Ami Kronfeld <firstname.lastname@example.org> 18 Feb 2002
As you all know, Asaf Oron is one of the original
soldiers who signed the "Fighters' Letter" declaring that from
now on they will refuse to serve in the Occupied territories. He
is signer #8 and one of the first in the list to include a
statement explaining his action. My sense is that his statement
comes as close as possible to being the refuseniks' manifesto,
given the loose structure of the group and their insistence on
independent, individual responsibility.
Below is my translation of Asaf's statement.
Please make it
available to your contacts abroad.
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Asaf Oron's Statement
On February 5, 1985, I got up, left my
home, went to the
Compulsory Service Center on Rashi Street in Jerusalem, said
goodbye to my parents, boarded the rickety old bus going to the
Military Absorption Station and turned into a soldier.
Exactly seventeen years later, I find myself in a head to
confrontation with the army, while the public at large is jeering
and mocking me from the sidelines. Right wingers see me as a
traitor who is dodging the holy war that's just around the
corner. The political center shakes a finger at me self-
righteously and lectures me about undermining democracy and
politicizing the army. And the left? The square, establishment,
"moderate" left that only yesterday was courting my vote now
turns its back on me as well. Everyone blabbers about what is and
what is not legitimate, exposing in the process the depth of
their ignorance of political theory and their inability to
distinguish a real democracy from a third world regime in the
style of Juan Peron.
Almost no one asks the main question: why would a regular guy get
up one morning in the middle of life, work, the kids and decide
he's not playing the game anymore? And how come he is not alone
but there are fifty... I beg your pardon, a hundred... beg your
pardon again, now almost two hundred regular, run of the mill
guys like him who've done the same thing? [Currently, February
18, there are 263 signatories.]
Our parents' generation lets out a sigh: we've embarrassed
yet again. But isn't it all your fault? What did you raise us on?
Universal ethics and universal justice, on the one hand: peace,
liberty and equality to all. And on the other hand: "the Arabs
want to throw us into the sea," "They are all crafty and
primitive. You can't trust them."
On the one hand, the songs of John Lennon, Pete
Dylan, Bob Marley, Pink Floyd. Songs of peace and love and
against militarism and war. On the other hand, songs about a
sweetheart riding the tank after sunset in the field: "The tank
is yours and you are ours." [allusions to popular Israeli songs -
AK]. I was raised on two value systems: one was the ethical code
and the other the tribal code, and I naïvely believed that the
two could coexist.
This is the way I was when I was drafted. Not enthusiastic,
as if embarking on a sacred mission of courage and sacrifice for
the benefit of society. But when, instead of a sacred mission, a
19 year old finds himself performing the sacrilege of violating
human beings' dignity and freedom, he doesn't dare ask - even
himself - if it's OK or not. He simply acts like everyone else
and tries to blend in. As it is, he's got enough problems, and
boy is the weekend far off.
You get used to it in a hurry, and many even learn to like
Where else can you go out on patrol - that is, walk the streets
like a king, harass and humiliate pedestrians to your heart's
content, and get into mischief with your buddies - and at the
same time feel like a big hero defending your country? The Gaza
Exploits became heroic tales, a source of pride for Giv'ati, then
a relatively new brigade suffering from low self esteem.
For a long time, I could not relate to the whole "heroism" thing.
But when, as a sergeant, I found myself in charge, something
cracked inside me. Without thinking, I turned into the perfect
occupation enforcer. I settled accounts with "upstarts" who
didn't show enough respect. I tore up the personal documents of
men my father's age. I hit, harassed, served as a bad example -
all in the city of Kalkilia, barely three miles from grandma and
grandpa's home-sweet-home. No. I was no "aberration." I was
exactly the norm.
