Refusnik stories and more


I found this while searching for the Dagan Plan
Open Letter to American Jews by Assaf Oron, a Jewish “refusenik”. It was written on Passover Eve, March 29, 2002.
Dear People,
Yesterday I was informed of an interesting phenomenon: a peace-supporting Jewish organization called Tikkun published an ad in favor of us, the Israeli reservist refuseniks, and was immediately bombarded with hate mails and phones from other American Jews. What's more interesting is that even other Jews considering themselves supporters of peace have denounced the Tikkun ad, to the extent that some of the Tikkun Advisory Board members are resigning in order to minimize the personal damage to themselves. This has so saddened, alarmed and angered me, that I find myself setting aside a half-day at the eve of Passover, and writing this open letter to you all. ...  more


This was the only email I found in my inbox by this fine young man:

Why I am a refusenik

By Assaf Oron

On February 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 seventeen 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 sidelines.
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-righteously and
lectures me about undermining democracy 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, the kids and decide he’s not playing the game
anymore? And how come he is not alone but there are
fifty… I beg your pardon, a hundred… beg your pardon
again, now almost two hundred regular, run of the mill
guys like him who’ve done the same thing?

Our parents’ generation lets out a sigh: we’ve
embarrassed them yet again. But isn’t it all your
fault? What did you raise us on? Universal ethics and
universal justice, on the one hand: peace, liberty and
equality to all. And on the other hand: “the Arabs
want to throw us into the sea,” “They are all crafty
and primitive. You can’t trust them.”

On the one hand, the songs of John Lennon, Pete
Seeger, Bob Dylan, Bob Marely, Pink Floyd. Songs of
peace and love and against militarism 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 a popular Israeli folk song –
AK]. I was raised on two value systems: one was the
ethical code and the other the tribal code, and I
naïvely believed that the two could coexist.

This is the way I was when I was drafted. Not
enthusiastic, but as if embarking on a sacred mission
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

You get used to it in a hurry, 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
pedestrians to your heart’s content, 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 relatively new brigade suffering from
low self esteem.
For a long time, I could not relate to the whole
“heroism” thing. But when, as a sergeant, I found
myself in charge, something cracked inside me. Without
thinking, I turned into the perfect occupation
. I settled accounts with “upstarts” who
didn’t show 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 comrade in arms who
remained in the service has become a hero: the hero of
the second Giv’ati trial. He commanded a company that
dragged a detained Palestinian demonstrator into a
dark orange grove and beat him to death. As the
verdict stated, Ofer was found to have been the leader
in charge of the whole business. He spent two months
in jail and was demoted – I think that was the most
severe sentence given an Israeli soldier through the
entire first Intifada, in which about a thousand
Palestinians were killed
. Ofer’s battalion commander
testified that there was an order from the higher
echelons to use beatings as a legitimate method of
punishment, thereby implicating himself. On the other
hand, Efi Eitam, the brigade commander, who had been
seen beating Arabs on numerous occasions, denied that
he ever gave such an order and consequently was never
indicted. Today he lectures us on moral conduct on his
way to a new life in politics.* (In the current
Intifada, incidentally, the vast majority of incidents
involving Palestinian deaths are not even
investigated. No one even bothers.)

[*Efi (short for “Ephraim”) Eitam did indeed enter
politics during the Oslo period, and has become a
successful member of the Mafdal Party. He was Housing
Minister in Sharon’s cabinet until last spring when he
resigned over Sharon’s decision to remove the Gaza
settlements. The basic platform of Mafdal is:

* There will only be one state between the Jordan
River and the Mediterranean Sea: the State of Israel.
* No independent national Arab entity will exist
within the limits of the Land of Israel.
* No part of Israel will be given over to a foreign
government or authority and no Jewish settlement will
be uprooted.]

And 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.

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
Yes, they cheated us, the soldiers of the
Intifadas, exactly as they had cheated the generation
that was beaten to a pulp in the War of Attrition and
in the Yom Kippur War, exactly as they had cheated the
generation that sank deep into the Lebanese mud during
the Lebanon invasions. And our parents’ generation
continues to be silent.

