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Conscientious objectors' trials Monday and Tuesday


Conscientious objectors' trials - Monday and Tuesday

The court martial trials of pacifist Yoni Ben-Artzi and occupation resisters Haggai Matar, Matan Kaminer, Shimri Tzameret, Adam Maor and Noam Bahat will resume on Monday and Tuesday. All six refuse to enlist since they regard the service in the IDF as opposed to their conscience.

Ben-Artzi's trial will be held on Monday, 23.6, starting at 9:00 (and not 13:00!); The occupation resisters' trial will be held on Tuesday, 24.6, starting at 09:00, both at the military court in Jaffa, 91-3 Yefet St. ("The Green House"), near the junction known as Haj Khil. A vigil in support of all refuseniks will be held on Tuesday morning.

In Yoni's trial, this session will be dedicated to two invited witnesses: General Avi Zamir, Deputy Head of Human Resources, Colonel Shlomi Simchi, who was the head of Yoni's "conscience committee", and Yoni's sister. The five's session will consist solely of the testimonies of the defendants themselves: each one of them will explain the grounds for his refusal to enlist to the occupation forces. Testimonies will be given in the order of the five's arrests, before being brought to court martial: Haggai Matar, Matan Kaminer, Shimri Tzameret, Adam Maor and Noam Bahat.

Yoni is represented by adv. Michael Sfard; "the five" are represented by adv. Dov Khenin.

Conscientious Objectors' Parents Forum.

-- Background: The Legal Scene up to now

The decision to start court-martial proceedings against the new wave of high school graduates refuseniks, was taken at the beginning of 2003, in a reversal of a decades-long IDF policy. Apparently, the military authorities intended to start with two refuseniks, whom they considered ringleaders: pacifist Yoni Ben Artzi, and Haggai Matar, who objects to serving in an occupation army. In an unexpected act of solidarity and defiance, four other refuseniks - Matan Kaminer, Shimri Tzameret, Adam Maor and Noam Bahat - exercised, on their own initiative, the right to be court-martialed, joining Haggai Matar. Yoni Ben Artzi is defended by Adv. Michael Safard, and "the Five" by Adv. Dov Khenin, both of whom have considerable experience in cases involving civil rights and human rights aspects.

The proceedings are only now (June 2003) approaching a decisive stage, after dragging on for almost six months. Meanwhile, the accused are held under detention at various military bases. In the earlier stages, preliminary legal arguments by the defense raised important issues - such as the appeal to the Supreme Court in the Ben-Artzi case, asking for the entire proceedings to be moved to a civil court. Justifying its rejection of the appeal, the Supreme Court did underline the fact that a final appeal could bring the entire proceedings under scrutiny by the Supreme Court. This may partly account for time and care which the military court devotes to studying the preliminary and procedural issues raised.

The divergence of the two court-martial proceedings stems from the army's declared policy under which "true" pacifists could, in principle, be exempted, as opposed to "political refusers." Since Ben Artzi's personal history verifies his deep-felt pacifism, the prosecution was reduced to the unsuccessful, formal argument that Ben Artzi "is no pacifist" since the army's Conscience Committee ruled that he is not, and that after the Supreme Court refused Ben Artzi's appeal to intervene against that committee, the matter is closed.

However, in coming sessions the prosecution may try to disqualify defense witnesses or severely restrict the scope of their testimony. The spotlight on the working of the Conscience Committee may well explain a very recent exemption to refusenik Yoni Yehezkel, after he had spent some five months behind bars. It appears, at this point, that the army continues to pursue the Ben Artzi case mainly for reasons of prestige, since the case, which has received so much media attention cannot be dropped inconspicuously. On the other hand, the army does not appear eager to start new court-martial proceedings against other pacifists presently in military prisons.

In the court-martial of "the Five" - who insist as a matter of conscience - on their right to refuse to be part of an army of occupation, - the army argues that this kind of refusal has nothing to do with Conscientious Objection, but constitutes "the illegitimate introduction of political motives into the ranks of the army."

Such refuseniks, the prosecution states, deserve no recognition, and are ineligible to have their cases considered by the Conscience Committee. Hence, they must be considered disruptive soldiers, defying military discipline, and be punished accordingly." To bolster its argument, the prosecution cites last year's Supreme Court verdict in the Zonshein case, which rejected "selective refusal" which “might create chaos in the army ranks".

The defense has countered with the argument that conscience is a highly personal issue, and cannot be confined in one tight mould. What is acceptable to one person might be totally unacceptable to another.

A democratic society should recognize that diversity and avoid forcing upon a citizen acts which are totally in contravention to the dictates of his or her conscience, especially when there is reason to believe that the occupation is illegal by any moral or legal international standard. With regard to the Zonshein precedent, the defense argues that the Supreme Court's unacceptable "selective refusal" refers only to those who join the army but refuse specific orders; those who refuse any military service for reasons of conscience are total refusers, whatever their exact considerations.

The defense already embarrassed the prosecution with proof that a military conscience committee dealing with women refuseniks recently did exempt as a Conscientious Objector, a woman who explicitly wrote that it is against her conscience to serve in an occupation army.

While some international precedents exist, the Israeli judicial system has little experience in this field. In many of the legal issues involved, the Jaffa Military Court is treading ground, never covered by any Israeli court, civil or military.

The coming sessions (scheduled for June 24, 2003 and July 14, 2003) will be devoted to personal testimony by each of the five demonstrating that each of the five has traveled his own individual path leading up to the act of refusal.


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