A petition being circulated by a German peace group states, "We know from the history of our own country what dangers await a society that loses its moral standards", and asks Israeli soldiers to refuse to participate on war crimes in the Palestinian Occupied Territories.

The petition reads:
"We, peace supporters from Germany, call upon Israeli soldiers to do all in their might to stop war crimes against Palestinians and help to look for ways for just peace.

"There is an urgent need for more radical action to stop ongoing and ever escalating Israeli war crimes.  They endanger the whole population of Israel/Palestine.

"Israeli soldiers with a conscience can stop the dangerous and immoral process that continues in their country. We call on them to find new ways to interfere with the efforts of the Israeli army to commit these crimes.

"Today, in the computer age, there are possibilities of active resistance that have actually not existed until now. High dependence on IT systems makes the Israeli army very vulnerable to interference from within. Certain members of the armed forces have to have access and know their way around. They can and should prevent crimes!

"Flagrantly illegal orders not only should be disobeyed but their implementation should also be prevented!

"This insight was demonstrated by the military intelligence officer who prevented the implementation of an order that targeted innocent Palestinians.

"This is an appeal to Israeli soldiers to fulfill their moral duty to prevent war crimes!"

Israeli ‘refuseniks’ are a group numbering several hundred, including senior officers, who refuse to serve in the illegal [according to International law] occupation of Palestine.  Says one, “I do not think there is any serious person in the world who could claim, from a moral standpoint, that one should never refuse an order. It is obvious that there are orders so immoral that one should not fulfil them, regardless of their legality. The only question is: what are these orders? That is a question of conscience.”

All young people in Israel, including women, between the ages of 18 and 22, are required to serve in the Israeli military for two years.  Many young people fear the draft and oppose the occupation, but very few stand up to oppose it.  Some of the ‘refuseniks’ come from left-wing families, and, says one of them, ‘Adam’, he couldn’t have done it without his parents. They formed the High School Draft Resistance Parents Forum. Through their website www.refuz.org.il, they coordinate legal defence, fundraising and solidarity – nationally and internationally – with their children. Matan explains that one reason more people don’t refuse is family reaction – “I know many people opposed to the Occupation. They’ll tell you that they even go on demos to protest, but refusing to serve in the army is such a big thing that their parents would be completely unable to accept it”.

There is a long history of Israeli ‘refuseniks’ refusing to engage in illegal occupation of Palestine.  On April 28, 1970, a group of high school seniors about to be drafted sent a letter to Prime Minister Golda Meir expressing their reservation about the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, the War of Attrition and the government’s failure to take steps to avoid conflict. In 1987, a new group was formed, also made up of high school students intent on refusing to serve in the Occupied Territories. They gave themselves the name that the press used to dub the prevous effort – ‘Shministim’, literally "twelfth graders". In 2001, a high-school refuseniks movement – also called Shministim (Hebrew: שמיניסטים) followed in their stead. Over 300 Israeli high school students are currently members of Shministim.

The latest refusenik facing jail time is a woman, Laura Milo. Israel is the only country in the world that forces military draft on women, though traditionally it has been easier to be released from service. In response to calls of inequality, the government is changing this – rather than making it easier for men to be discharged, they’re making it more difficult for women. A committed social activist, Laura merely asked to be allowed to continue her community work in poor neighbourhoods instead of being sent to fight. As Laura says herself “It’s a simple request that should be acceptable. Why should I have to fake my way?”.

The German group’s petition can be accessed here.