Israeli authorities have sentenced an army officer to 28 days in a military prison for refusing to serve in the ongoing Israeli campaign in Lebanon.
32-year-old Reserve Captain Amir Paster, an infantry officer and student at Tel Aviv University, is the first Israeli soldier to be punished for refusing to serve in the current conflict and has received harsh criticism from the Israeli military for setting what it termed a bad example for his troops.
According to the soldier support group Yesh Gvul ("There Is a Limit"), Paster refused to serve on the grounds that Israeli operations were harming civilians, declaring at his trial "taking part in this war runs contrary to the values upon which he was brought up."
Supporters say Paster's act was courageous given that the vast majority of Jewish Israelis support the war.
"One poll showed 90 percent of Jewish Israelis support the campaign," journalist and Yesh Gvul activist Peretz Kidron told OneWorld, noting that has extended to groups like Peace Now and the pro-peace Meretz political party.
"A lot of people feel that the very existence of Israel is at stake, especially because the other side has also made indiscriminate attacks on Israeli centers," he added.
Paster was the second Israeli reservist to publicly refuse to take part in the military campaign. On July 20th, 28-year-old TV producer Staff Sergeant Itzik Shabbat refused to served in the Occupied Territories to free forces in the standing army for the war in Lebanon.
"I know people will attack me and ask how could I not take part in this war when Qassams are falling on my hometown and Katyushas on the towns in the north," Shabbat told the Israeli newspaper Haaretz. "In my opinion, only this type of opposition that I've chosen will put an end to the madness that is going on now and will shatter the false feeling that the entire home front supports this unnecessary war that is based on deceptive considerations."
Fifty-five Israelis have died since fighting broke out after Hezbollah captured two Israeli soldiers three weeks ago. The number includes 36 soldiers as well as 19 civilians killed in Hezbollah rocket attacks.
A far greater number of Lebanese civilians have perished in the fighting. According to the Lebanese Health Ministry, at least 762 Lebanese have been killed since the fighting began three weeks ago. A small fraction--about 50 of the Lebanese dead--are believed to be Hezbollah guerrillas.
Despite the imbalance of casualties, a majority of Israelis believe their country's very existence is threatened.
"People believe it because they don't hear anything else," argued Uri Avnery, a former member of the Israeli Parliament who heads the peace group Gush Shalom. "Every evening you have on television a press conference of the Chief of Staff and the commanding officers (of the army). Every day you have speeches by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Defense Minister Emir Peretz and in between you have a whole battery of former generals filling the electronic media and none of us voices for peace are allowed on the media."
A peace rally planned by Gush Shalom drew 5,000 into the streets of Tel Aviv last weekend. A larger rally was planned for this Saturday but Avnery said authorities have refused to grant permits for the peaceful protest.
"We are really fighting against a huge machine," he said. "We have had to resort to paid advertisements. Every day, Gush Shalom is taking out a paid advertisement in the newspapers with money we don't have. We're still writing, but we've only been able to get our articles published abroad and on the Internet."
Many activists believe that soldiers' opposition to the war will grow over time, however. Yesh Gvul's Peretz Kidron compares this war with Israel's 1982 invasion of Lebanon.
"Very often, reservists would go to their first tour of duty, which would last for a month's time," he recalled. "They would go for the first time, grit their teeth and complete their tour of duty, go back home, and then when they go back the next time the refusals begin to come in."
Israel's 1982 invasion of Lebanon turned into a long occupation of the south of country which only ended in the year 2000. Kidron doubts this war will last that long.
"The Israeli occupation of Lebanon lasted 18 years and cost hundreds of Israeli lives, and thousands of Israelis were crippled," he said. "So when people in Israel say 'Lebanon' they usually say 'the morass of Lebanon.' There's a great fear of getting bogged down for an endless period of time with tremendous bloodshed. So expectations are being lowered very dramatically from day to day."
Copyright © 2006 OneWorld.net