In an apparent change of policy, the Israeli military is preparing to court-martial conscientious objectors. While this was often a normal procedure of Druze conscientious objectors who went AWOL (absent without leave), this is a new development for Jewish Israeli conscientious objectors who always presented themselves to the military, and refused to enlist.
Druze conscientious objector Rabin Jihad Sa'ad (ISR12130) is presently being held in Military Prison No 4, awaiting a court-martial. He already spent time in prison in summer 2002, and now was AWOL for about half a year. In his case, the court-martial is standard procedure.
Conscientious objector Jonathan Ben-Artzi (ISR12371), who already spent 200 days in prison in seven 29-day to 35-day installments, is now facing a court-martial. Adam Keller of Gush Shalom reports:
"The latest development, leading Ben Artzi to the Court Martial which is empowered to hand down a maximum of three years for his refusal to enlist, started exactly a week ago [12 February], when he was taken from his prison cell to a meeting with a Brigadier General at General Staff Headquarters in Tel-Aviv. This personage went out of his way to appear friendly ("I am not talking to you as a general to a draftee, but as Avi to Yoni, okay?") and made what was supposed to be "a generous offer": Ben Artzi would consent to be enlisted and have the legal status of a soldier, and in return the army would grant him "an easy service, without a gun, uniform or military training". Ben Artzi was given a few days to consider this offer, but in fact his response had never been in doubt: he is willing and ready to give three years for doing useful service to the benefit of Israeli society - but only in a civilian framework having nothing to do with the army; he is absolutely unwilling to be part, in any capacity whatsoever, of an army, an organization whose main aim is killing and violence; not of any army, in general, and certainly not of an army of occupation engaged in large-scale brutal oppression of another people. Upon informing the authorities of his decision, Ben Artzi was informed in turn that he would face a court martial, empowered to sentence him to up to three years. Also, from that moment on he was subjected to a series of petty humiliations, never before experienced during his previous imprisonments: being handcuffed whenever taken from one place to another (though he has never shown any inclination to run away); being held in a cell without any furniture, so that he had to sit on the floor; being given food without utensils... Three days of that were the prelude to yesterday's hearing, on the issue of whether or not Ben Artzi should be remanded in custody until the end of the court martial. The prosecutor went out of his way to be nasty, describing Ben Artzi as "no better than any deserter or drug addict". He was no pacifist, since "the competent military committee has already reviewed his case" and decided he was not. He must be kept continually in prison, for the sake of "deterrence", since letting him go free until the court martial renders its verdict would "undermine discipline in the army". Ben Artzi's lawyer, Adv. Michael Sfard from the office of the renowned human rights lawyer Avigdor Feldman, rebutted these arguments, stating that the "competent committee" was composed of military officers with no knowledge of or interest in pacifist principles, that they were rejecting virtually any claimant who appeared before them, and that Yoni Ben Artzi was "the classical, clear-cut case of a principled pacifist: a person who already chose pacifism and non-violence as the subject of his elementary school essays, who in school refused to attend a judo class since that involved using force, and who in the years before his conscription date had boned up on the history and philosophy of pacifism - for which he had two testimonies of university professors. Further, Adv. Sfard dismissed the prosecution's claim of "undermined discipline" as frivolous and vindictive. After several hours of often acrimonious debate, a compromise was hammered out: pending the end of the court martial Ben Artzi would stay neither at home nor in prison, but in "open detention" at the army's Induction Center. There was still a further debate on whether or not the prisoner would be allowed to spend the night in his parents' home, for what may be the last occasion in a very long while. The prosecutor, in another display of conspicuous narrow-mindedness, fiercely opposed it. In the end, the judge, who seemed more fair-minded, granted that small boon. This morning, Ben Artzi presented himself at the induction center for the beginning of "the open detention". There had been a new confrontation with a lieutenant-colonel who once again demanded that he enlist and threatened "the stockade"; upon Ben Artzi's continuing firm refusal, the colonel talked with his superiors and backed off - at least for the moment. So, Yoni Ben Artzi's court martial is due to start sometime in the coming two weeks. It is vitally important to make it a major media and political event, to have many international delegations present, etc."
Similar developments need to be reported in the case of Dror Boimel (ISR12373). He began his seventh prison term yesterday (20 February 2003), and he too now awaits a court-martial. The Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) lodged a Supreme Court appeal in his case, protesting repeated imprisonment.
As Adam Keller, spokesperson for Gush Shalom, pointed out in his report, there is now an urgent need for delegations to obeserve the court-martials. Court-martials are in principal open to the public, and it is important that the international public is present. WRI will be preparing delegations, and we ask everyone who is interested in being part of a delegation to contact the WRI office immediately (tel +44-20-7278 4040, email: firstname.lastname@example.org). There will be short notice (a week or so), and we need to have a pool of potential delegates available. The next hearing in Jonathan Ben-Artzi's case might be very soon, although the whole procedure might drag on for two months.
War Resisters' International also urgently calls for letters to the Israeli authorities, and Israeli embassies abroad (see addresses below). At the day of the court-martial hearing, small protest actions could be organised in front of Israeli diplomatic missions.
War Resisters' International
Minister of Defence,
Ministry of Defence,
37 Kaplan st.,
e-mail: mailto:email@example.com or mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org Fax: +972-3-696-27-57 / +972-3-691-69-40 / +972-3-691-79-15
Commander of Military Prison No. 4,
Military Postal Code 02507
Commander of Military Prison No 6
Military Prison No 6
Military postal number 01860,
Addresses of Israeli embassies can be found at http://www.embassyworld.com/embassy/israel1.htm
Addresses of Israeli media:
2 Karlibach st.
2 Moses st.
21 Schocken st.
Ha'aretz (English edition):
21 Schocken st.
Radio (fax numbers):
Kol-Israel +972-2-531-33-15 and +972-3-694-47-09 Galei Tzahal +972-3-512-67-20
Television (fax numbers):
Channel 1 +972-2-530-15-36