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March 14, 2002 - Image 5

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The Michigan Daily, 2002-03-14

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The Michigan Daily - Thursday, March 14, 2002 - 5A



The death toll in the 9sraeli-Palestinian conflict rises daily. etween the
bombs and the bullets, however, are nearly 250 people, 250 9sraeli soldiers,
who have had enough. 9n this author-approved English translation of their
statement, an exclusive to The Michigan Daily, one of these soldiers tells the
world why he is through with the fighting and turning toward peace.


On Feb. 5, 1985, I got up, left my home, went
to the Compulsory Service Center on Rashi Street
in Jerusalem, said goodbye to my parents, boarded
the rickety old bus going to the Military Absorption
Station and turned into a soldier.
Exactly 17 years later, I find myself in a head to
head confrontation with the army, while the public
at large is jeering and mocking me from the side-
lines. Right-wingers see me as a traitor who is
dodging the holy war that's just around the corner.
The political center shakes a finger at me self-right-
eously and lectures me about undermining democ-
and politicizing the army. And the left? The
square, establishment, "moderate" left that only
yesterday was courting my vote now turns its back
on me as well. Everyone blabbers about what is and
what is not legitimate, exposing in the process the
depth of their ignorance of political theory and
their inability to distinguish a real democracy from
a third world regime in the style of Juan Peron.
Almost no one asks the main question: Why
would a regular guy get up one morning in the
middle of life, work, kids - and decide he's not
playing the game anymore? And how come he is
not alone but there are 50 ... I beg your pardon,
100 ... beg your pardon again, now almost 200
regular, run of the mill guys like him who've done
the same thing? (Feb. 24 comment: As of now
we're 283 -AO)
Our parents' generation lets out a sigh: We've
embarrassed them yet again. But isn't it all your
ult? What did you raise us on? Universal ethics
d universal justice, on the one hand: Peace liber
ty and equality to all. And on the other hand "The
Arabs want to throw us into the sea." "They are all
crafty and primitive.
Yucan't trust
On theon hiand,
the songs of John
Lennon, Pete
Seeger, Bob Dylan,
ob Marely, Pink
Floyd. Songs of
peace and love and
against militarism A
and war. On the
other hand, songs
about a sweetheart
riding the tank after
sunset in the field:
"The tank is yours:
and you are ours."
(allusions to popu-
ar Israeli songs-
AK). I was raised
on two value sys-
tems: One was the y.
ethical code and the
other the tribal
code, and I naively
believed that the
two could coexist.
Assaf Oren, like nearly 250
This is the way I was when I was drafted. Not
enthusiastic, but as if embarking on a sacred mis-
sion of courage and sacrifice for the benefit of
society. But when, instead of a sacred mission, a 19
- year old finds himself performing the sacrilege of
violating human beings' dignity and freedom, he

doesn't dare ask - even himself - if it's OK or
not. He simply acts like everyone else and tries to
blend in. As it is, he's got enough problems, and
boy is the weekend far off.
Rather quickly you get used to it and many
even learn to like it. Where else can you go out "on
patrol" - that is, walk the streets like a king,
harass and humiliate passers - to your heart's con-
tent and get into mischief with your buddies - and
at the same time feel like a big hero defending your
country? The Gaza Exploits became heroic tales, a
source of pride for Giv'ati, then a brand-new
brigade suffering from low self esteem.
For a long time, I could not relate to this whole
"heroism" thing. But when, as a sergeant, I found
myself in

involving Palestinian deaths are not even investigat-
In the meantime, I was becoming more of a
civilian. A copy of The Yellow Wind (a book on life
in the Occupied Territories by the Israeli writer
David Grossman, available in English - AK)
which had just come out, crossed my path. I read it
and suddenly it hit me. I finally understood what I
had done over there. What I had been over there.
Gradually I began to see that they had cheated
me: They raised me to believe there was someone
up there taking care of things. Someone who
knows stuff that is beyond me, the little guy. And
that even if sometimes politicians let us down, the
"military echelon" is always on guard, day and
night, keeping us safe, each and every one of their
decisions the result of sacred necessity. Yes, they
cheated us, the soldiers of the Intifadas, exactly as
they had

charge, some-
thing cracked
inside me. With-
out thinking or
feeling, I turned
into the perfect
tyrant. I settled
accounts with

Come mothers andfathers throughout the land
(hnd don't criticize what you can't understand
Yoursons and yourdaughters are beyond yourcommand
YJour old road is rapidly fading
So get out of the old one if/you can't lend a hand
Yor the times, they are a-changing.

