Refusenik Soldier Released From IDF After 200 Days Behind Bars

Uri Yaakovi, one of the signatories to a letter from 12th graders that called for refusal to serve in the army, was released from military service yesterday, after he served a 200-day sentence.

The decision was made by the committee responsible for releasing soldiers from military service based on physical, psychological, economic and other criteria.

The committee did not provide an explanation for Yaakovi's release.

Hagai Matar, another signatory to the letter, was also brought yesterday to the Jaffa military court for his remand hearing. Matar, who has served some 160 days in prison for refusing to serve in the IDF, was released from military prison but ordered to remain on an army base until his case returns to court in mid-March. His attorney, Dov Chenin, who was a Knesset candidate on the Hadash party list, said that Matar will not carry out any military duties during his time on base, and will be allowed to leave to attend meetings with his legal team.

Meaning of moral

During the course of yesterday's hearing, there was an argument between Chenin and the military prosecutor handling the case, over the definition of the concept `conscience.' Matar does not describe himself as a pacifist, rather as someone who refuses on moral grounds to serve in an army of occupation. According to the prosecutor, however, this is a political and not a moral definition.

Dror Boymel, a signatory who is represented by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, is waiting for a hearing by the "committee advising the defense minister on exemptions from defense service," known as the "conscience committee."

The conscience committee "is familiar with pacifism like pig farmers are familiar with kashrut laws," attorney Michael Sfarad, who signed an officers' letter of refusal and represents one of the refuseniks, told Haaretz yesterday.

According to Sfarad, the army is focusing all efforts on pacifist Yonatan Ben-Artzi, probably because of all the media attention his story received. Ben-Artzi, the nephew of former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, has been in military prison for 200 days for refusing to serve in the army. Sfarad says that IDF authorities constantly hint to him that he should see a mental health officer or get released for being unsuited for military service, which Ben-Artzi refuses to do.

Nine other signatories to the letter are currently serving prison terms for refusal to serve in the military.