Wednesday 23 October 2002

'I couldn't believe I was doing this'

It was in Gaza that Major Rami Kaplan, a 29-year-old "veteran" of Israel's prestigious Armoured Corps, began to feel that he had had enough. He was increasingly uneasy about the orders he was given, and the next time he was called up for his annual reserve duty, he said no. Now, after a month in a military prison, he has gone on the attack. Along with seven other refuseniks, he is taking an unprecedented petition to Israel's supreme court. Their case is not that they have a right to conscientious objection. They are going further. They claim that Israel's occupation of Palestinian territories on the West Bank and Gaza is illegal, and that as soldiers they have a duty not to take part in an illegal enterprise.

This marks another leap forward in the story of the refuseniks, who first came to public notice earlier this year when some 200 reserve officers signed an open letter explaining their case. The number of signatories has now reached 491.

Michael Sfard, one of the refuseniks' lawyers, acknowledges that the petition has a large degree of chutzpah: Israel's supreme court has already issued judgments on the legality of various army practices, from the demolition of houses of suicide bombers' families to the deportation of suspected terrorists. But using the courts to strike at the whole basis of Israel's 35-year-long occupation of the West Bank and Gaza is unprecedented.

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