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5 Israelis Jailed for Refusing Military Service Against Palestinians - 2004-01-08


Five Israeli youths have gone to jail for refusing to serve as soldiers in protest against the Israeli army's treatment of Palestinians. Their defiance is appealing to a small but growing number of Israelis.

Israelis are conscripted into the army at the age of 18. Only a few refuse to serve, and those who do risk being court martialed.

One of the five Israelis who this week began serving one-year jail terms for refusing to serve in the military is Noham Bahat. He says he has no regrets.

"This is not the highest price to pay," he said. "I mean, Palestinians pay a higher price every day for the occupation, which they have not chosen. And I am on the other side, and I am paying a small price to help them."

He and his four friends believe they are acting in accordance with their moral conscience.

But Israeli Army spokeswoman, Major Sharon Feingold, says they failed to prove they are entitled to an exemption from military duty.

"The Supreme Court in Israel has found that these people are not conscientious objectors; rather their objection is a selective refusal to carry out orders," she said. "No democracy in the world can allow for people to drag the army into politics. And this is not the platform to voice your political opinions."

The five who went to jail this week are unusual in that they refused to serve in the army outright. Others have declared they would not serve in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, while agreeing to be posted inside Israel or along its borders.