rn:Israel: When Life Chooses Us to Act on Its Behalf


Jan Slakov

Date: Mon, 18 Feb 2002 09:02:17 -0800
From: Tom Atlee <•••@••.•••>
Subject: When Life chooses us to act on its behalf

Dear friends,

Here is a glimpse -- very inspiring -- into the story and inner life of one
of the Israeli reservists who is refusing to "serve" in the Occupied
Territories.  It is followed by a commentary that bubbled up as I read his
statement this morning.  May both be healthy broth to nourish your life and
the Life we all share.

_ _ _ _ _
Jewish Peace News
Sunday, February 17, 2002


[Asaf Oron, a Sergeant Major in the Giv'ati Brigade, is one of the original
53 Israeli soldiers who signed the "Fighters' Letter" declaring that from
now on they will refuse to serve in the Occupied territories.  He is signer
#8 and one of the first in the list to include a statement explaining his
action.  My sense is that his statement comes as close as possible to being
the refuseniks' manifesto, given the loose structure of the group and their
insistence on independent, individual responsibility.  Below is my
translation of Oron's statement.  Read it, and you will no longer be
surprised by the amazing response to the soldiers' initiative (251 signers
as of February 17, 2002). --Ami Kronfeld]


On February 5, 1985, I got up, left my home, went to the Compulsory Service
Center on Rashi Street in Jerusalem, said goodbye to my parents, boarded the
rickety old bus going to the Military Absorption Station and turned into a

Exactly seventeen years later, I find myself in a head to head confrontation
with the army, while the public at large is jeering and mocking me from the
sidelines.  Right wingers see me as a traitor who is dodging the holy war
that's just around the corner.  The political Center shakes a finger at me
self-righteously  and lectures me about undermining democracy and
politicizing the army.  And the Left? The square, establishment, moderate
Left that only yesterday was courting my vote now turns its back on me as
well.  Everyone blabbers about what is and what is not legitimate, exposing
in the process the depth of their ignorance of political theory and their
inability to distinguish a real democracy from a third world regime in the
style of Juan Peron.

Almost no one asks the main question: why would a regular guy get up one
morning in the middle of life, work, the kids and decide he's not playing
the game anymore?  And how come he is not alone but there are fifty -- I beg
your pardon, a hundred -- beg your pardon again, now almost two hundred
regular, run of the mill guys like him who've done the same thing?

Our parents' generation lets out a sigh: we've embarrassed them yet again.
But isn't it all your fault?  What did you raise us on? Universal ethics and
universal justice, on the one hand: peace, liberty and equality to all.  And
on the other hand: "The Arabs want to throw us into the sea. They are all
crafty and primitive. You can't trust them."

On the one hand, the songs of John Lennon, Pete Seeger, Bob Dylan, Bob
Marley, Pink Floyd.  Songs of peace and love and against militarism and war.
On the other hand, songs about a sweetheart riding the tank after sunset in
the field: "The tank is yours and you are ours." [allusions to popular
Israeli songs. --AK].  I was raised on two value systems: one was the
ethical code and the other the tribal code, and I naïvely believed that the
two could coexist.

This is the way I was when I was drafted.  Not enthusiastic, but as if
embarking on a sacred mission of courage and sacrifice for the benefit of
society.  But when, instead of a sacred mission,  a 19 year old finds
himself performing the sacrilege of violating human beings' dignity and
freedom, he doesn't dare ask even himself if it's OK or not.  He simply acts
like everyone else and tries to blend in.  As it is, he's got enough
problems, and boy is the weekend far off.

You get used to it in a hurry, and many even learn to like it.  Where else
can you go out on patrol -- that is, walk the streets like a king, harass
and humiliate pedestrians to your heart's content, and get into mischief
with your buddies -- and at the same time feel like a big hero defending
your country?  The Gaza Exploits became heroic tales, a source of pride for
Giv'ati, then a relatively new brigade suffering from low self esteem.