Having completed my compulsory service, I was discharged,
then the first Intifada began (how many more await us?) Ofer, a
comrade in arms who remained in the service has become a hero:
the hero of the second Giv'ati trial. He commanded a company that
dragged a detained Palestinian demonstrator into a dark orange
grove and beat him to death. As the verdict stated, Ofer was
found to have been the leader in charge of the whole business. He
spent two months in jail and was demoted - I think that was the
most severe sentence given an Israeli soldier through the entire
first Intifada, in which about a thousand Palestinians were
killed. Ofer's battalion commander testified that there was an
order from the higher echelons to use beatings as a legitimate
method of punishment, thereby implicating himself. On the other
hand, Efi Itam, the brigade commander, who had been seen beating
Arabs on numerous occasions, denied that he ever gave such an
order and consequently was never indicted. Today he lectures us
on moral conduct on his way to a new life in politics. (In the
current Intifada, incidentally, the vast majority of incidents
involving Palestinian deaths are not even investigated. No one
And in the meantime, I was becoming more of a civilian. A copy of
The Yellow Wind [a book on life in the Occupied Territories by
the Israeli writer David Grossman, available in English -AK]
which had just come out, crossed my path. I read it, and suddenly
it hit me. I finally understood what I had done over there. What
I had been over there.
I began to see that they had cheated me: They
raised me to
believe there was someone up there taking care of things. Someone
who knows stuff that is beyond me, the little guy. And that even
if sometimes politicians let us down, the "military echelon" is
always on guard, day and night, keeping us safe, each and every
one of their decisions the result of sacred necessity. Yes, they
cheated us, the soldiers of the Intifadas, exactly as they had
cheated the generation that was beaten to a pulp in the War of
Attrition and in the Yom Kippur War, exactly as they had cheated
the generation that sank deep into the Lebanese mud during the
Lebanon invasions. And our parents' generation continues to be
Worse still, I understood that I was raised on two contradictory
value systems. I think most people discover even at an earlier
age they must choose between two value systems: an abstract,
demanding one that is no fun at all and that is very difficult to
verify, and another which calls to you from every corner -
determining who is up and who is down, who is king and who -
pariah, who is one of us and who is our enemy. Contrary to basic
common sense, I picked the first. Because in this country the
cost-effective analysis comparing one system to another is so
lopsided, I can't blame those who choose the second.
I picked the first road, and found myself volunteering
small, smoke-filled office in East Jerusalem, digging up files
about deaths, brutality, bureaucratic viciousness or simply daily
harassments. I felt I was atoning, to some extent, for my actions
during my days with the Giv'ati brigade. But it also felt as if I
was trying to empty the ocean out with a teaspoon.
Out of the blue, I was called up for the very first
reserve duty in the Occupied Territories. Hysterically, I
contacted my company commander. He calmed me down: We will be
staying at an outpost overlooking the Jordan river. No contacts
with the local population is expected. And that indeed was what I
did, but some of my friends provided security for the Damia
Bridge terminal [where Palestinians cross from Jordan to Israel
and vice versa - AK]. This was in the days preceding the Gulf War
and a large number of Palestinian refugees were flowing from
Kuwait to the Occupied Territories (from the frying pan into the
fire). The reserve soldiers - mostly right wingers - cringed when
they saw the female conscripts stationed in the terminal happily
ripping open down-comforters and babies' coats to make sure they
didn't contain explosives. I too cringed when I heard their
stories, but I was also hopeful: reserve soldiers are human after
all, whatever their political views.
Such hopes were dashed three years later, when I
weeks with a celebrated reconnaissance company in the confiscated
ruins of a villa at the outskirts of the Abasans (if you don't
know where this is, it's your problem). This is where it became
clear to me that the same humane reserve soldier could also be an
ugly, wretched macho undergoing a total regression back to his
days as a young conscript. Already on the bus ride to the Gaza
strip, the soldiers were competing with each other: whose
"heroic" tales of murderous beatings during the Intifada were
better (in case you missed this point: the beatings were
literally murderous: beating to death). Going on patrol duty with
these guys once was all that I could take. I went up to the
placement officer and requested to be given guard duty only.
Placement officers like people like me: most soldiers can't
tolerate staying inside the base longer than a couple of hours.
