Netanyahu nephew refuses military service
By Joshua Brilliant
JAFFA, Israel, Feb. 20 (UPI) -- The nephew of Israel's Foreign Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on Thursday marked his 197th day in confinement after refusing to enlist for mandatory service in the Israeli army.
A military judge told Jonathan Ben-Artzi on Wednesday that the 20-year-old would be detained on an army base for the duration of his trial. Ben-Artzi is the first person in some 20 years to face trial before a military court for refusing to serve. He could be sentenced to three years in prison if convicted in military court.
Ben-Artzi's mother, Ofra, told United Press International: "He is a pacifist. He believes that every dispute can be resolved in negotiations, talk, deliberations and not through the use of arms."
Matanya Ben-Artzi, Jonathan's father, said his son wanted to help deprived children, "give them private lessons, exactly what quite a few religious girls do in their national service" but the army preferred to fight him.
The prosecutor, Capt. Yaron Kosteliz, and defense attorney Michael Sfard, told the judge, Col. Elisha Caspi, that the army suggested Ben-Artzi enlist and be assigned to a hospital where he would serve in mufti and without arms, but that he refused.
Earlier the army suggested he see a psychologist who would declare him unfit for military service, Ben-Artzi's attorney related. Ben Artzi at first said he would not ask to see a psychologist, but eventually went when sent there. He then convinced the psychologist that he was mentally capable of serving.
The army then referred him to a committee that discharges soldiers for reasons other than conscientious objections, and Ben-Artzi failed their criteria as well.
Finally after seven jail sentences ordered by adjudicating officers, the army charged him with refusal to obey an order to complete his enlistment.
The prosecutor argued that Ben-Artzi's refusal to serve was far worse than desertion for economic reasons.
"If he is not detained, other people will avoid (military service). ... Soldiers serving these days as fighters would see a man come, say he does not want (to serve), and that's it," Kosteliz said.
"An army with no discipline, and no obeying orders is not an army."
Sfard countered his client is a true pacifist who, "Didn't even participate in judo lessons when he was young. He is not willing to take and forceful actions."
"He could have been discharged on all sorts of pretexts and it's just because he said, 'I am a pacifist' that he sat (in jail) for 200 days and is facing a disciplinary trial," Sfard added.
Ben-Artzi is the first person in some 20 years to be brought before a military court for refused to serve, the judge was told.
Some commanders used to solve problems with soldiers who refused to serve in the occupied territories by assigning them to guard duty in rear bases or kitchen duty.
According to Sfard, 16 people are now in jail for refusing all military service, like Ben-Artzi, or refusing to serve in the occupied territories. Five of them are reservists.
Adam Keller, a spokesman for the extremely dovish Gush Shalom, whose son has also been in jail for refusing to serve, told UPI the army recently toughened its attitude toward male conscientious objectors. They used to be discharged after 90 to 100 days in jail but now their prison terms are extended, he said.
Ben-Artzi's conditions in the Military Police jails were "really very good," his mother said. They let him read, listen to taped music and usually the prison guards treated him "quite respectfully," Keller said.
However conditions worsened in the past week when he was locked up in a cell with no mattress and was forced to eat on the floor with his hands, Keller added.
The judge's decision means that until the trial ends, Ben-Artzi will be in "an open detention." That means he would be confined to a military base in which he will not be locked up, but which he may not leave except for his trial that should begin within a fortnight. He would be expected to do jobs that he is capable of undertaking. Sfard said Ben-Artzi would wash dishes but not accept military activities.
Israeli public opinion has often been critical of conscientious objectors. Prominent dovish politicians have argued that one cannot refuse to serve in the occupied territories, if ordered to do so. By the same standard, soldiers with right wing ideas would not have the right to refuse to evict settlers, if ordered to do so.
Asked how Netanyahu reacted to her son's refusal to enlist, Ofra Ben-Artzi recalled, "He just said he hoped he (Jonathan) would change his mind."