Why Every Jewish Soldier Should Refuse / By Shamai Leibowitz, Attorney, Tank Gunner in Reserve Duty, Tel Aviv

Ruling Over a Hostile Population

Our rule over three million Palestinian Arabs in the territories has perforce put us in a position of committing a number of moral outrages. Continued rule will necessitate not only continued denial of many basic rights to Palestinians, but will require our taking additional steps which are reprehensible, if not morally questionable. While we certainly did not set out intentionally to kill hundreds of innocent civilians, these are willy-nilly consequences of such a position. To maintain our rule we will have to continue to mete out collective punishment that often cruelly affects those who are not guilty.

Among the steps we have taken is the enclosing of millions of humans in their cities, towns, and villages. We often deny basic rights such as the right to earn a living, , to study, to move freely, to purchase basic necessities, to vote, to travel for medical care, to move sick or injured to medical facilities, etc. But most severe is that innocent civilians die. What is happening now is more than unintentional collateral deaths of civilians. Israel has resorted to forays of terror which are severe violations of the Geneva Convention and the Hague Convention.

The IDF is certainly not bloodthirsty and has no daily quota of corpses. Nevertheless, it seems that a large number of the hundreds of Palestinian civilians who die are not killed because Israeli armed forces are acting in self-defense. In this respect, the IDF is not to blame because to put down a popular uprising, drastic measures (i.e., maiming and killing civilians) are often needed, in addition to the enforcing of curfews, establishment of blockades, abrogation of civil rights, and condoning of inhumane treatment. The governmental decision to remain in the occupied territories and to oppress a whole nation is the source of the problem. Unless this changes immediately, Israel will continue its shocking behavior as a dictatorship, which has so far departed from the morality of order that it ceases to be a legal system.

Take the ex-judicial killings of Palestinian political leaders, for example. Certainly, these ex-judicial killings are tantamount to premeditated murder. To me, there is nothing shocking in saying that a country which has "legalized" ex-judicial killings has implemented terror tactics. These killings have no justification in any sane polity. This leads to a conclusion that since Israel has implemented terror tactics, it has become itself a terror organization. This means that until the occupation ends completely and Israel stops resorting to abhorrent terror tactics, Israel should be added to the U.S list of terrorist organizations.

A Warped Understanding of Judaism

Ex-judicial slayings and cruel collective punishment are discussed in Jewish sources. The majority of these sources hold that these actions are totally forbidden. Since Jewish law is based upon the theory of natural law, a higher law, it must strive towards justice and decency. In light of the Israeli actions in the past months, calling Israel a "just democracy" is absurd and perverse.

Abraham's Refusal

One could consider our forefather Abraham as the first "conscientious objector to collective punishment" for his refusal to participate in or condone collective punishment. He was even willing to risk punishment himself in order to try to dissuade G-d from His intention to mete out collective punishment to Sodom and Gomorra. His argument with G-d is described in Genesis:

"If there are fifty righteous within the city, will You indeed sweep away and not forgive the city for the fifty?…It is far from You to do such a thing, to slay the righteous with the wicked… Shall not the Judge of all the earth do justly?" (Genesis 18:24-25).

Here Abraham courageously questions G-d and appeals His decision to destroy entire cities. Abraham's questioning of the impending collective punishment succeeded in persuading G-d, so to speak, to reconsider. The implication is that collective punishment, where it includes innocents, is not acceptable, and only those who have sinned should be punished for their own wrongdoing.

Abraham held himself to a very high standard. He feared that he might have killed innocent people during the wars he waged (described in Genesis 14). According to midrash Tanhuma:

"Abraham excoriated himself mercilessly saying, 'Perhaps among those whom I have killed there were some righteous men…' (Tanhuma 3:14 on Gen. 15:1 )

Massacre in Nablus

This principle of not harming innocents appears elsewhere in the Torah. Our forefather Yaakov severely rebuked two of his sons, Shimon and Levi, when they massacred the city of Shechem (Shechem/Nablus today) as a form of revenge. This act of reprisal, shading over to vicious vindictiveness, was executed by the two brothers as retribution for the rape of their sister Dinah. Despite this seeming justification tendered by the brothers, Yaakov censured his sons in one of the most caustic statements in the Bible, when he reproved them:

"Simon and Levi are brothers; weapons of violence are the means of their livelihood. Let my soul not be coupled with theirs; into their assembly let my glory not be united. For in anger they slew men, and in their willfulness they continued in their destruction of cattle. Cursed be their anger, for it was fierce, and their wrath for it was cruel." (Genesis 49:5):

Yaakov was shaken by what his sons did, and does not mince words in his reproach. Similar words might be said in reaction to our attempts to justify aerial bombing of Palestinian cities as retribution for attacks by terrorists. If we do not want to be cursed, we have to decline to participate in these actions, even if we have to refuse to serve in the territories altogether.

