| Israel warns reservists against dissent |
Last Updated Fri, 01 Feb 2002 19:45:57
JERUSALEM - Dozens of Israeli reserve soldiers who are refusing to patrol in the West Bank and Gaza Strip could face disciplinary action, the army said Friday.
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The reservists have posted a petition on their Web site demanding Israel stop occupying Palestinian territories. More than 100 reservists have signed the document, which has also been published in some newspapers.
The "refusniks," as they're being called by some, argue that the occupation is "corrupting the entire Israeli society." They say the military presence during the past few decades has had little to do with security. Instead, they say it's been aimed at "dominating, humiliating and starving an entire people."
The protest is considered the most serious internal challenge to Israel's armed forces since the start of the latest Palestinian uprising about 16 months ago.
The petition initially had about three dozen names, but has tripled in size and now includes the signatures of about 50 officers. Some said they have witnessed inhumane acts against Palestinians, such as unarmed people forced to pick up objects that might be bombs, ambulances blocked, and civilians illegally targeted and killed.
About 200 top reservists have responded with a letter of their own, describing the protest as a "dangerous and undemocratic initiative."
The army has portrayed the dissenters as unrepresentative troublemakers with political objectives, not moral objections. It says at least 90 per cent of reservists want to serve in the Palestinian territories because they know that's where they're most needed.
Some of the junior reservists have already been suspended for refusing to patrol the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Now Israel's army chief, Lt. Gen. Shaul Mofaz, has gone a step further, warning that the people behind the protest may be charged with "inciting rebellion."
"There is no more serious act than that, one in which not only the army but also the state must express its opinion," Mofaz told Army Radio on Friday.
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has said soldiers must carry out the decisions of an elected government, and he's described the petition as "the beginning of the end of democracy."