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High school seniors arrested for refusing to be inducted into the Israel Defense Forces began giving testimony at the Jaffa military court yesterday.

A total of five twelfth-graders have served several months in military prisons for refusing to serve in the army on grounds of conscience, requesting instead to perform alternative national service.

First to testify was Haggai Matar, among the authors of the so-called High School Seniors' letter. The letter was signed by 62 students and sent to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in September 2001, who announced their refusal to serve in the IDF for reasons of conscience. Matar spoke at length about the reasons for his resistance to the draft. During visits to the territories with peace organizations, he said he witnessed the IDF destroying homes, caves, and wells of some 1000 residents in the Hebron area.

Next to take the stand was Matan Kaminer, who claimed that the IDF contradicted with his values. He also spoke about the effects of occupation on Israeli society.

At the start of the eight-hour court session, the attorney for the five, Dov Hanin, presented his clients' legal position. He said that the constitutional revolution that has taken place in Israel since the 1990s, particularly the passing of the Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty, had created conditions in which the legal system protects freedom of conscience. "The governing system must recognize freedom of conscience and protect it," said Hanin.

The Jaffa military courtroom where the trial is being held was overflowing with supporters and representatives of human rights organizations.