In a painful process that took several years, I
finally understood that I was raised on two
contradictory value systems
. I think most  people
discover even 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 – pariah, who is one of us and who is our
enemy. Contrary to basic common sense, and
hesitatingly at first, I picked the first system.
Comparing the profitability of these two systems in
our country, I cannot blame those who choose the

I found myself volunteering in a small, smoke-filled
office in East Jerusalem, digging up files about
deaths, brutality, bureaucratic viciousness or simply
daily harassments
. 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

Out of the blue, I was called up for the very first
time for reserve duty in the Occupied Territories.
Hysterically, I contacted my company commander. He
calmed me down: We will be staying at an outpost
overlooking the Jordan river. No contacts with the
local population are expected. And that indeed was
what I did, but some of my friends provided security
for the Damia Bridge terminal [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
conscripts 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 couldn’t. I too cringed when I heard their
stories, but I was also hopeful: reserve soldiers are
human after all, whatever their political views.

Such hopes were dashed three years later, when I spent
three weeks with a celebrated reconnaissance 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 for longer than a couple of hours. Two
new-found friends with a similar oddity 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
conscience,” 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 them
get on my case for being such a ‘bleeding heart’
. I
was also ashamed of myself: This was the easy way out.
In short, I was ashamed all over. I did “save my own
soul.” I was not directly engaged in wrongdoing – only
made it possible for others to do so while I kept
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.
than anything, it was my curiosity to see actually
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 curtain 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 like, “We were too nice in the
first Intifada,” and “If we had only killed a hundred
in the very first days, everything would have been
different.” 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 person in the
entire world – will ever 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 dad was when all that
happened. It was clear to me: this time I was not

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
incitement 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

And then I discovered that I was not alone. Like
discovering life on another planet.
. . .

Don’t you really see what 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
We believe in the moral code generally
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
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. There is no room for cooperation
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
hands - to stop the war. The most pointless, idiotic,
cruel and immoral war in the history of Israel.

We are the Chinese young man standing in front of the
tank. And you? If you are nowhere to be seen, you are
probably inside the tank, advising the driver.


One other interesting thing I just happened to find, parallel to recent media propaganda about the (lousy) plight of Iraqi women living under the US-imposed Islamic religious regime, as compared to before, is this letter about how the US-imposed and heavily-funded by America Taliban regime (definitely bad) were exaggerated by the Western media with crocodile tears, for propaganda purposes, as needed, prior to the invasion to "free" them.

*****   Afghanistan: As Bad as Its Reputation?

By Michael Rubin, visiting fellow
The Washington Institute for Near East Policy

Middle East Quarterly 7, no. 3 (September 2000)

... The Taliban (Arabic for "religious students") have now ruled
southern Afghanistan for almost six years and have been in Kabul for
nearly four.  So how goes life in the Islamic Emirate?  Are Hollywood
entertainers [1] and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright [2]
accurate when they declare the Taliban have driven the country back
into the thirteenth century?

To find out, I went to Afghanistan in March 2000.  Three months
earlier I had met the Taliban's representative in New York, Abdul
Hakeem Mujahid, at a Middle East Forum event.  I expected him to
rebuff my request for a visit, and so was pleasantly surprised by his
invitation to visit Afghanistan and see the situation for myself.
The Taliban permitted me to travel unescorted and without a
translator in their territory during a two-week period.  I had the
opportunity to speak to government officials and the man on the
street.  I visited major towns and cities: Jalalabad, Kabul, Ghazni,
and Kandahar (the last being the seat of the Taliban leadership).
This was my second trip to the country, having been there in May
1997, when I guest lectured at Balkh University in Mazar-i Sharif,
one of Afghanistan's last coeducational institutions, and was forced
to leave when the Taliban attacked the city....

...The Feminist Majority exaggerates the pre-Taliban progress of
Afghan women by using pre-Taliban Kabul as an example of women's
progress throughout Afghanistan.  Using pre-civil war Afghan numbers to describe the demise of women's rights by nature is inaccurate,
since the former communist regime massaged statistics to demonstrate its progressive achievements.  Furthermore, Kabul was always more
progressive and cosmopolitan than the rest of Afghanistan.  For
example, the Feminist Majority's "Stop Gender Apartheid" campaign
still reports that women cannot leave their house unless accompanied by a close male relative.  However, women in every city I visited walked around in pairs.  While the Feminist Majority claims that women have been banished from the work force, this is only partially accurate.  Even in the countryside, I saw rural women working in the fields and with livestock.  The situation is bad, perhaps worse than anywhere else in the Muslim world, but it should be addressed with precision.

