"There Is a Limit" : Israel's "Refusenik" movement and its critics



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The focus of this report is an examination of the so-called “refusenik” soldiers of Israel. Since Israel’s victory in the 1967 war and the resulting occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, there have been soldiers in the IDF that have refused to serve outside the pre-1967 borders. These soldiers, called “refuseniks,” practice selective refusal. Unlike conscientious objectors, the refusenik soldiers are not pacifists. Their protest is not a condemnation of all war. Rather, it is a calculated protest against the continuing occupation of land outside the Green Line. Although the roots of the refusenik movement can be traced to the 1967 war, the movement did not gain momentum until the 1982 invasion of Lebanon. Initially enjoying broad public support, the war in Lebanon became less popular when it did not end after its initial goals were met. Yesh Gvul, the most famous of the refusenik organizations, was born during this time of waning public support for the war. Other boosts for the refuseniks have come during the first intifada and second intifada. The refuseniks come from varied backgrounds and political affiliations, but the “typical” refusenik is the Ashkenazi male reservist, usually statistically speaking a married, highly educated city-dweller. The military has not followed a coherent strategy for dealing with the refuseniks, alternating between conciliation and accommodation at some time periods and harsh punishment at others.