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Brit Tzedek v'Shalom

Jewish Alliance for Justice and Peace

 

Israeli Talks of Why He Refused Army Service

Jewish Exponent
March 3, 2005
By Rachel Zuckerman

A brief lunch-time lecture at the University of Pennsylvania set off a give-and-take last week when a former Israeli air-force pilot came to town to discuss why he once refused to serve in the West Bank and Gaza.

As part of an 11-city tour of the United States, Yonatan Shapira arrived in Philadelphia to talk at an event sponsored by the Refuser Solidarity Network, a Washington, D.C., based organization that supports Israeli soldiers who refuse to serve in the territories; Brit Tzedek vShalom, the Jewish Alliance for Justice and Peace, a national organization that supports a two-state solution in Israel; and the Middle East Center at Penn.

In 2003, Shapira, along with 26 fellow Israeli pilots, penned a letter refusing to participate in what he called immoral and illegal attack orders in civilian population centers.

As a result, Shapira was discharged. He now works as a commercial pilot.

A year-and-a-half ago, I learned how to say no, Shapira said, in heavily accented English, to about 40 people.

The son of a military pilot, Shapira grew up on an air-force base in Beersheva, and always wanted to do the same thing. But once that fact became a reality, he described how he became disillusioned with carrying out orders in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, which he described as the Israeli army controlling 3.5 million Palestinians without freedom, justice or equality.

Quickly, he jumped from that to Israels policy of assassination, whereby the country targeted known Palestinian terrorists. But as collateral damage from many of these missions, civilians were also killed.

He labeled these actions war crimes.

Following his speech, a moderator read questions written on index cards by participants.

One person inquired about Israels need to protect itself from hostile Palestinian forces.

Shapira, who remained soft-spoken and calm throughout, responded that he agreed that Israel had a legitimate need to defend itself, but that there was a fine line between defense and occupation.

His words were not always well-received.

His morality comes at my expense, said Yoni Heilman, a 22-year-old Penn student who served the Israeli Defense Force in 2003, under temporary resident status. Im ashamed at the irresponsibility he calls courage, leaving the [military] burden to everyone else.

Michal Bregman, Israel Fellow for Hillel of Greater Philadelphia, found Shapiras speech biased and one-sided.

A 25-year-old Israeli who served in an IDF intelligence unit in the late 1990s, she said she saw colleagues working to protect Palestinian civilians.

A minority voice

But others appreciated what they viewed as an opportunity to hear a minority voice.

It was an opinion we dont get on campus a lot, said Penn freshman Sarah Krasny. It takes a lot to do what he did, and it was very courageous.

Rami Regavim, a 30-year-old Israeli Ph.D student at Penn, agreed. He, too, refused to serve in the territories three years ago for similar reasons.

The story of his personal liberation touched me, said Regavim. The hardest thing is to face your family and friends after your refusal, and its even harder to face the units that you served with.


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