General, your tank is a powerful vehicle.
It smashes down forests and crushes a hundred men.
But it has one defect: It needs a driver. - Bertolt Brecht
Yesterday was the day when Israel's five most recently convicted conscientious objectors appeared for sentencing before Jaffa Military Court. (You can read about their story so far in my earlier post, "War Criminals In Government, Pacifists in Jail"). Adam Keller of the Israeli peace group, Gush Shalom, was present for the sentencing, and prepared a transcript of proceedings.
Not surprisingly, the officer prosecuting - Captain Yaron Kostelitz - called for "a suitably harsh punishment". His truly Kafka-esque reasoning was that conscientious objectors are ideological criminals...the worst of criminals, since they not only break the law, but flout its authority, and therefore should be doubly punished. The very fact that they are idealistic people and in many ways positive characters should be counted against them, since it helps them find followers and spread their law-breaking further into the society. (emphasis mine)
He urged that the Five should be sentenced and, on completion of sentence, should be redrafted into the IDF. If they refuse again to enlist, they should go through the entire legal proceeding of trial, punishment and re-drafting as many times as it takes for them to recant their pacifism. In other words, they should be detained indefinitely. Kostelitz concluded:
These persistent lawbreakers must be made to render the military service which they owe to their country. It doesn't matter how long it will take: in the end they will be made to do it. If a heavier punishment and the fear of a still heavier one is the only way, then this way must be taken.
In response, defense attorney Dov Chenin suggested that the court should not seek to make an example of the five, reminding them that it is actually inadmissible in Israel to impose a harsh punishment on a person simply as a deterrent to others. He suggested instead that in sentencing his clients (who have already been detained for more than a year) the members of the court might be guided by the examples of their own colleagues who, in recent IDF courts martial, have passed the following sentences on Israeli soldiers appearing before them:
-- Sergeant Yosef Bachar, found guilty on three occasions of beating up Palestinian detainees: three months imprisonment.
-- Soldier Saguy Harpaz, found guilty of beating up a Palestinian detainee: six weeks confinement.
-- A Lieutenant Colonel (name withheld) whose troops, on his illegal orders, shot dead an unarmed Palestinian: one month (suspended), no time served.
-- Four soldiers (names withheld) of the elite Givati Brigade, found guilty of repeatedly beating up two handcuffed Palestinian children, one of whom died: up to three months confinement.
-- Four soldiers (names withheld) of the elite Duvdevan unit, found guilty of shooting carelessly at a Palestinian car, killing its driver: fined one Agora, i.e. less than one U.S. cent.
Chenin remarked that these cases represent just a small sampling of the insultingly light sentences passed by IDF courts martial on soldiers who kill Palestinians, and pointed out that most soldiers who kill Palestinian civilians don't ever get apprehended or held answerable for their actions at all. He questioned how can it be that his clients - who have already been detained for more than a year - should receive harsher sentences for refusing to kill anyone than those Israeli soldiers who, even by the IDF's own remarkably lax criteria, are judged to have killed callously and illegally.
So, to sum up:
For handcuffing a Palestinian child and beating him to death: three months detention. For negligently shooting dead a Palestinian passer-by: a one cent fine. And for declining to be a part of these obscenities and asking to be allowing to perform civilian service for the state of Israel instead........? Well, we don't know yet. At this point the presiding judge declared that he had heard enough for the day, and would pronounce sentence at another time. And then he presumably went off to find a darkened room where he could mull over the day's proceedings until his head exploded.
No doubt he will recover sufficiently to return and pass some draconian sentence pour encourager les autres. After all, with its commandoes, reservists and pilots already refusing to serve in support of the Occupation, the IDF can't afford to lose its conscripts too. Whatever sentence awaits the five, I think it is safe to assume it won't be a 1c fine.