More than 200 young Israelis refuse military service in occupation army

TEL AVIV (AFP) - More than 200 young Israelis called up for national service said in a petition released Tuesday that they would refuse to serve in an "army of occupation."

"We refuse to be soldiers in an army of occupation," the 213 young Jewish conscientious objectors said in the petition, a copy of which was received by AFP here.

The petition was addressed to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, Israeli Defence Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer and Education Minister Limor Livnat, a spokesman for the petitioners, Hagai Matar, said.

The 213 petitioners accuse Israel of "committing war crimes and violating human rights" in the Palestinian territories, and back any form of refusal to do military service.

"Among us there are some who refuse to wear the uniform, others refuse to serve beyond the Green Line (separating Israel from the West Bank and Gaza Strip) and others will find different ways of refusing to serve the occupation," said the text.

"The occupation is not only immoral, it also damages our security as it is driving the Palestinians to despair and provoking acts of terrorism."

A year ago, a similar but weaker statement of conscientious objection circulated among new call-ups for military service attracted just 62 signatures.

In addition, 483 reserve officers and soldiers have signed a "refusenik petition" saying they will not serve in the occupied territories.

Eight of the signatories appealed to the supreme court on Sept. 4 asking it to endorse their stance by ruling the occupation illegal.

The attorney general countered by asking the court to deem the plaintiffs' refusal to serve illegal.

The army, relying on reservists to pursue its reoccupation of the territories, has toughened its stand against conscientious objectors in recent months, after initially turning a blind eye to the movement among both reservists and new conscripts.

Several dozen of the signatories of the two petitions have now served prison terms of between two and four weeks for their refusal to serve. Five are currently behind bars.

Wednesday, September 18, 2002