'We Need To Strengthen Image
Of Our Society'
by Harvey Morris,
April 27, 2002
Reserve staff sergeant Amit Mashiah is a self-proclaimed patriot and committed Zionist who is proud of what he calls one of the most moral armies in the world. That, he says, is why he is prepared to court accusations of treachery and cowardice by publicly refusing to serve in the occupied West Bank and Gaza strip.
Mr Mashiah is one of 436 Israeli reserve officers and men who have announced their intention to refuse to serve in the territories, an almost tenfold increase since the movement was launched three months ago.
"We believe it works against Israel society to maintain the occupation and that we have to push to end it," says Mr Mashiah.
On the eve of the planned arrival of a UN fact-finding mission into events at the Jenin refugee camp, the rebel reservists have decided to break a self-imposed silence towards the outside world by talking for the first time to the foreign press.
"We didn't want to be a stick with which to beat Israel," says Mr. Mashiah. "But now we really need to strengthen the image of Israeli society."
The last month has been a difficult time for the reservists' movement. Israeli passions were inflamed by a series of devastating Palestinian suicide bomb attacks and by the war that followed in the West Bank.
A majority appeared to accept the argument of Ariel Sharon, the prime minister, that the invasion of the West Bank was part of a war to safeguard the existence of Israel.
The reservists' movement has turned that argument on its head.
"If Israeli society, more than any other society in the world, abandons its core values, it won't be able to continue," Mr Mashiah says. "That's why we feel the country has left us no option but to refuse to serve in the occupied territories. As patriots we won't do it."
Mr Mashiah, who has served in the artillery in Lebanon and the occupied territories, says the army sets great store by morality in its training. It is the occupation that is immoral.
The 30-year-old former advertising man, who now works full-time as the reservists' spokesman, says: "The situation of an army in a populated area is an impossible reality."
He plans to reject his next reserve call-up papers in May, if it means service in the territories, and join 42 reservists already serving 28-day jail sentences.
The rebels firmly refuse to engage in politics - Mr. Mashiah says most are centrists and some even voted for Mr Sharon. "We go into the army, we fight, we go to university, we work, we pay taxes. But we can't sit aside and do nothing any more."
However, with feelings in Israel so raw, it looks like being an uphill struggle. In a mounting mood of intolerance in Israel, Limor Livnat, the
education minister, this week raised the prospect of indicting Hebrew University lecturers who supported the rebel reservists.
An opinion poll published yesterday indicated 58 per cent of Israelis believe that journalists who criticise the army's role or government policy in the territories are damaging national security.
But, yesterday's poll in the Ma'ariv newspaper also indicated that most Israelis were not so far removed from the reservists' thinking 52 per cent supported a regional conference based on the principles of Saudi Arabia's peace proposal - full withdrawal from the territories in exchange for peace with all the Arab states.