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Israel army jails five conscientious objectors
( 2004-01-06 13:54) (Agencies)

Five Israelis who refused to do compulsory military service in protest against the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip were jailed for a year on Sunday, the first such sentences since the Palestinian revolt began three years ago.

"Every day troops commit crimes in the occupied territories," one of the five men, Haggai Matar, told reporters at Jaffa Military Court, referring to Israeli military actions in Palestinian territories. "While we go to the stockade, they remain free."

A military prosecutor said the five had been found guilty of gross insubordination after disobeying orders to report for three years' compulsory military service in 2002.

"They rejected service in the Israel Defense Force, but the decision stemmed from their express refusal to serve in the territories," Captain Yaron Kosteliz told Reuters.

"No army would let conscripts pick and choose on the basis of their political leanings," he said, adding that it was the first time Israel had jailed conscientious objectors since 1980.

The defendants, all men aged 20, promised more of the same, citing the growing number of military personnel refusing to serve.

Last month, 13 reservists from Israel's top commando unit said they would not take part in operations in the West Bank and Gaza Strip -- their petition echoing a similar one submitted in September by 27 reserve and retired air force combat pilots.

The protests by Israel's best and brightest sent ripples through the conscript force, which many would-be draftees already avoid serving in by pleading medical incapacity or religious objections.

"Ethical people will follow in our footsteps. The coming months will see other conscientious objectors like us undergoing this process," defendant Shimri Tzameret said.

Kosteliz said the five would begin serving their sentence on Wednesday, but had the right of appeal. Their lawyer was not available for comment.

Under Israeli law, prison terms do not count as part of national service. Kosteliz said that after their release, the five could seek a discharge on the basis of "incompatibility" with the military regimen.

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