IT IS A TRADITION as old as Antigone's resistance to her king. As long as there has been state power, there have been individuals who say no to that power, appealing to the moral call of conscience as the sole authority for their defiance of the state.
So it is with the 430 Israeli reservists who have signed an open letter to their compatriots declaring that they ''shall not continue to fight this War of the Settlements'' and explaining that they are combat officers in the Israeli Defense Forces who ''understand now that the price of occupation is the loss of the IDF's human character and the corruption of the entire Israeli society.''
In a visit Wednesday to the Globe, one of those 430 reservists, Guy Grossman, said his difficult decision to stand apart from many of his countrymen and his fellow soldiers has nothing to do with what people normally mean when they speak of politics. The reservists' refusal to continue serving was a moral need for each of them. The 430, he noted wryly, had 430 different political views, 430 different ideas of what should be done to achieve security for Israel.
In the language of the open letter, these reserve officers and soldiers say they ''were issued commands and directives that had nothing to do with the security of our country and that had the sole purpose of perpetuating our control over the Palestinian people.''
Grossman made it plain that he has no tolerance whatsoever for the terrorist tactics that Palestinians have used and that after Israel has ended its occupation, he would expect Israel's military might to be used, with moral justification and the world's support, against any terrorism from an independent Palestinian state.
It is precisely to safeguard the long-term security of Israel that Grossman and his fellow reservists are refusing to help prolong the occupation. Continuation of the occupation, he says, ''breeds fear on one side and despair on the other, and that is a recipe for more violence and bloodshed.''
Grossman is understandably reluctant to dwell on the horrors that he and fellow reservists experienced as enforcers of the occupation. He talks instead about the surfeit of water on an Israeli settlement while in a nearby Palestinian village a woman spends hours to carry sparse water to her family.
The fundamental choice Grossman and the other reservists wish to illuminate is not new. It is Israel's choice either to end the occupation and be a democratic Jewish state or to continue the occupation and become an undemocratic state on all the land it may continue to occupy. These Israeli voices of conscience should be heeded in Israel and among Israel's supporters. In response, there ought to be similar moral appeals against terrorism from the Palestinian camp.
© Copyright 2002 Globe Newspaper Company