Dan Tamir


Dan Tamir, refusenik

"Soldier, think!"

Our first contact in Israel was Dan Tamir, referred by Don Bustany, host of the weekly KPFK radio show "Mideast in Focus." Dan picked us up at our hotel and took us to the ancient Mediterranean port of Jaffa, today a neighborhood of Tel Aviv.

We drove south along the coast. "This strand would normally be full of people," he said. This evening it is practically empty. The severe recession (-1% growth rate this year, same projected for next year), threat of terrorism and lack of tourism contribute to the dearth of nightlife.

Dan Tamir
Pt. 1

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Dan Tamir
Pt. 2

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Dan Tamir
Pt. 3

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Dan Tamir
Pt. 4

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Dan Tamir
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Dan Tamir
Pt. 6

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Dan Tamir
Pt. 7

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We pass what used to be a nightclub on the right. About a year ago a terrorist blew himself up while in line to get in, killing 20 or so, mostly teenagers. A little further, on the left, we see a small Ottoman-period mosque. The day after the nightclub bombing, a mob attacked worshippers in the mosque and a stone-fight ensued.

Dan is a captain in the IDF (Israeli Defense Forces) reserve. He said he wishes there were no nations, no borders, no reasons for people to fight. When the messiah comes! In the meantime, he is willing and ready to serve in his country's defense. But not in the Occupied Territories. His experiences there convinced him that the occupation is immoral and not justified by security concerns; in fact, I think Dan would argue that the onerous occupation makes Israel less secure, not more secure.

Dan was inducted in 1993, at the start of the Oslo period. Everyone felt that the occupation would soon end, that peace was at hand, that there were just a few odds and ends to tie up.

At the beginning of this Intifada (Nov 2000), Dan felt that it represented an attack on Israel by outside forces. His experience in the OT convinced him that the Israeli Army was not acting in defense. "It is not a war between two armies," Dan said. "Even if the purpose of Army action in the OT is to fight terrorism, you can't punish an entire civilian population. It's against international law, and it's wrong."

He said a turning point for him was a discussion with a university colleague, an Arab woman. It should take 45 minutes in rush hour traffic to get from her home in the West Bank to the University; now it takes four hours each way. When Dan pictured himself on duty, preventing his colleague from getting to school, he knew the occupation was wrong.

Dan said the occupation is a "bone in the throat" for Israel and has been since it began in 1967. He contrasted the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza with the 1981 annexation of the Golan Heights, which Dan thought was a much better alternative (although many still complain about it). The land was annexed, and its people were given full citizenship rights.

Dan described the soul-searching that led to his decision to refuse service in the West Bank and Gaza; his conversation with his regiment commander; the collegial relationship of a reserve unit; his interrogation by the Israeli equivalent of the FBI; his 26 day prison term.

He talked about the refusenik organization, Yesh Gvul (There Is a Limit). It was formed in 1982 (during Israel's war with Lebanon). The organization does not call for rebellion; it says "Soldier, think!" Think about what you're doing. Don't just obey orders blindly. If you decide that the orders are immoral and you want to resist, Yesh Gvul will help you.

In Lebanon, in the first Intifada, and in the present Intifada, more than a thousand soldiers have refused to serve in an army of occupation. None have been court-martialed; administrative discipline only (max 35 days, with no reduction in rank). Many have asked to be court-martialed, even demanded it in the Supreme Court, because they want to force an extended public trial about the legality of occupation, but he says that is the last thing that the Israeli army wants.

WE ALSO DISCUSSED Israeli discrimination against its own Arab citizens, a theme that would come up repeatedly in our discussions in Israel in the next two weeks. "Israeli Arabs are more and more limited by government policies," he told me. It's subtle, not direct. Dan said: "You go behind one curtain, then another, then another. Then you find 'Jews Only'." Military service, compulsory for Jews and Drues but not Arabs, is necessary for employment in some industries (electricity was his example).

"Ninety-two percent of the land in Israel is owned by the state and leased to citizens," he told us. The lands are managed by the Lands Administrative Office (government), but management is leased to the Jewish National Fund, an important Zionist organization, which leases only to people who have the right of return, i.e., Jews.

"I would like to live in a democracy," Dan said, "and democracy cannot exist where there is no basic equality between citizens."

Dan was very kind to spend server al hours with us in beautiful and historic Jaffa, and to forgive me my intrusive camera. It was an excellent start to our visit.

Summary of video clips:

Part 1: Driving to Jaffa. Dan discusses the distinction between "Jewish" and "Hebrew," and why he has problems with the conception of a "Jewish" state. He later made it clear that these serious criticisms of current Israeli policy have nothing to do with his refusal to serve in the OT. Separate issue.

Part 2: Dan tells how he became a refusenik, and why.

Part 3: Continued

Part 4: More about his decision.

Part 5: Yesh Gvul..."Soldier, think." More on the act of refusal. Respect of fellow prisoners.

Part 6: Some refuseniks have tried to get court martialed so they would have a chance to make their case in court, but no refuseniks have been...the military doesn't want the exposure. Disciplinary action (maximum penalty, 35 days in jail, no loss of rank) only.

Part 7: "You're right, too!" Dan told a cute story. I repeated it so many times that Michael threatened to shoot me if I told it again. Well, here's Dan telling it:

BONUS TRACK: New, Feb. 12 - Editing is a tough job. "What to leave in, what to leave out," as Bob Seeger put it. Cousin Michael said I left out this important interchange in which he asks Dan "What would you do if someone was threatening your child?" I think it's an irrelevant hypothetical; Michael insists it goes to the heart of the matter. Here it is. You decide.

Michael's comments on this clip

See also Israeli Conscientious Objectors: The Courage to Refuse by Elissa Rashkin

Voices of Israel and Palestine | Next


Copyright 2003-2009 Peter Rashkin. Material under other bylines is copyright by the authors. All rights reserved.