cheated the
that was
beaten to a
pulp in the
War of Attri-
tion and in
the Yom

didn't show - bob Dylan, "Tihe Times,'
enough respect.
I tore up the personal documents of men my
father's age. I hit, harassed, served as a bad example
- all in the city of Kalkilia, barely three miles
from Grandma and Grandpa's home-sweet-home.
No. I was no "aberration." I was exactly the norm.
Having completed my compulsory service, I
was discharged, and then the first Intifada began
(how many more await us?) Ofer, a close friend
and comrade who remained in the service, has
become a hero: The hero of the second Giv'ati trial.
He was the commander of a company that dragged
a detained Pales-
1 tinian demonstra-

tor into a dark
orange grove and
beat him to death.
As the verdict stat-
ed, Ofer was found
to have been the
leader in charge of
the whole busi-
ness. He spent two
'months in jail and
was demoted - I
think that was the
most severe sen-
tence given an
Israeli soldier
throughout the
entire first Intifa-
da, in which about
1,000 Palestinians
were killed. Ofer's
battalion com-
mander testified
that there was an
order from the
higher echelons to
use beatings as a
legitimate method
of punishment and
therefore he was
indicted as well.

Kippur War,
they Ire Al-Changing" exactly as
they had
cheated the generation that sank deep into the
Lebanese mud. And our parents' generation contin-
ues to be silent.
Worse still, I understood that I was raised on
two contradictory value systems. I think most peo-
ple around me have discovered at an earlier age
they must choose between two value systems: An
abstract, demanding one that is no fun at all and
that is very difficult to verify, and another which
calls to you from every corner - determining who
is up and who is down, who is king and who is a
pariah, who is one of us and who is our enemy. In
the reality that slowly unveiled itself to me, it
became clear that you can't follow both at the same
time. Contrary to basic common sense, l hesitaing-
ly picked the first. Comparing the profitability of
the two systems in our country, I can't blame those
who choose the second one.
I picked the first one, and found myself volun-
teering in a small, smoke-filled office in East
Jerusalem, digging up files about deaths, brutality,
bureaucratic viciousness or simply daily harass-
ments. I felt I was atoning, to some extent, for my
actions during my days with the Giv'ati brigade.
But it also felt as if I was trying to empty the ocean
out with a teaspoon.
Then one day I was called up for my first
reserve duty in the Occupied Territories. Hysterical-
ly, I contacted my
company commander. Where have all the
He calmed me down:
We will be staying at gone to Soldiers et
an outpost overlooking When will they eve)
the Jordan river. No When will they eve)
contact with the local
population is expected.
And that, indeed, was -Kfete Seeger, " C
what I did, but some of
my friends provided security for the Damia Bridge
teriinal (where Palestinians cross from Jordan to
Israel and vice versa - AK). This was in the days
preceding the Gulf War and a large number of
Palestinian refugees were flowing from Kuwait to
the Occupied Territories (from the frying pan into
the fire). The reserve soldiers - mostly right
wingers - cringed when they saw the female con-
scripts stationed in the terminal happily ripping

open down - comforters and babies' coats to make
sure they didn't contain explosives. They tried to
stop them, but to no avail. I, too, cringed when I
heard their stories, but I was also hopeful: Reserve
soldiers are human after all, whatever their political
Such hopes were dashed three years later, when
I spent three weeks with a celebrated reconnais-
sance company in the confiscated ruins of a villa at
the outskirts of the Abasans (if you don't know
where this is, it's your problem). This is where it
became clear to me that the same humane reserve
soldier could also be an ugly, wretched macho
undergoing a total regression back to his days as a
young conscript. Already on the bus ride to the
Gaza strip, the soldiers were competing with each
other: Whose "heroic" tales of murderous beatings
during the Intifada were better (in case you missed
this point: The beatings were literally murderous:
Beating to death). Going on patrol duty with these
guys once was all that I could take. I went up to the
placement officer and requested to be given guard
duty only. Placement officers like people like me:
Most soldiers can't tolerate staying inside the base
longer than a couple of hours. There were two other
'permanent guards' there like me, who kept me
Thus began the nausea and shame routine, a
routine that lasted three tours of reserve duty in the
Occupied Territories: 1993, 1995 and 1997. The
"pale-gray" refusal routine. For several weeks at a
time I would turn into a hidden "prisoner of con-
science," guarding an outpost or a godforsaken
transmitter on top of some mountain, a recluse. I
was ashamed to tell most of my friends why I chose
to serve this way. I didn't
have the energy to hear Yjou maj sa 9
them get on my case for /mt 7'rn nOt the
being such a "bleeding S7 hope someday
heart" I was also ashamed
of myself: This was the And the world v
easy way out. In short, I
was ashamed all over. I did -- 7ohn lennov
"save my own soul" I was
not directly engaged in wrongdoing - only made
it possible for others to do so while tkept guard.
Why didn't I refuse outright? I don't know. It was
partly the pressure to conform, partly the political
process that gave us a glimmer of hope that the
whole occupation business would be over soon.
More than anything, it was my curiosity to see actu-
ally what was going on over there.
And precisely because I knew so well, first
hand, from years of experience what was going on
over there, what reality was like over there, I had no
trouble seeing, through the fog of war and the cur-
tain of lies, what has been taking place over there
since the very first days of the second Intifada. For
years, the army had
been feeding on lines
9ounrrg men gone? like "We were too nice
ry one. in the first Intifada,"
earn? and "If we had only
learn? killed 100 in the very
first days, everything
ge to.Soldiers" would have been differ-
ent." Now the army
was given license to do
things its way. I knew full well that (former Prime
Minister) Ehud Barak was giving the army free
hand and that (current Chief of Staff) Shaul Mofaz
was taking full advantage of this to maximize the
By then, I had two little kids, boys, and I knew
from experience that no one - not a single per-
son in the entire world - will do what is neces-
sary to make sure that my sons won't have to


