Ruling: Reservists Must Serve in Territories
IDF reserve soldiers. Photo: Marc Israel Sellem

December 30, 2002

The Israeli Supreme Court rules that Israeli Defense Forces reservists may not refuse to serve in the West Bank and Gaza.

Coming during the deadly violence of the Second Intifada, the ruling finds that Israelis who agree to do military service do not have a right to claim to be conscientious objectors regarding orders to serve in the territories Israel captured in 1967. A small number of reserve soldiers cite what they see as the dominating and inhumane nature of their duties in the West Bank and Gaza in refusing to serve in those areas.

The ruling is seen as crucial in the government’s efforts to address security needs amid rising polarization of views about the territories. The decision is an attempt to unify public opinion and to reinforce the authority of the military chain of command.

The ruling warns of the risk of allowing soldiers to choose which duties they will and will not perform: “The people’s army might turn into an army of peoples, made up of different units, each having its own spheres in which it can act conscientiously and others in which it cannot. In a polarized society such as ours, this consideration weighs considerably.”

The court implements penalties for reservists who disobey the decision. A reserve soldier who chooses not to serve in the territories can be sentenced to 35 days of incarceration.

Soldiers and other Israelis who oppose the Supreme Court ruling argue that the government is negligent in failing to acknowledge the risks and implications of serving in the West Bank or Gaza. Lt. David Zonshein, a founder of the group of reservists trying to avoid service in the territories, says, “The situation is that our small Zionist state is abandoning all its moral force when it goes to the occupied territories and is fighting against itself.””