Journal Archive > 2002 > May

Israeli refusers

Israeli officer explains why he refuses to serve in Occupied Territories

The Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza is immoral, says Guy Grossman, and it threatens the democratic nature of the Jewish State.

And so Grossman, a reservist in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) with a distinguished military record, has decided to refuse. He and more than 400 others have signed a letter pledging they will not serve in the Occupied Territories.

Guy Grossman, a reservist in the Israel Defense Forces, says he and other refusers "want to restore the country that was hijacked from us." © Mark Morelli

"There is not, and never will be, a benign occupation," Grossman told an audience of more than 100 at the Granoff Family Hillel Center on the Medford/Somerville campus on April 25. "The letter was a way to remind [Israelis] that continuing the occupation is not an option for Israel."

Grossman spoke at Tufts during a brief tour of the Boston area, designed to draw attention to the message of the refusers, who call their organization Ometz Le'Sarev—The Courage to Refuse. The Tufts appearance was sponsored by Hillel and Education for Public Inquiry and International Citizenship (EPIIC).

The turnout included students, faculty and community members, and Grossman repeatedly reminded the audience that the debate is not limited to voices within Israel. Anyone who "cherishes the Zionist notion" needs to speak up, he said. "Don't underestimate your role in shaping public opinion," he said. "I believe very much in the power of people—especially young people—to change their reality."

The battle for Israel
Grossman stresses that he is a Zionist and loyal Israeli. "I was taught to love my country." And, he said, "I am not a pacifist. I have fought before, and I will fight again."

But, the current battle, he said, is about the soul of Israel. By continuing the occupation and denying the Palestinians their basic rights, Israel is endangering its democratic character and corrupting the meaning of Zionism.

"Our group sees itself as the guardians of democracy in Israel," he said. "We want to restore the country that was hijacked from us."

Grossman was born in 1972 near Tel Aviv to parents who had immigrated to Israel from England and Australia. He entered the military as an enthusiastic recruit in 1990 and eventually joined an elite paratrooper unit; he now holds the rank of second lieutenant. Grossman spent 18 months in the Occupied Territories during the first Intifada and three months in Lebanon. As a reserve officer, he serves up to eight weeks a year and has since returned to serve in the territories. In civilian life, he holds a law degree and is a graduate student at Tel Aviv University.

Grossman was the 11th officer to sign the "Courage to Refuse" letter in January 2002. The signers pledged they would not serve beyond Israel's 1967 borders, but would remain in the IDF and fight "in any mission that serves Israel's defense."

Of the 430 reservists who had signed by April, approximately 40 spent time in military jails; many were stripped of their commissions, and others lost their civilian jobs.

In a society where military service is vital part of public and personal identity, the refusers have lost the respect and camaraderie of many friends and fellow reservists. Families have been split; refusers have had to redefine their very sense of self, Grossman said.

Matter of conscience
The journal to refusal is both personal and political, Grossman said. It's not a protest against the IDF.

"The IDF is a very, very moral military," he said. "I'm not being cynical. There are tons of lectures about dealing with civil populations. But nothing can prepare you for the reality of the occupation. The dilemma is not because the military is immoral, but because the occupation is immoral."

Reaching the decision to refuse is a matter of conscience, Grossman said, "not something you persuade someone about." Signing the letter, he said, was a political act. "Every person added makes ending the occupation come closer," he said, "not because the military will be unable to carry out its mission, but because we are demoralizing the occupation, flashing a light on the wall, saying, some people feel like a line has been crossed. When will yours be crossed?"

The original Zionist ideal, Grossman said, was for a Jewish and democratic state in the Biblical land of Israel. Ruling 3.5 million Palestinians under military law, he said, corrupts the democratic nature of the nation.

And, it has not made Israel secure, he said, despite the "myth" among Israelis that the occupation must continue to ensure their safety. "Restaurants are closing daily. People are afraid to send their kids on buses. Cinemas are closing," he said, referring to the effects of terrorist attacks and suicide bombings. Grossman said he tells his countrymen, "You're not safe. Maybe it's not working."

Even the April offensive against several Palestinian cities is counterproductive, he said. "We have to fight terrorism, but will 24 days of destruction really destroy the terrorist infrastructure? In the short run, the Israeli people will feel much safer, but it will not solve the problem. The kids of 2002 Jenin will be the suicide bombers of 2005."

In addition, he said, Israel is losing international support. "We're eroding one of the best assets we have," he said. "We're closer than we ever have been to the point where the world will impose an agreement on Israel." Israelis and Palestinians, he said, "need to reach a mutual agreement on their own."

Time to speak out
"Now is the time to fight for what Israel is all about," he said. "This is not the time to be at home.

"This is not a time for unity. When there are too many calls for unity, too often, be careful. Watch out. Unity could be dangerous," he said to applause from the audience.

Americans have much to add to the debate, he said. "People should express their opinion, whether they live in Israel or not, if they're Jewish or not, whether they have served [in the military] or not served. But if you cherish the Zionist notion and believe that Israel has the right to be the land of the Jews, this is a battle of what Zionism is all about.

"Now is the time to raise your voices."

Ometz Le'Sarev offers no specifics for a peace settlement—"there are 430 of us and 430 opinions"—and has no political goal other than remaining a viable voice for dissent within Israel, Grossman said.

"We are going to keep raising our voice. We're here to stay. We have put our lives aside. We have nothing to gain. People know we do it out of the love of our country."