serve in the Occupied Territories when they reach
18. No one, that is, except me. And no one but me
will have to look them in the eye when they're all
grown up and tell them where Daddy was when
all of that happened. It was clear to me: This time
I was not going.
Initially, this was a quiet decision, still a little
shy, something like "I am just a bit weird, can't go
and can't talk about it too much either." But as time
went by, as the level of insanity, hatred and incite-
ment kept rising, as the generals were turning the
Israeli Defense Forces into a terror organization, the
decision was turning into an outcry: "If you can't
see that this is one big crime leading us to the brink
of annihilation, then something is terribly wrong
with you!"
And then I discovered that I was not alone. Like
discovering life on another planet.
The truth is that I understand why everyone is
mad at us. We spoiled the neat little order of things.
The holy Status Quo states that the Right-wing
holds the exclusive rights to celebrate the blood and
ask for more. The role of the Left, on the other
hand, is to wail while sitting in their armchairs sip-
ping wine and waiting for the Messiah to come and
with a single wave of his magic wand make the
Right disappear along with the settlers, the Arabs,
the weather and the entire Middle East. That's how
the world is supposed to work. So why are you
causing such a disturbance? What's your problem?
Bad boys!
Woe to you, dear establishment left! You
haven't been paying attention! That Messiah has
been here already. He waved his magic wand,
saw things aren't that simple, was abandoned in
the midst of battle, lost altitude, and finally was
assassinated, with the rest
of us (yes, me too) watch-
in drefmer i rom the comfort of our
nly one armchairs. Forget it. A
oU will join MS messiah doesn't come
ill e asone. around twice! There is no
Sbe s one. uch thing as a free lunch.
Don't you really see what
"9lncagine" we are doing, why it is that
we stepped out of line? Don't
you get the difference between a low key, personal
refusal and an organized; public one? (and make no
mistake about it, the private refusal is the easier
choice). You really don't get it? So let me spell it out
for you.
First, we declare our commitment to the first
value system. The one that is elusive, abstract and
not profitable. We believe in the moral code gener-
ally known as God (and my atheist friends who
also signed this letter would have to forgive me -
we all believe in God, the true one, not that of the
Rabbis and the Ayatollahs). We want to remind
you all that there is such a moral code above and
inside each and every one of you. We believe that
our tribal code has strayed too far and now it has
become nothing more than idolatry in disguise.
Until it mends itself, we shall not cooperate with
this idolatry. Those who let such a form of idol
worship take over will end up as burnt offerings
Second, we (as well as some other groups who
are even more despised and harassed) are trying -
with our bare bodies - to stop the next war. The
most pointless, idiotic, cruel and immoral war in the
history of Israel.
We are the young Chinese man standing in
front of the tank. And you? If you are nowhere to
be seen, you are probably inside the tank, advis-
ing the driver.
AssafOrenspiece first appeared in Jewish
Peace News (www.Jewishvoiceforpeace.org).


other Israeli soldiers, has had
now a conscientious objector.

On the other hand, Efi Eitam, the brigade com-
mander, who had been seen beating Arabs on
numerous occasions, denied that he ever gave such
an order and consequently was never indicted.
Today he preaches to us about Zionism and morali-
ty on his way to a political career. (And in the cur-
rent Intifada: The vast majority of incidents

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