For many years I have carried with me visions of the narrow market streets of Damascus, the streets of Ramallah, and the dirt roads of Chan-Yunis; the regions of light and delight of the Middle East. In these places I began my army service in Israel after my unit returned from Lebanon (then, in 1985, we thought that we had really left Lebanon). On my travels along the winding roads of Samaria and the Judean Hills, my heart was pulled toward the vistas of the Land of Israel and yet the same heart was embittered every day, every morning, as I went out to enforce the bitter control of the State of Israel on the citizens of the land.
Each day, I imagined myself in the streets of a city, Tel Aviv or Netanya, Hadera or Afula, forced to stop on my way to go shopping or to school and forced to go through a humiliating identity checks or forced to erase writing from a wall that I just happened to pass by. What would I do in such a situation? What would my Zionist education guide me to do? What kind of youth movement would I join?
Afterward came the riots and the Intifadas and then relative calm, and then a lack of calm. I am not even describing the detentions, the torturing, the physical and psychological suffering that we caused to human beings who are just like us, and that which we are still causing. I am neither speaking of my close friends who were injured physically or mentally as a result of the deeds they participated in and because of the things that they witnessed; nor about others who have left Israel or have in a variety of ways stopped doing their military service/reserve duty.
For many years, I have carried with me the feeling that I was mistaken in my decision to fulfill my duty as a soldier and as an officer. The idea that the army commanders, the government ministers we acting reasonably, and that it was my responsibility to defend my country until the Arabs understand that they must turn toward the way of peace, blurred my sensibilities. The idea of acting in any way different from the public consensus frightened me. However the conflict between human morality and the obligation to fulfill commands and to show solidarity never ceased for even a moment.
The deterioration of the current situation is not a new development but rather it is the logical continuation of a long process. It is a process, the beginning of which is an immoral and unjust rule of another people. A military rule that we established yet under which we ourselves would never ever be willing to live. We have allowed for refugee camps in which generations unnecessarily grow up in a grief-stricken reality.
We do have the right to live in a democratic country, which protects the honor and the value of every human being, to protect our secure borders, and to protect ourselves against enemies. We do not, however, have the right to humiliate, to exile, to torture, to imprison, and to negate the rights of other human beings.
I wanted to share with you some of my thoughts and feelings, which have led me, after many weeks (perhaps years) of deliberation to the decision to no longer agree to serve in reserve duty beyond the Green Line. To be sure, I will certainly continue as usual to serve and to fulfill all my reserve duty within the Green Line and will concern myself, as ever, with the defense of the State of Israel and its character. I have made this decision out of the belief that taking an oath of civil disobedience is a legitimate tool to stop the 'march of folly' and the injuries of the occupation for the best interests of the citizens of the State and our future here.
Several months ago, Rachel, a citizen and resident of the US, and I decided to be married this summer. This decision necessarily raised the question of where we would make our home, where we would live, her home in New York, or my home in Israel. After much thinking and many considerations including weighing security and financial concerns, we rejected appealing offers in the US, and the love of the land of Israel surpassed all else. Together we decided that Rachel would make aliyah and that we would make our home in Jerusalem. Precisely because we believe that in such a terribly difficult time there is a need to support and to strengthen the country and not to run to a safer place. This was the first time in my life that I seriously considered leaving Israel, and even so only for a limited time. The decision to stay here in Israel strengthened the feeling that my responsibility is not only to risk endangering my life here, but also to risk of having the courage to change the face of reality. The decision to refuse reserve duty in the territories is not out of an intent to undermine or to divide but rather in order to strengthen our moral character and to defend ourselves against the destruction that has already been caused and that which will yet be carried out against us.
The Green Line is a line that the State of Israel has agreed as that which delineates our legitimate borders. I do not believe and do not want this to be our permanent border, but rather believe that for as long as we don't determine, with or without agreement, some other borders within which every citizen of the state has the same rights and all people have human rights which come from the same authorities, we will need to uphold the Green Line as that border from which we defend and protect our country and our society.
A dear friend argues against me that in my refusal to serve in the territories I am abandoning the defense of his family and am endangering the lives of those who reside in the territories. In truth, the determination of "who is endangering whom" depends on one's world-view and the way one interprets the current reality. I would be happy if my brothers and sisters, my people, those who currently dwell in Judea and Samaria would help to determine defendable and secure borders of our country. Our responsibility, each person for the other, must be mutual. I also want to continue to dream of the vision of a Land of Israel empty of its inhabitants for us to settle, but this land is not empty and it is stained in blood. Our mutual responsibility obligates us to dissemble immediately and together all the communities and settlements that are endangering the lives of their residents as well as the lives of those who defend them. We will then be able to create together a single continuous territory that is the State of Israel and its borders, in which we will build a humane and just society, and in which we will defend ourselves against our enemies and call out to them in peace. And we will agree that these are the borders of the country, 'v'chai bahem' and then we will live, and not die, because of them.
I pray and hope that peace will triumph and that our actions will be for the good.
Ofer Bet-Halachmi is a reservist in the IDF with the rank of Major in the Medical Corps. He is currently enrolled in the rabbinical school of Hebrew Union College in Jerusalem. He is an instructor of Talmud at the University of Haifa, as well as a member of the faculty of Hamidrasha, where he directs the Niggun program.