5 IDF Conscripts Sentenced to Year in Jail for Refusing to Serve

Five teenaged conscientious objectors who refused to join the Israel Defense Forces were sentenced to one year imprisonment each on Sunday.

The time they have already served will not be deducted from their sentences.

The five, Haggai Matar, Amir Kaminer, Shomri Zameret, Adam Maor and Noam Bahat, were convicted last month by the Jaffa Military Court for refusing an order. Draft-dodging bears a maximum sentence of three years in jail.

The three judges differed in their opinions, with one wishing to sentence them to 22 months in prison and another just six months.

The judges wrote in their ruling that the sentence was to serve as a warning to others, especially in light of the recent spate of elite reservists refusing to serve in the territories.

After leaving the court Sunday, the five said that their sentence will not deter the refusenik movement and expressed their wonder at how soldiers who carry out "war crimes" are given lenient sentences while they are sent to prison for matters on conscience.

Hadash MK Mohammed Barakeh called the sentence a "draconian punishment," adding that the refuseniks are a "conscientious beacon for a violent society."

The five had claimed conscientious objector status on the grounds that they oppose serving in "an army of occupation." But the court ruled that their freedom to follow their conscience had to be balanced against equally important values, such as national security, which it said could be gravely impaired if the conscripts were exempted from service.

Furthermore, the court said, the five high school graduates did not refuse to serve as individuals, but rather as a group, with the explicit goal of bringing about a change in Israeli policy in the territories. As such, the court ruled, their action strayed from the norms of classic conscientious objection into the realm of civil disobedience.

In support of this finding, the court cited a letter the conscripts had signed in high school, in which they declared they would not serve in the IDF "as long as it acts as an army of occupation."

The five rejected the court's criticism, and noted that had they wanted only to dodge the military draft they would have operated differently.

According to the five, the publicity of their campaign to avoid military service demonstrated the pain associated with their decision, and ultimately led to their conviction.