TEL AVIV -- My parents instilled in me the notion that I must do everything for the state. In Israel, serving in the army is a central expression of that ethos. When I was a high school student, it was not only obvious to me that I would go to the Israeli Defense Force (IDF), but it was also vital that I become a paratrooper and serve in a special unit. It was also clear to me that my service to the state and my patriotism would require that I participate in an officer's course and serve an extra year.
Now that I have done several tours of duty in the West Bank as a reserve officer, this axiom that the army and the state are one and the same, and my belief that the army serves the vital security interests of the state have been eroded. There was no single development that made me an objector; rather it was a succession of small incidents. It became increasingly clear to me that the little orders that I was issued, and then the orders I gave my soldiers to carry out, had precious little to do with protecting the state. They had everything to do with protecting a group of zealots and their settlements, and maintaining a Kafkaesque system that spelled misery for ordinary Palestinians.
After two years of deliberation and many sleepless nights, I came to the inescapable conclusion that Zionism is not what the zealots have made it. Zionism is not about occupation and territories; it is about obtaining a secure and internationally recognized home for the Jewish people. While some in Israel view refusal as betrayal, I refuse to betray the basic values and goals of Zionism. The continuing occupation imperils the future of the Jewish state. We must choose between land and legitimacy and between occupation and democracy.
I have paid a tremendous social price for my act of refusal. Gone, as a result, are some long-standing friendships. I have also lost out on the camaraderie and friendships I so enjoyed in my unit. Reserve duty is an integral part of the lives of patriotic Israelis. No less painful has been losing the privilege of commanding my soldiers, whom I deeply care about. In a month, they will be doing another tour of duty in Gaza without me, and as a responsible officer I fear for their safety.
As an officer in the IDF, I was taught Clausewitz's maxim that war is politics by another means. I know that many people are, at present, more willing than ever to serve in the territories. The heinous Passover massacre and the unrelenting wave of terror ensured that. But what after Operation Defensive Wall? Though the Passover massacre has been avenged, and public anger has been channeled, the roadblocks that humiliate, the closures that starve, the travel restrictions that place a chokehold over a regular existence will stay. They are the motivation for terror.
If Ariel Sharon truly desired to end terror, the military imperative would be to withdraw from the territories and guard a fortified Israeli border.
Perhaps I would serve in the occupied territories if I believed that the Israeli government was sincerely committed to a withdrawal from the territories. There is, however, no reason whatever to believe that this is the case. Only recently, Ariel Sharon notified his cabinet that he refuses to discuss the settlements until 2003, at the very least. Until then my service will continue to be used to protect the interests of a minority of extremists, fanatics who threaten the interest of the majority of Israelis and deprive millions of Palestinians of their basic human rights. As a patriot who is concerned about Israel's longer-term security, I refuse to fight this war -- the war for the settlements -- a war of choice that has weakened Israel.
Make no mistake, however, my refusal to take part in this war of choice does not rule me out from any war that threatens Israel. I'll be the first to be there when my country needs me.
The writer, a software engineer, has served as a second lieutenant in the Paratroopers Brigade in the Israeli Defense Force.
© 2002 The Washington Post Company