For a long time, I could not relate to the whole "heroism" thing.  But when,
as a sergeant, I found myself in charge, something cracked inside me.
Without thinking, I turned into the perfect occupation enforcer.  I settled
accounts with "upstarts" who didn't show enough respect.  I tore up the
personal documents of men my father's age.  I hit, harassed, served as a bad
Example -- all in the city of Kalkilia, barely three miles from grandma and
Grandpa's home-sweet-home.  No.  I was no "aberration." I was exactly the

Having completed my compulsory service, I was discharged, and then the first
Intifada began (how many more await us?)  Ofer, a comrade in arms who
remained in the service has become a hero: the hero of the second Giv'ati
trial.  He commanded  a company that dragged a detained Palestinian
demonstrator into a dark orange grove and beat him to death.  As the verdict
stated, Ofer was found to have been the leader in charge of the whole
business.  He spent two months in jail and was demoted -- I think that was
the most severe sentence given an Israeli soldier through the entire first
Intifada, in which about a thousand Palestinians were killed.  Ofer's
battalion commander testified that there was a order from the higher
echelons to use beatings as a legitimate method of punishment,  thereby
implicating himself.    On the other hand, Efi Itam, the brigade commander,
who had been seen beating Arabs on numerous occasions, denied that he ever
gave such an order and consequently was never indicted.  Today he lectures
us on moral conduct on his way to a new life in politics. (In the current
Intifada, incidentally, the vast majority of incidents involving Palestinian
deaths are not even investigated. No one even bothers.)

And in the meantime, I was becoming more of a civilian.  A copy of The
Yellow Wind [a book on life in the Occupied Territories by the Israeli
writer David Grossman, available in English -- AK] which had just come out,
crossed my path.  I read it, and suddenly it hit me.  I finally understood
what I had done over there.  What I had been over there.

I began to see that they had cheated me: They raised me to believe there was
someone up there taking care of things.  Someone who knows stuff that is
beyond me, the little guy.  And that even if sometimes politicians let us
down,  the "military echelon" is always on guard, day and night, keeping us
safe,  each and every one of their decisions the result of sacred necessity.
Yes, they cheated us, the soldiers of the Intifadas, exactly as they had
cheated the generation that was beaten to a pulp in the War of Attrition and
in the Yom Kippur War, exactly as they had cheated the generation that sank
deep into the Lebanese mud during the Lebanon invasions.  And our parents'
generation continues to be silent.

Worse still, I understood that I was raised on two contradictory value
systems.  I think most  people discover even at an earlier age they must
choose between two value systems: an abstract, demanding one that is no fun
at all and that is very difficult to verify, and another which calls to you
from every corner -- determining who is up and who is down, who is king and
who pariah, who is one of us and who is our enemy.  Contrary to basic common
sense,  I picked the first.  Because in this country the cost-effective
analysis comparing one system to another is so lopsided, I can't blame those
who choose the second.

I picked the first road, and found myself volunteering in a small,
smoke-filled office in East Jerusalem, digging up files about deaths,
brutality, bureaucratic viciousness or simply daily harassments.  I felt I
was atoning, to some extent, for my actions during my days with the Giv'ati
brigade.  But it also felt as if I was trying to empty the ocean out with a

Out of the blue, I was called up for the very first time for reserve duty in
the Occupied Territories.  Hysterically, I contacted my company commander.
He calmed me down: We will be staying at an outpost overlooking the Jordan
River.  No contacts with  the local population is expected.  And that indeed
was what I did, but some of my friends provided security for the Damia
Bridge terminal [where Palestinians cross from Jordan to Israel and vice
versa -- AK].  This was in the days preceding the Gulf War and a large
number of Palestinian refugees were flowing from Kuwait to the Occupied
Territories (from the frying pan into the fire).  The reserve soldiers --
mostly Right Wingers -- cringed when they saw the female conscripts
stationed in the terminal happily ripping open down-comforters and babies’
coats to make sure they didn't contain explosives. I too cringed when I
heard their stories, but I was also hopeful: reserve soldiers are human
after all, whatever their political views.

