New Wave of Refusers from Elite Reserve Unit

Haaretz Correspondents, 12/22/2003

13 Sayeret Matkal reservists join refusal to serve in

By Amos Harel and Mazal Mualem, Haaretz Correspondent

Thirteen reservists in the elite Sayeret Matkal unit of the
Israel Defense Forces on Sunday evening signed a letter
declaring their refusal to serve in the territories.

The letter - signed by soldiers and officers - was delivered to
the Prime Minister's Office, which refused to comment on the
content of the letter.

Among the 13 signatories are nine who still do reserve service
in Sayeret Matkal, while the most senior is an officer with the
rank of major.

"We say to you today, we will no longer give our hands to the
oppressive reign in the territories and the denial of human
rights to millions of Palestinians," reads the letter addressed
to the prime minister, " and we will no longer serve as a
defensive shield for the settlement enterprise."

Although Sayeret Matkal - the IDF General Staff's elite
special-operations force - is rarely involved in operations in
the territories, the announcement carries weight because of the
group's standing in Israeli society.

In 1972, Sayeret Matkal commandos, led by former prime minister
Ehud Barak, raided a Sabena plane hijacked by Palestinian
terrorists. In 1976, the elite troops carried out a daring
operation at Entebbe
airport in Uganda to rescue some 100 hostages on an Air France
plane hijacked by terrorists.

In response, the IDF Spokesman said, "It is grave when
reservists use their military records and the name of their unit
for the purpose of expressing their political ideas."

Political figures who served in the elite army unit sharply
criticized the announcement. Barak, who served as commander of
Sayeret Matkal, called on signers of the letter to "immediately"
retract their
decision. According to Barak, it was a grave mistake, but "it'
not too late to correct it, and it's important to do so."

"In a democracy there's no place for refusal because it is the
elected government that issues the orders to the army. As much
as we are divided over the hesitant and confused policy of
Sharon's government which is endangering Israel, it is essential
that this battle be waged in the public sphere, and for the army
to defend all of us. Every soldier has the right and the
obligation to refuse an blatantly illegal order, but I am
convinced that the IDF, under Chief of Staff Moshe Ya'alon,
would never lend a hand to the giving of blatantly illegal
orders to soldiers, including those in Sayeret Matkal."

Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who served in the elite
unit, said Sunday that "if people base their military service on
their political opinions, be left-winged or right-winged, we
wont have an army or a state left. It is time to stop using
military service as a political axe."

MK Matan Vilnai (Labor), a major general in the reserves who
served as deputy commander of Sayeret Matkal, also criticized
the letter. "Refusal is a phenomenon that must cannot be
accepted in any manner. It cannot be denied that we are not
speaking of a few isolated instances, but rather a phenomenon
that stems from the feeling of lack of purpose in government

"Refusal harms society's strength," said MK Dan Yatom (Labor), a
major general in the reserves who served in Sayeret Matkal. "I
condemn any form of refusal. No person or group has the right to
determine which missions are to be carried out." According to
Yatom, "The government of Israel must be attentive to the
distress expressed by such quality groups as the pilots and
Sayeret Matkal, and to respond appropriately."

Deputy Defense Minister MK Ze'ev Boim (Likud) said the
reservists were exploiting their military uniform for political
purposes, and were unworthy of wearing it, Channel Two TV
reported. Meretz MK Yossi Sarid said that while he oppose
refusal to serve in the territories, this latest letter wa
another example of the failure of the occupation.

MK Ophir Pines (Labor) said that in light of the letter, a
serious discussion should be held on the issue.

Minister Effi Eitam, Chairman of the National Religious Party,
said that he sees the letter as a break in Israeli society and
that he expected the wave of refusal to grow.

Meretz MK Roman Bronfman called the letter a brave step intended
to save israel from the occupation, while MK Shaul Yahalom (NRP)
said that jail was the proper place for the signatories.

The Sayeret letter is the third such public declaration of
reservists refusing to serve in the territories since the outset
of the current intifada. In early 2002, the "Courage to Refuse"
movement released a letter signed by reservist soldiers and
officers refusing to serve in the territories, which to date ha
over 570 signatories. In September of this year, a group of
Israel Air Force pilots announced their refusal to carry out air
strikes in the territories.

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