The argument is made that we have no choice and that the IDF must take such steps to preserve the security of the State. I cannot be convinced that the existence of the State of Israel hangs on the killing of children in refugee camps. The rule over another nation, a hostile population, does not strengthen our defense posture; rather it weakens us. It prolongs the necessity for curfews and blockades of millions of humans, for abrogation of their elementary rights, and for physically injuring them.

In the case of Shimon and Levi, they defended their action as being of deterrent value. Yaakov rejects this argument because even in military conflicts there are acts that are prohibited. This can be derived from the comments of Ramban (Nachmanides) on the episode. He discusses the claim (heard today as well) that Shimon and Levi were justified in attacking and murdering the men of Nablus and sacking the city because the citizens did not bring the rapist to justice. After discussing this line of defense of Shimon and Levi, Ramban rejects it unequivocally. There is no justification for harming innocents. This is a basic tenet of justice.

Contrast Shimon and Levi's headstrong cruelty with the earlier introspection of their father. Yaakov feared killing innocents. When his brother Esau approached Yaakov with four hundred armed men for a face-off, we are told that :

"Yaakov was greatly afraid and was distressed." (Genesis 32:8)

Rashi explains the seeming redundancy (afraid and distressed) by saying that Yaakov was afraid he might be killed, and distressed that he might kill Esau, in the event that Esau had innocent intentions.

Individual Responsibility - A Religious Norm

The concept of individual responsibility for wrongdoing is encapsulated in the prohibition towards the end of the Torah:

"The fathers shall not be put to death for the children, neither shall the children be put to death for the fathers; every man shall be put to death for his own sin." (Deuteronomy 24:16)

This moral and religious norm appears elsewhere in the Tanakh. For example, the prophet Ezekial warns that:

"The soul that sins, it shall die. The son shall not hear the iniquity of the father, neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son: the rigof the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself alone." (Ezekial 18:20)

This pertains to all Jews (and is not restricted to ‘teary-eyed left-wing liberals'). In the territories we are violating this precept daily by destroying houses of families of terrorists, preventing food and medical supplies from reaching villages, and physically harming blameless civilians -- acts that would be forbidden under the rubric of " the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself alone."

Blind Obedience to One's Country

Blind compliance can lead to bestiality, for animals live without morality and law. Obedience to the state is not an ultimate Jewish value. The Prophets riled against those regimes in the Jewish past that used their powers to the disadvantage of weak populations. They did not hesitate to call for disobedience to such wicked regimes. (E.g. see the episode over Navot's vineyard involving Ahab and Jezebel in I Kings 21). Law abiding citizenship is encouraged; but obedience per se as a value is not sacrosanct.

The apartheid regime Israel has established is wicked and evil. It deserves no fidelity on the part of Israeli soldiers. One might ask: Does not this attitude lead to anarchy? The answer is that since Israel has become a dictatorship, the only can effective way to bring down the dictatorship is to violate those very laws that have made it into a dictatorship. We have an example for this in Biblical sources.

We are told that the prophet Elija took action in order to prevent the prophets of the Baal from offering their sacrifices to the idols. He brought an offering before God on an altar on Mt. Carmel. Elijah's action is most dramatic; it is also forbidden by the Torah. But "It is a time to act for God, for they have violated your teaching" (Psalms 119) Rashi explains: Sometimes laws of Torah are cancelled in order to act on behalf of God such as Elijah on Mt. Carmel, who brought offering on an altar when altars were forbidden (Berachot 54a). It is interesting that this explication of the passage from Psalms has become part of our legacy, even though it is not the " pshat of Scripture."

When, however, according to this traditional understanding, is the Torah to be violated?

Elijah violates the Torah for the sake of the Torah, in a situation where there is no Torah

Soldiers of Tzahal are sent to the territories, regions where democracy does not reign; democracy, in Greek: "Rule by the people", meaning, the people ruling themselves. In there territories, however, one people rules over another people.

It is common knowledge that many of our people deny this, and claim that the occupation was forced upon us and not upon the Palestinian people, but the soldiers who refuse to serve in a place where there is no democracy do so in the name of democracy, just as Elijah the prophet did for the sake of the Torah.

We dare not become soldier robots. We must continue to serve in the IDF, as a defence army, but not as an occupying force committing crimes against humanity.

We may have to suffer the consequences of refusal , which can run the gamut from ridicule and social ostracism to imprisonment. As soldiers we not only have to obey orders, but we also have to be aware that they may violate our most basic moral, legal, and religious norms.