Such hopes were dashed three years later, when I spent three weeks with a
celebrated reconnaissance company in the confiscated ruins of a villa at the
outskirts of the Abasans (if you don't know where this is, it's your
problem).  This is where it became clear to me that the same humane reserve
soldier could also be an ugly, wretched macho undergoing a total regression
back to his days as a young conscript.  Already on the bus ride to the Gaza
strip, the soldiers were competing with each other: whose "heroic" tales of
murderous beatings during the Intifada were better (in case you missed this
point: the beatings were literally murderous:  beating to death).  Going on
patrol duty with these guys once was all that I could take.  I went up to
the placement officer and requested to be given guard duty only.  Placement
officers like people like me: most soldiers can't tolerate staying inside
the base longer than a couple of hours.

Thus began the nausea and shame routine, a routine that lasted three tours
of reserve duty in the Occupied Territories: 1993, 1995, and 1997.  The
"pale-gray" refusal routine.  For several weeks at a time I would turn into
a hidden "prisoner of conscience," guarding an outpost or a godforsaken
transmitter on top of some mountain, a recluse.  I was ashamed to tell most
of my friends why I chose to serve this way.  I didn't have the energy to
hear them get on my case for being such a "wishy washy" softy.  I was also
ashamed of myself: This was the easy way out.  In short, I was ashamed all
over.  I did "save my own soul."  I was not directly engaged in wrongdoing --
only made it possible for others to do so while I kept guard. Why didn't I
refuse outright?  I don't know.  It was partly the pressure to conform,
partly the political process that gave us a glimmer of hope that the whole
occupation business would be over soon.  More than anything, it was my
curiosity to see actually what was going on over there.

And precisely because I knew so well, first hand, from years of experience
what was going on over there, what reality was like over there, I had no
trouble seeing, through the fog of war and the curtain of lies, what has
been taking place over there since the very first days of the second
Intifada.  For years, the army had been feeding on lines like "We were too
nice in the first Intifada," and "If we had only killed a hundred in the
very first days, everything would have been different."  Now the army was
given license to do things its way.  I knew full well that [former Prime
Minister] Ehud Barak was giving the army free hand, and that [current Chief
of Staff] Shaul Mofaz was taking full advantage of this to maximize the

By then, I had two little kids, boys, and I knew from experience that no one
-- not a single person in the entire world -- will ever make sure that my
sons won't have to serve in the Occupied Territories when they reach 18.  No
one, that is, except me. And no one but me will have to look them in the eye
when they're all grown up and tell them where dad was when all that
happened.  It was clear to me:  this time I was not going.

Initially, this was a quiet decision, still a little shy, something like "I
am just a bit weird, can't go and can't talk about it too much either."  But
as time went by, as the level of insanity, hatred, and incitement kept
rising, as the generals were turning the Israeli Defense Forces into a
terror organization, the decision was turning into an outcry: "If you can't
see that this is one big crime leading us to the brink of annihilation, then
something is terribly wrong with you!"

And then I discovered that I was not alone.  Like discovering life on
another planet.

The truth is that I understand why everyone is mad at us.  We spoiled the
neat little order of things.  The holy Status Quo states that the Right
holds the exclusive rights to celebrate the blood and ask for more.  The
role of the Left, on the other hand, is to wail while sitting in their
armchairs sipping wine and waiting for the Messiah to come and with a single
wave of his magic wand make the Right disappear along with the settlers, the
Arabs, the weather, and the entire Middle East.  That's how the world is
supposed to work.  So why are you causing such a disturbance?  What's your
problem?  Bad boys!

Woe to you, dear establishment Left!  You haven't been paying attention!
That Messiah has been here already.  He waved his magic wand, saw things
aren't that simple, was abandoned in the midst of battle, lost altitude, and
finally was assassinated, with the rest of us (yes, me too) watching from
the comfort of our armchairs.  Forget it.  A messiah doesn't come around
twice!  There is no such thing as a free lunch.

