Two month after Israeli conscientious objector Jonathan Ben-Artzi has finally been discharged from the military. Jonathan Ben-Artzi was first called up on 8 August 2002, and began a tour through military prisons on that day. He got seven prison sentences for refusing to enlist, and then a long court-martial began, which lead to the military court finding Jonathan Ben-Artzi guilty, but also recommending to the Israeli Army to accept Jonathan Ben-Artzi as a pacifist, and postponing sentencing for a future date (see WRI's documentation on court-martials, "Conscience on Trial", availabe at http://www.wri-irg.org/news/2004/israel0204-en.htm). The Israeli Army finally discharged Jonathan Ben-Artzi, but not for reasons of conscience, but because the army saw him unfit for a military environment. After the discharge, the military court restarted proceeding to sentence Jonathan Ben-Artzi. In a hearing on 24 March, the military prosecutor Captain Yaron Kostelitz said: "Ben Artzi has been discharged from military service, but not because his alleged pacifist beliefs were recognized. He was discharged as one of the unruly soldiers, who take no discipline and whose behaviour is such that they are not worth the trouble of further trying to instil in them a proper soldierly discipline. He should however be severely punished for not taking up his proper share in the defence of his country. The military legal code makes it possible to continue court-martial proceedings also after the accused has been discharged from the army - and this trial must end with a severe and painful term of imprisonment." And Captain Kostelitz ended his fulmination exclaiming furiously: "Ben Artzi is no pacifist! He is a liar! He is just an egoist who seeks personal advancement, and he should be severely punished to discourage others from following his example." Jonathan Ben-Artzi lawyer responded to these accusations: "My colleague of the prosecution ignores one central document - the verdict issued by this court last November, which did find Ben Artzi guilty of the charge of disobeying an order - and he did disobey an order - but also stated clearly and unequivocally the court's opinion that Ben Artzi's pacifist opinions and beliefs are sincere and deeply held. I consider this a moral - even if not a judicial - acquittal. Since he was seventeen, the military authorities placed Yoni Ben Artzi in an impossible dilemma. He had to choose between breaking the law or violating his own most deeply held values and beliefs. He made his choice and paid for it, in eight consecutive months of imprisonment followed by ten of "open detention". Now he got his discharge, he is already a civilian. But the prosecution here is trying to revive it. The prosecution talked of the need for "deterrance". Deterrance? What deterrance? Anyone who wants to follow in Ben Artzi's footsteps, on the path of conscientious refusal, already knows that it is a hard and stony path, in no way is it a highway out of the army. In short, I ask the court to content itself with a nominal punishment. Ben Artzi has suffered enough. He should get not a single additional day behind bars!"
The court session turned into an attempt of bargaining, when the presiding judge Col. Avy Levy tried to offer a compromise: Ben-Artzi would get a short term and serve it in the form of community work, without actual imprisonment. But the prosecutor was quick to pour cold water: community work imposed by a military court would necessarily be military community work, carried out in in a military framework. Ben-Artzi was undaunted: "I did not struggle for two years just in order to compromise on my principles now; I am not willing to be part of a military framework." "The verdict will be delivered on another date" decided the judge.
The final sentencing is now expected for the end of April 2004.
War Resisters' International calls for letters of protest to Israeli authorities, and Israeli embassies abroad. An email letter can be sent at http://www.wri-irg.org/co/alerts/20040325a.html.
War Resisters' International calls for the immediate release of Jonathan Ben-Artzi and all imprisoned conscientious objectors.
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