While the Taliban have prevented vast numbers of girls and women from
receiving an education, a token Taliban-funded medical school class
for women has opened in Kabul
.  The question then should become why
classes have not opened in other towns and cities.  Restrictions
continue to occur, but NGO-operated girls' schools are not truly
clandestine, as they are often described
.  Some foreign employees
helping to coordinate girls' schools both in and outside of Kabul
told me not only of obstacles placed in their way by specific Taliban
authorities, but also of assistance they have received from other
Taliban government officials.  The problem is that there are not
enough schools (for men and women) to satisfy demand while Taliban
government money continues to be wasted on a war effort.  However,
while the Taliban regime as a whole must be held accountable for its
actions, it would be a mistake to portray the movement as monolithic.
Rather, the Taliban include uncompromising radicals, more pragmatic radicals, and bureaucrats whose adherence to the movement's beliefs extends not far beyond the ends of their beards.

It is also untrue that all women wear burkas all the time to cover
themselves from head to foot.  They do so largely in urban areas but,
even in cities, older women and girls up to young teens show their
faces and, sometimes, a bit of hair.  (The more religious among the
Taliban men also cover their face, clutching their cloaks in their
teeth like religious women in Iran.)  During my previous trip to
areas in Afghanistan not yet controlled by the Taliban, many women
dressed the same way, although in the university, women did not cover
their heads or faces.  The problem should not be reduced to the fact
that in Afghanistan the women wear the burka, for many would choose
to anyway; the problem is that they are forced to do so.  The
situation of women in Afghanistan is perhaps worse than it is
anyplace in the Middle East (though Saudi Arabia and Yemen are
), and the Taliban should be confronted, but exaggeration allows
the Taliban regime to dismiss all Western complaints as based on
propaganda.  And the Taliban do have a point when they ask why few
Western governments or celebrity wives went out of their way to
condemn the rapes and assaults which characterized the streets and
checkpoints before the Taliban disarmed gangs and warlords, including
those affiliated with the government then in power

The same holds true for executions. Human Rights Watch, for example,
commented in their 1999 World Report that, "Every Friday, thousands
were pressured to witness public executions and punitive amputations
in Kabul's stadium." [6]  Afghans (including self-described opponents
of the regime) said that while the Taliban does carry out public
executions, sometimes with shocking cruelty
, they are not conducted
regularly and probably occur less frequently than in Iran and Saudi
.  Massacres which mandate further investigation did occur in
1997 when the United Front took Mazar-i Sharif after a brief
occupation by the Taliban and in 1998, when the Taliban took and held
the northern city.  However, they by no means occur regularly.  And
while the frontline mirrors an ethnic divide between primarily Tajik,
United Front-held areas, and the Pushtun-dominated south, Afghanistan
has not become polarized to the extent that Kosovo has
.  Even in the
south, Tajiks and Shi'i Hazaras live and work among Afghans of other

In general, life has relaxed a bit since the initial onslaught of the
Taliban.  One NGO worker explained that the Taliban officer in charge
of "Prevention of Vice" forces and responsible for the worst excesses
of the Taliban's restrictions in Kabul had been sacked for watching
pornographic videos in his office.  In contrast to just a few years
ago, young boys and girls play together in playgrounds, boys fly
kites, and men play volleyball and soccer in parks.  I watched
teenage and younger girls march around a city block in Ghazni playing
drums, something not imaginable in countries like Saudi Arabia,
Qatar, and Yemen
.  One Afghan man explained, "Girls are children,
too."  I heard banned music, even in Kandahar (though I was in a taxi
that had its cassettes confiscated and destroyed days later): in
Ghazni, I learned how to buy an illegal television.  While men have
to wear beards, many do illegally trim them, albeit extremely

<>   *****