Israel: The trial of the five

The trial of the five conscientious objectors refusing to be drafted into an occupation army  resumed today (18 September) at the military court in Jaffa. For long hours, the prosecutor, Captain Yaron Kostelitz, cross- examined the defendants Haggai Matar and Matan Kaminer. Both defendants rejected the prosecutor's claim that conscience is nothing but a nice word meant to enable anyone to do whatever he or she wishes. They repeated their explanations of why their objection to be drafted is motivated by deep conscientious considerations.

Haggai Matar noted that he did not agree with the conceptual characterizations offered by the prosecutor, regarding such notions as pacifism, political refusal and conscientious objection. The prosecutor presented him with a list of hypothetical situations, in order to find out under what conditions he would agree to be drafted into the Israeli army. In his answer, Matar described the complexity of his conscientious decision and the way it is anchored in current circumstances. "I cannot sum up my opposition in one short sentence. At the moment, I see evil and inhumane acts committed by the Israeli army, and since its actions are inhumane, immoral and in my opinion also illegal, I conscientiously refuse to take any part in this army under present circumstances." 

Fantastic hypothetical scenarios are irrelevant to the present situation, Matar said, and it's impossible to answer such abstract questions or refer to descriptions of situations devoid of any context. Replying to the prosecutor's claim, that what was described by him as evil was confirmed as legal by the Israeli High Court of Justice, Matar noted that some of the HCJ's decisions are indeed illegal according to international law. When the prosecutor attempted to characterize his refusal as political rather than conscientious, Matar replied that his position is both political and conscientious, and that it is impossible to break these two spheres apart - yet a distinction must be made between a political stand and a position taken by a political party. "Conscience isn't a party platform," said Matar, "and its dictates are much clearer regarding disapproval and refusal than regarding obligations to commit certain acts."

The questions posed to Matan Kaminer were almost identical to those posed to Haggai Matar. Kaminer repeated and emphasized the principles he enumerated in his original testimony- those principles which led him to refuse the draft. "I oppose violence in general," he said; "only extreme conditions could make the use of violence legitimate, and such extreme conditions are far from existing here and now. If we leave the Occupied Territories completely, if we allow the establishment of a viable independent Palestinian state, and if we live in peace and equality alongside this state, cooperating with it economically and culturally, then the existential situation in the region will be drastically different. There will be no suicide bombs and no violent actions committed by Palestinians against Israeli citizens. The mandatory draft will be irrelevant, but if there is still need of an army under these conditions, then I'll be ready to take part in it." 

Kaminer emphasized that in his opinion the state should - as far as possible - treat any consciences with respect and tolerance, but that his own conscientious motivations for refusal, ensuing from a humanist, rationalist and democratic conception, are essentially different than other motivations for refusal, such as those based on religious and nationalistic grounds. "I love this country and the people living in it, and I want to keep living in it and change it, so that it is a better place to live in. My refusal is part of this change."

Both Matar and Kaminer, replying to the prosecutor's questions regarding the duty to obey the law in a democratic state, said that Israel is not fully democratic. A state ruling over 3.5 million people denied the right to vote, cannot presume to be a state whose decisions are all reached in a democratic procedure. South Africa during Apartheid wasn't a democratic state, they said, and the classical Greek democracy was faulty since only men of certain status enjoyed the right to be represented, whereas the rest of the Polis inhabitants did not. "Either let the inhabitants in the occupied territories the right to vote or stop ruling them," said Kaminer.

The next court session, with the cross-examination of the three other defendants, Shimri Tzameret, Adam Maor and Noam Bahat, will be held on October 20th, 2003 .
Thursday, September 18, 2003

    refusing to kill