Thus began the nausea and shame routine, a routine that
three tours of reserve duty in the Occupied Territories: 1993,
1995, and 1997. The "pale-gray" refusal routine. For several
weeks at a time I would turn into a hidden "prisoner of
conscience," guarding an outpost or a godforsaken transmitter on
top of some mountain, a recluse. I was ashamed to tell most of my
friends why I chose to serve this way. I didn't have the energy
to hear them get on my case for being such a "wishy washy" softy.
I was also ashamed of myself: This was the easy way out. In
short, I was ashamed all over. I did "save my own soul". I was
not directly engaged in wrongdoing - only made it possible for
others to do so while I kept guard. Why didn't I refuse outright?
I don't know. It was partly the pressure to conform, partly the
political process that gave us a glimmer of hope that the whole
occupation business would be over soon. More than anything, it
was my curiosity to see actually what was going on over there.
And precisely because I knew so well, first hand, from years
experience what was going on over there, what reality was like
over there, I had no trouble seeing, through the fog of war and
the curtain of lies, what has been taking place over there since
the very first days of the second Intifada. For years, the army
had been feeding on lines like "We were too nice in the first
Intifada.", and "If we had only killed a hundred in the very
first days, everything would have been different.". Now the army
was given license to do things its way. I knew full well that
[former Prime Minister] Ehud Barak was giving the army free hand,
and that [current Chief of Staff] Shaul Mofaz was taking full
advantage of this to maximize the bloodshed.
By then, I had two little kids, boys, and I knew from experience
that no one - not a single person in the entire world - will ever
make sure that my sons won't have to serve in the Occupied
Territories when they reach 18. No one, that is, except me. And
no one but me will have to look them in the eye when they're all
grown up and tell them where dad was when all that happened. It
was clear to me: this time I was not going.
Initially, this was a quiet decision,
still a little shy,
something like "I am just a bit weird, can't go and can't talk
about it too much either." But as time went by, as the level of
insanity, hatred, and incitement kept rising, as the generals
were turning the Israeli Defense Forces into a terror
organization, the decision was turning into an outcry: "If you
can't see that this is one big crime leading us to the brink of
annihilation, then something is terribly wrong with you!"
And then I discovered that I was not alone. Like discovering life
on another planet.
The truth is that I understand why everyone is mad
at us. We
spoiled the neat little order of things. The holy Status Quo
states that the Right holds the exclusive rights to celebrate the
blood and ask for more. The role of the Left, on the other hand,
is to wail while sitting in their armchairs sipping wine and
waiting for the Messiah to come and with a single wave of his
magic wand make the Right disappear along with the settlers, the
Arabs, the weather, and the entire Middle East. That's how the
world is supposed to work. So why are you causing such a
disturbance? What's your problem? Bad boys!
Woe to you, dear establishment left! You haven't
attention! That Messiah has been here already. He waved his magic
wand, saw things aren't that simple, was abandoned in the midst
of battle, lost altitude, and finally was assassinated, with the
rest of us (yes, me too) watching from the comfort of our
armchairs. Forget it. A messiah doesn't come around twice! There
is no such thing as a free lunch.
Don't you really see what we are doing, why it is that we stepped
out of line? Don't you get the difference between a low key,
personal refusal and an organized, public one? (and make no
mistake about it, the private refusal is the easier choice.) You
really don't get it? So let me spell it out for you.
First, we declare our commitment to the first value system.
one that is elusive, abstract, and not profitable. We believe in
the moral code generally known as God (and my atheist friends who
also signed this letter would have to forgive me - we all believe
in God, the true one, not that of the Rabbis and the Ayatollahs).
We believe that there is no room for the tribal code, that the
tribal code simply camouflages idolatry, an idolatry of a type we
should not cooperate with. Those who let such a form of idol
worship take over will end up as burnt offerings themselves.
Second, we (as well as some other groups who
are even more
despised and harassed) are putting our bodies on the line, in the
attempt to prevent the next war. The most unnecessary, most
idiotic, cruel and immoral war in the history of Israel.
We are the Chinese young man standing in front of the tank.
you? If you are nowhere to be seen, you are probably inside the
tank, advising the driver.