it. What can you expect in wartime? Besides, the Palestinians are not above strapping explosives to a four-year-old boy.

4. Dismiss it. Until the other side is ready to call an end to violence, we cannot afford to react to such stories. It is the P.A., not the Israel army, that bears moral responsibility.

5. Impose tight controls on the dissemination of such stories. It should be illegal to sap the nation's morale in time of war.

6. Do nothing. You think such a story compares to a suicide bombing of a pizzeria, a bat mitzvah or a nightclub?

7. Do nothing, but feel bad. Remember to hate the other side a little more because they force us to do things like this that are so offensive to us.

8. Stop reading the news. It is too depressing.

9. Kill the messenger. Or write angry letters to the editor about the columnist.

This is not meant to be an exhaustive list. There is, for example, at least one more option, and that is to praise Noam Ziv, the Israeli paratrooper who told the story. Mr. Ziv is one of the nearly 300 Israeli reservists who have announced their refusal to accept assignments in the West Bank or Gaza. They contend that those "whose eyes have seen the bloody toll this occupation extracts from both sides," who see that "the commands issued to us in the territories destroy all the values we absorbed while growing up in this country," who "understand now that the price of occupation is the loss of IDF's human character and the corruption of the entire Israeli society," who "know that the territories are not Israel and that all settlements are bound to be evacuated in the end," assert that "the missions of occupation and oppression" do not serve Israel's defense needs.

Their statement comes as a shock to the system. After months of thundering silence by Israel's shambles of a Left and even by the peace camp, here is an action reminiscent of the early stages of Peace Now, reminiscent as well of some of our experience with the Vietnam War. The original 50 signers of the document have now grown to 283, and more can be expected to affix their names. At the same time, Israel's Council of Peace and Security, an organization of retired general officers and senior security personnel, has joined in condemnation of the government's behavior -it would be too much to call that behavior a "policy" - for an immediate withdrawal from most of Gaza and much of the West Bank, for the resumption of political negotiations and the immediate establishment of a Palestinian state.

Whatever the wisdom of these and other such proposals, they reflect at last the recognition that the current response of the Israeli government to all that has happened these last 16 months is sheer idiocy. It has accomplished nothing save death. It has not enhanced security, not advanced peace, and it has crippled the Israeli economy. And the waning support for Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, as registered in public opinion polls, indicates that the dissatisfaction is not limited to a few thousand veterans of Israel's protest movements.

Refusal to serve in the army wherever one has been ordered to serve is a very serious action. In the Israeli context, it is also a courageous action. One need not endorse the action in order to respect it. And one need not endorse it to welcome its lifting of the veil on what the occupation signifies. For years, the journalists who cover events in the territories, along with Peace Now's Settlement Watch and the human rights group B'Tselem, have known that the incidents of inhumanity, the continuing humiliation of the Palestinians, and, more recently, the thoughtlessness of the Israeli army's actions in the territories, are not the incidental by-products of the occupation. They are its inevitable consequences. However despicable the Palestinian response, one cannot expect servile acquiescence from a subjugated population. Nor can one expect that Israeli soldiers will forever be content to escort the children of the settlers to their swimming lessons, or engage in other actions wholly lacking in both common sense and simple decency.

Unless, of course, there's nothing wrong with covering the head of a four-year-old boy with a sack.

Leonard Fein's most recent book is "Against the Dying of the Light: A Father's Story of Love, Loss and Hope" (Jewish Lights, 2001).

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