Regional Programs > Israel & Palestine > Next Story

 Support Israeli Conscientious Objectors on Trial
 Rela Mazali, Israel
 March 19, 2003
 
Conscientious Objection as a visible and powerfully symbolic form of resistance to Israeli belligerence has reached a critical stage. Never before in Israel have there been so many young objectors, men and women openly declaring their refusal to enlist on grounds of conscience. Never before have so many citizens committed to a campaign to publicly and actively support them. Never before have so many of the young men among the CO's been sentenced to indefinitely repeated prison terms. Never before has there been such a concentrated legal struggle for freedom of conscience in Israel, in effect placing the state and the military on trial.

In recent months, some 320 high school seniors, girls and boys, signed a public letter declaring their refusal to serve in the Israeli army. In response, the military is raising the stakes. While young women can obtain exemptions on grounds of conscience, young men such as pacifist Jonathan Ben-Artzi, one of the signatories of the High School Seniors' Letter ("Shministim"), is currently being court martialed after seven consecutive prison terms imposed in disciplinary procedures. Yoni now faces the daunting possibility of a three-year sentence.

The struggle against this blatant breach of freedom of conscience has led to an appeal to Israel's High Court of Justice, challenging repeated disciplinary sentences for the single 'offense' of refusing to serve in the army on conscientious grounds. The Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) represented by Adv. Avner Pinchuk, appealed on behalf of Dror Beuml, another "Shministim" letter signatory, after he served an accumulated term of 168 days. Concurrently, the military summoned Dror to a court martial, also summoning two more "Shministim" letter signatories, Haggai Matar and Matan Kaminer, after each had served several consecutive prison terms. Haggai and Matan, who refuse to serve in an occupying force, first appeared before the court martial on February 26, 2003.

Jonathan, Haggai, and Matan are now being in held in so-called open detention at 3 different military bases, pending decisions on their cases. The fact that they are no longer in military prisons reflects a first significant achievement of their respective lawyers, Adv. Michael Sphard and Adv. Dov Khenin. Dror was submitted to re-screening by a military committee appointed to recommend conscientious exemptions and awaits their verdict at home.

The latest update is that Shimri Tzameretjoined Jonathan, Haggai, and Matan. He has been arrested until his trial. Dov Khenin will represent him.

Additional objectors will require legal support very soon, among them Rabia Saad, a Palestinian Druze Conscientious Objector, possibly facing an exceptionally long prison term of the kind often imposed on Druze CO's. More objectors have already been sentenced to repeated terms, among them, Noam Bahat, Hillel Goral, Adam Maor, Shachar Ben-Har, Kon. Tos., Sh, Br. and others. According to Military Attorney General, Menachem Finkelstein, all will soon face full court martials. Among the imprisoned objectors, some are being held in difficult conditions. Visits by lawyers are vital to monitor their treatment. The conscription dates of yet more objectors are coming up, promising to further extend this vicious cycle.

While some of the initial legal work has been provided pro bono (thanks to the wonderful support of several lawyers, and of ACRI), the legal struggle will be prolonged and difficult, including many court martials, possible appeals to the High Court, and involving considerable expense. New Profile is cooperating with the Objectors' Parents' Forum, and the High School Seniors' Letter in an effort to raise the funds necessary to ensure excellent legal representation for every CO.

Please help us support this crucial effort. Make any donation you are able to support objectors in prison and on trial. (Mark your contribution to ensure it is earmarked for legal aid to objectors.)

Contributions can be made by :
1. Direct bank transfers to New Profile's account:
HaPoalim Bank, account no. 421121 Branch 769, Trumpeldor Street Ramat HaSharon, Israel
(Please email our treasurer at kisch-e@zahav.net.il or write us at the POBox below, to let us know that the contribution is for legal aid.)

2. Posting checks directly to New Profile, at:
New Profile
POB 6187
Ramat HaSharon 47271
Israel

3. Making U.S. tax exempt contributions to New Profile via:
Us/Israel Women to Women
Please make out checks to US/Israel Women to Women, and add a cover letter directing the donation to New Profile; post to:
US/Israel Women to Women
45 W. 36th St.
New York, NY 10018
USA

Further information is available at:
New Profile website;
The High School Seniors' Letter website;
Yesh-Gvul website;
The Refuser Solidarity Network website.
Information on the objectors mentioned above and other imprisoned objectors may be found at indymedia israel.

Rela Mazali is a member of New Profile.