Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Reservists Question Israeli Army Tactics

JERUSALEM -- More than 100 Israeli Army reservists Friday issued a statement saying they would refuse to continue serving in the West Bank and Gaza Strip because Israel's policies there involved "dominating, expelling, starving and humiliating an entire people.''

The statement by combat officers and soldiers amounted to the largest organized refusal by reservists to serve in the West Bank and Gaza in the last 16 months of violence.

A week ago, 52 reservists began the campaign of defiance with a statement in the daily newspaper Haaretz. But their number has now almost doubled and a national debate has started about their stand.

The campaign has so unsettled the military command that the army's chief of staff suggested Friday that they were inciting rebellion. Lieutenant General Shaul Mofaz said on Army Radio Friday that he suspected that political motives rather than moral concerns were behind the dissenting reservists' petition.

"If there is someone who is organizing a campaign on an ideological basis,'' he said, "in my eyes this is more than refusal to serve. This is incitement to rebellion. There is no act more serious than that.''

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon warned in a newspaper interview that, "It will be the beginning of the end of democracy if soldiers don't carry out the decisions of the elected government.''

Protests by army reservists after Israel's 1982 invasion of Lebanon, which Sharon, as defense minister, took all the way to Beirut, are widely considered to have contributed to a subsequent military pullback to a buffer strip in southern Lebanon, from which Israel withdrew two years ago.

The declaration Friday in Haaretz by the dissenting reservists said: "The price of occupation is the loss of the Israel Defense Forces' semblance of humanity and the corruption of all of Israeli society.''

It continued, "We will no longer fight beyond the Green Line with the aim of dominating, expelling, starving and humiliating an entire people.'' The Green Line is the pre-1967 boundary between Israel and the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

It remains to be seen whether the organizers will meet their goal of collecting 500 signatures and forming a critical mass of resisters that could force a change in government policy.

But the prospect that more may join their campaign has prompted a swift response from the army, which has increasingly relied on reservists to back up regular conscripts in the ongoing fighting in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The reservists, who typically serve about one month a year, man roadblocks and outposts, go on patrols and guard Jewish settlements. Mofaz said that the resisters should be suspended from their posts and could be permanently relieved of their command duties. He said senior officers would decide what disciplinary action to take.

Ami Ayalon, former chief of Israel's Shin Bet security service, said Friday that while soldiers should not refuse to serve, they should decline to carry out orders they consider immoral.

"I'm worried about how few refusals [of orders] there are by soldiers in the army," Ayalon told Israel TV's Channel Two. "To shoot a youth who is unarmed is a blatantly illegal order. The number of children who have been killed in the last year and a half worries me. ... In each case, was there no other choice? Did we have to shoot in order to kill? That's a question that should worry us all."