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?...
 

Ami Kronfeld <ami-k@attbi.com>    18 Feb 2002

As you all know, Asaf Oron is one  of  the  original  53  Israeli
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.

Kol tuv,

Amichai Kronfeld
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

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  head
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  them
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  Seeger,  Bob
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,  but
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  it.
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,  and
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
even bothers.)

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
silent.

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  in  a
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  time  for
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  spent  three
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  lasted
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  of
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  been  paying
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.  The
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.  And
you? If you are nowhere to be seen, you are probably  inside  the
tank, advising the driver.

Asaf Oron