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Breaking Ranks: Refusing to Serve in the Occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip

Kristin Bricker
Date Published: 
February 01, 2007

Through the voices of the IDF soldiers who refuse to serve in the occupied territories, Breaking Ranks offers incredible insight into Israel’s movement for a just peace. While it focuses almost exclusively on occupied Palestine, the book is an invaluable tool to understand the motivations, politics, and racism behind Israel’s war on Lebanon. When war broke out with Hezbollah, Meretz—Israel’s “peace party” which holds seats in the Knesset—supported the bombing of Lebanon using the tired excuse that Israel “had no choice.” Israeli refusers have heard it before and likely aren’t surprised by the party’s position. Meretz has always condemned the refuseniks. Rather than opposing the occupation of Palestine on humanitarian or moral grounds, Meretz, Peace Now, and other so-called leftist groups object to occupation on the basis that it is detrimental to the state of Israel and its citizens. This strategy is bound to fail, because as Israel reaps the benefits of cheap labor and free water and land from the occupation, their argument falls apart. The refusers all agree that the occupation is detrimental to both Palestinians and Israelis. The more religious ones believe that the occupation is sacrilege because humiliating and brutal treatment is the antithesis of Judaism. Israel’s security situation has deteriorated due to the occupation and its aggressive stance towards its neighbors. Many refusers also point out that the occupation is funded at the expense of Eastern European and Arab Jewish communities in Israel, whose schools and infrastructure are disproportionately under-funded. While the occupation’s effect on Israelis pains them, most refusers are quick to point out that the relationship between occupier and occupied is asymmetrical. These soldiers saw the dehumanizing apartheid policies firsthand: the Jewish-only bypass roads, bulldozed homes and orchards, Palestinians waiting for hours at checkpoints as Jews sped through via designated fast lanes, and IDF soldiers shooting at Palestinians sneaking out to buy bread during consecutive days of curfew. While many refusers discuss shocking incidents as pivotal moments in their consciousness-raising, all of them choose to focus our attention on the daily reality of the occupation. The problem is not that a few bad apples that stand in the way of a friendlier occupation; the problem lies with the caging and dehumanization of an entire people. The destruction of their homes, livelihoods, and communities is a fact of occupation. Many morally irreprehensible killings of innocent Palestinian civilians are actually legal, and IDF soldiers are instructed how to kill unarmed civilians “legally.” These problems of the occupation won’t be solved by more compassion on the part of the occupiers. Sensitive subject Many of the refusers believe Israel’s creation of these inhumane conditions leads to desperate and “inhumane” responses like suicide bombings. Many feel shame and regret for their country’s role in the suicide bombings and the government’s resulting opportunism. Most of the refusers note that suicide bombings are a relatively new phenomenon that was preceded by the mass killing of Palestinians. Even the refuseniks who refused for self-serving reasons, such as being able to sleep at night, are trailblazers. In Israel, joining the IDF is a compulsory coming-of-age ritual and a marker of citizenship. The older refusers who served in the IDF and committed brutal acts in Palestine and Lebanon for years before finally refusing have opened up the option of refusal for young people like the Shministim (high school refusers) movement, who publicly stated their refusal before they even entered the IDF. In this sense, Breaking Ranks is the history of a budding movement. Some of the refusers delve into the sensitive subject of parallels between Israeli government policy and Germany’s Nazi regime. Sfc. Assaf Oron points out that the “essentially Nazi idea” of deporting all Palestinians from Israel is not unpopular, and political parties that support this “solution” have been a part of the Knesset since 1984. One of the top commanders in the occupied territories was quoted in the Israeli newspaper, Ha’aretz as saying that the IDF needs to study how the Nazis operated in the Warsaw ghetto in order to better prepare for battles in urban neighborhoods. Many of the refusers say that Israelis’ refusal to acknowledge what is happening in the occupied territories reminds them of Germans who “didn’t want to see the chimney smoke” during the Holocaust. As IDF soldiers, Israeli citizens, and Jewish people, the importance of the refuseniks’ viewpoints on this unavoidable issue cannot be overstated. Breaking Ranks does not attempt to solve the problems of the Arab-Israeli conflict with a utopian solution. The refuseniks see the occupation as the foremost barrier to peace, and it is within Israel’s control to remove this barrier. Peace cannot be negotiated with an occupied people. Remove that barrier, and then peace negotiations and the very long, difficult process of healing and reconciliation can begin. BREAKING RANKS: REFUSING TO SERVE IN THE WEST BANK AND GAZA STRIP BY RONIT CHACHAM AK Press, 2005