By Michael Ben-Yair
The Zionist dream’s realization and the Jewish people’s national rebirth through the creation of Israel were achieved not because of the Jewish side’s superior number of tanks, planes or other aggressive means. The State of Israel was born because the Zionist movement realized it must find a solution to the Jews’ persecution and because the enlightened world recognized the need for that solution.
The enlightened world’s recognition of the solution’s moral justification was an important, principal factor in Israel’s creation. In other words, Israel was established on a clear, recognized moral base. Without such a moral base, it is doubtful whether the Zionist idea would have become a reality.
The Six-Day War was forced upon us; however, the war’s seventh day, which began on June 12, 1967 and has continued to this day, is the product of our choice. We enthusiastically chose to become a colonial society, ignoring international treaties, expropriating lands, transferring settlers from Israel to the occupied territories, engaging in theft and finding justification for all these activities. Passionately desiring to keep the occupied territories, we developed two judicial systems: one – progressive, liberal – in Israel; and the other – cruel, injurious – in the occupied territories. In effect, we established an apartheid regime in the occupied territories immediately following their capture. That oppressive regime exists to this day.
The Six-Day War’s seventh day has transformed us from a moral society, sure of the justice of Israel’s creation, into a society that oppresses another people, preventing it from realizing its legitimate national aspirations. The Six-Day War’s seventh day has transformed us from a just society into an unjust one, prepared to expand its control atop another nation’s ruins. The discarding of our moral foundation has hurt us as a society, reinforcing the arguments of the world’s hostile elements and sowers of evil and intensifying their influence.
The intifada is the Palestinian people’s war of national liberation. Historical processes teach us that no nation is prepared to live under another’s domination and that a suppressed people’s war of national liberation will inevitably succeed. We understand this point but choose to ignore it. We are prepared to engage in confrontation to prevent an historical process, although we are well aware that this process is anchored in the moral justification behind every people’s war of national liberation and behind its right to self-determination, and although we are well aware that this process will attain its inevitable goal.
This is the background of the difficult testimony we have received about actions of Israel Defense Forces personnel in the occupied territories. No need to repeat the details of the painful phenomena entailed in the occupation regime and in our battle to prolong it. Suffice it to recall the killing of little children fleeing for safety; the executions, without trial, of wanted persons who were not on their way to launch a terrorist act; and the encirclements, closures and roadblocks that have turned the lives of millions into a nightmare. Even if all these actions stem from our need to defend ourselves under an occupation’s conditions, the occupation’s non-existence would render them unnecessary. Thus, a black flag hovers over these actions.
This is a harsh reality that is causing us to lose the moral base of our existence as a free, just society and to jeopardize Israel’s long-range survival. Israel’s security cannot be based only on the sword; it must rather be based on our principles of moral justice and on peace with our neighbors – those living next door and those living a little further away. An occupation regime undermines those principles of moral justice and prevents the attainment of peace. Thus, that regime endangers Israel’s existence.
It is against this background that one must view the refusal of IDF reservist officers and soldiers to serve in the territories. In their eyes, the occupation regime is evil and military service in the occupied territories is evil. In their eyes, military service in the occupied territories, which places soldiers in situations forcing them to commit immoral acts, is evil, and, according to their conscience, they cannot be party to such acts. Thus, their refusal to serve is an act of conscience that is justified and recognized in every democratic regime. History’s verdict will be that their refusal was the act that restored our moral backbone.
The author was attorney general from 1993-96