Don't you really see what we are doing, why it is that we stepped out of
line?  Don't you get the difference between a low key, personal refusal and
an organized, public one? (and make no mistake about it, the private refusal
is the easier choice.)  You really don't get it?  So let me spell it out for

First, we declare our commitment to the first value system.  The one that is
elusive, abstract, and not profitable.  We believe in the moral code
generally known as God (and my atheist friends who also signed this letter
would have to forgive me -- we all believe in God, the true one, not that of
the Rabbis and the Ayatollahs).  We believe that there is no room for the
tribal code, that the tribal code simply camouflages idolatry, an idolatry
of a type we should not cooperate with.   Those who let such a form of idol
worship take over will end up as burnt offerings themselves.

Second, we (as well as some other groups who are even more despised and
harassed) are putting our bodies on the line, in the attempt to prevent the
next war.  The most unnecessary, most idiotic, cruel and immoral war in the
history of Israel.

We are the Chinese young man standing in front of the tank.   And you?  If
you are nowhere to be seen, you are probably inside the tank, advising the

Asaf Oron

_ _ __ __

Tom's thoughts:

Vaclav Havel wrote a famous essay called "The Power of the Powerless"
describing how oppressive conformity makes even the smallest act of public
dissent stand out with a vivid power it would never have in a freer, more
diverse environment.  This is the fragility of monolithic systems, of
universally embedded, unchanging assumptions, of fixed ideas and fixed ways
of life.  Since they cannot adapt to change, pressure grows, the demand for
change builds silently, insistently below the surface.  And then one
person, one voice breaks the spell.  And the monolithic system starts to
unravel.  Maybe it repairs itself quickly.  Maybe it loosens up.  Very
often it comes apart with a suddenness that startles everyone, given how
solid it looked.

This is the proverbial butterfly, whose wingflap starts a hurricane.  Not
every butterfly makes hurricanes.  But the butterfly that's in a system
that's "far from equilibrium" (as they say in chaos theory) can flap a
transformational hurricane into being -- sometimes intentionally, sometimes
by accident.

So when is a system "far from equilibrium"?  Many systems are far from
equilibrium when they fluctuate wildly (like the weather is starting to do,
under the influence of global warming).  Other systems -- which when
healthy are a lively dance of vibrant relationships -- can be farther from
equilibrium the more solid and monolithic they look.  In both cases, small
influences (of the right kind, in the right place) can have a totally
disproportionate impact on what happens next.  One flap from the butterfly
and everything is different.

Asaf Oron, the straightforward, articulate Israeli 'refusenik', is one such
butterfly.  His remarkable power comes from the "far from equilibrium"
state of "the Mid-East Crisis".  As danger increases and fear- (and power-)
based positions solidify, the whole complex system approaches "a choice
point" where something vastly creative or vastly destructive becomes
increasingly likely.  What happens at that point makes all the difference
in the world.

All I can say is:  Thank the Power of Life for the Asaf Orons of the world!

Oh -- one more thing I want to share here:

There are two positive roles we can have in the face of such a butterfly.
One is to respond positively, for our response is part of the system he or
she is trying to change, and is part of the change.  To bear witness, to
spread the word, to creatively magnify their courageous act, is to help
heal and transform Life, itself.

The other positive role is to look clearly and deeply into our own lives --
into the life-degrading systems in which we play our parts and into our own
hearts -- and see if we, too, are called to step outside of some dangerous
conformity, some stifling solidity, some life-degrading assumption or
dynamic or institution that nearly everyone else believes in (or acts like
they do).  Is there something important to which we are called to say a
profound and public NO! or YES! with our whole being, our whole life, as
Asaf Orons is doing?

How many on this list of 900 have such a calling waiting in the wings of
their lives?  How many are destined to find themselves drawn into some
dramatic, heartful act that makes a profound difference in the world?  For
how many will Asaf Oron be not just an inspiration, but a model?


Tom Atlee * The Co-Intelligence Institute * PO Box 493 * Eugene, OR 97440
http://www.co-intelligence.org *  http://www.democracyinnovations.org
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