The Israeli refusenik delegation includes Daniel Tsal (he was denied CO status and was ordered to present himself for conscription in April 2004,when he plans to declare his refusal and is most likely to be imprisoned); Alma Itshaky (she was granted an exemption on grounds of conscience about a year ago, before the toughening of the army’s policies); Miri Maor (mother of Adam Maor, one of the five refuseniks court martialed to a year’s imprisonment) and Doron Matar (father of Haggai, another of the court-martialed refuseniks).
Less than 24 hours before the scheduled time of the hearing, Israeli diplomat Simone Halperin, attached to the Israeli Embassy at Brussels and acting as liaison tot the European Parliament, made a surprise request to participate in the hearing and express there the Government of Israel’s position on the issue. “We are glad she will be speaking there. It shows that the government feels unable to avoid this issue. We are sure that the report which Ms. Halperin will be sending send back to the Foreign Ministry will help show to Sharon and his ministers that it is simply impossible, in this day and age, to defend internationally the punitive policy of sentencing CO’s to years upon years behind bars” say the delegation members.
The Israeli dissidents had been invited to Strasbourg by Luisa Morgantini, Italian Member of the European Parliament who is for many years involved in efforts to end the occupation and bring about Israeli-Palestinian peace, and by the GUE/NGL Group in the European Parliament. Aside from the hearings, they are due to meet with Euro-Parliamentarians of the entire spectrum, from Socialists and Greens to Conservatives. Yesterday they also addressed a public meeting in the city of Strasbourg, organized by Le Collectif judeo-arabe et citoyen pour la Paix and l’Union Juive Francaise pour la Paix and l’Union Juive Francaise pour la Paix.
The issue of Conscientious Objection and refusal to serve the occupation has become a prominent subject of discussion and public controversy in Israel in the past year, especially following the publication of “refusal letters” signed by Israeli Air Force pilots and elite commandos. For their part, the military authorities had increasing toughened their attitude to manifestations of dissent.
On 4 January, 2004, five refuseniks - Haggai Matar, Matan Kaminer, Noam Bahat, Adam Ma’or and Shimri Tzameret - were sentenced by the Jaffa Military Court to a year’s term. This was on top of cumulative, repeated terms of detention and imprisonment which the five had already served on the same charge of “disobedience to orders” since later 2002. Moreover, when ending their present term, the five may face still further prison terms; during the court-martial, representatives of the military authorities declared their intention to “jail the five until they agree to enlist”.
While imprisoning these five boys, the army has now also embarked on a harsh policy towards girl refusers, who hitherto got a nearly automatic exemption from military service. In recent months, no less than four girls had been sent to the military prison, to face repeated trials and imprisonments, so far to short but cumulative terms - which the army can continue indefinitely. This policy of subjecting CO’s to repeated trials and imprisonments on a single charge of “disobedience” had been condemned by the UN Commission of Arbitrary Detentions, as well as by Amnesty International and Paris-based International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH).