Bahai News - The price of regret
Sunday, October 14, 2001 Tishrei 27, 5762 Israel Time: 03:45 (GMT+2)
The price of regret
Dan Tamir was an exemplary officer. Then a planning session during his
reserve service changed his entire worldview - and change has a price. It's
called Military Prison No. 6
By Yossi Klein
In a cell measuring two meters by three meters with a bunk bed, two
prisoners are incarcerated. In a cell with one bunk bed and two single
beds arranged in an L shape, four prisoners are incarcerated. Cells like
these barely provide room to stand and they're used only for sleeping.
You go to sleep at ten and get up at five-thirty. Four times a day,
there's an inmate head count.
About 15 prisoners, from the regular army or the military police, are
generally to be found in the officers' section of Military Prison No. 6
serving terms for some kind of misconduct. Two showers are available,
usually without limitation. There's a hot water faucet and a cold water
faucet and a niche for a bar of soap. The prisoners clean the toilets
There's also pampering of a sort: "Eating is one of the sole pleasures,"
notes the "Prison handbook for conscientious objectors" published by New
Profile ["The Association for the Civilization of Israeli Society"]. The
food is standard Israel Defense Forces fare: mainly bread, white cheese and
plenty of plum jam. Extras include meat and pasta flakes (p'titim) or rice.
The only eating utensil is a metal tablespoon, taken away after every meal.
The handbook also mentions "the noise created when an entire dining hall
has to produce avocado puree from unsliced avocados and hard-boiled eggs."
Prisoners spend most of their time sitting around under an awning.
They're permitted to see their families once a week, for 40 minutes, seated
beneath a light gray pergola. They have the use of a pay phone and a
television that gets only Channel 2. The inmates are well versed in the
lyrics and tunes of all the ad jingles, which they sing aloud periodically.
They get newspapers (Ma'ariv and Yedioth Ahronoth) every day, but there are
no political arguments here: You never know with whom you might be arguing,
or what his response might be. They play backgammon; they talk soccer.
The prisoners' shoes are neatly laced and their trousers belted; there's no
odor of Lysol, and the bulb that provides a little weak illumination in each
cell is turned out at 10 P.M. The wardens treat the prisoners well. This is
not some jail in Turkey; it's not "Midnight Express."
Bringing along a lot of books is recommended. Prisoner Dan Tamir, for
example, has two papers on the Baha'i faith to write for submission in
October, so his luggage includes two books on the subject. He also has "The
Lexus and the Olive Tree" by Thomas Friedman, and Edward Said's
"Orientalism." Dan Tamir is 26. He's a major in the reserves and a
third-year student of history and Middle East studies at Hebrew University.
He's tall and thin, with an angular face framed by a light beard, and light
eyes behind square rimless glasses.
Dan Tamir refuses to serve in the territories and intends to pay for it. He
has twenty-four hours before the hearing that will decide his fate and
prison is one of three possible outcomes. Ideally, those judging him will
understand what is motivating him and he'll be sent home to finish his paper
on the Baha'i faith. Another possibility, also not bad: They'll understand
what motivates him: "Okay, that's fine," they'll tell him. "Go serve on the
Egyptian border" or "Go serve on the Golan." The third outcome is also the
most likely: "This time they'll stick it to me."
The 24 hours that precede a fateful turning point sometimes encompass more
than just a single day. Dan Tamir's 24 hours began at the end of February
when he was called up for reserve duty to help prepare, in his words, "a
plan to conquer and partition the territories." This, he says, is a
euphemism for "organizing ghettoes for the Palestinian population."
Shocked, he has reached his "breaking point," one of many he's encountered
since completing his compulsory military service. Had he been engaged in
preparing ghettoes for Palestinians as an officer in the regular army,
perhaps he'd be less shocked now. Two months after the working discussion
on this plan, he is asked to undertake a routine action: to send two
soldiers to guard a base in the territories. This may actually be the point
at which the countdown truly begins, the countdown that is to end in court.
As soon as he receives this notice, he makes a phone call to Yesh G'vul
[the organization supporting selective conscientious objection to military
service; the name is a play on words signifying both "there's a limit" and
"there's a border"]. With assistance from Yesh G'vul, he composes a letter
to his commanding officers: "... As a person who believes in democracy and
Jewish values ... I will not take part in military actions the aim of which
is to preserve the Israeli occupation in Judea and Samaria ... As an IDF
officer, I will not order my officers or soldiers to perform missions which
I am unwilling to perform myself. Hence I will not order officers or
soldiers under my command to report for such a mission."
Dan Tamir is not a pacifist. The way stations he has passed through en route
to that letter prove just the opposite to be the case. His military record
is a consistent line of positive service on behalf of people and country.
The only exception actually stems from an excess of motivation: Right after
his induction, he wanted to volunteer for the paratroops. When he was
rejected, his protest took a creative form ("they told me to walk, I ran;
they told me to sit, I stood") and he spent a week in jail.
Indeed, the Major Dan Tamir who is now awaiting trial is an outstanding
soldier. His service record includes an officers' course, a stint as an
intelligence officer with the paratroops, and another as an intelligence
officer with the Duvdevan [undercover commando] unit. Whoa! just a second -
Duvdevan? A conscientious objector and Duvdevan? Today he attributes his
service in Duvdevan to his being "a professional" and "part of the system."
He places his family's political views within the "dovish wing of the
Labor party." His mother, Hadas Tamir, a social worker, "took it hard"
when he joined Duvdevan. Today she attributes it to her son's desire "to
contribute wherever he finds himself" and to his youth. His sister, Rona,
studying history at university, used to plead with him to "go AWOL."
At the end of 1997, after four and a half years service, he is discharged
as a first lieutenant. He hikes through Burma, Laos and Thailand, enrols at
Hebrew University and does about 100 days of reserve duty before signing the
letter. The cracks in the wall of political indifference he has constructed
around his military service begin to appear following his discharge. The
first breach is the Rabin assassination. From his terrace at home, across
from Ichilov Hospital, he sees Eitan Haber read his note about how "the
government of Israel announces with dismay ..."
Then there are the spontaneous vigils at the corner of Arlosoroff Street in
Tel Aviv, in which he participates, and left-wing activism at Hebrew
University. On Friday afternoons he stands with Women in Black at Paris
Square in Jerusalem. He brings this political baggage with him to the
working discussion about "conquest and partition."
About a day after the letter is sent, his immediate superior notifies him
that he "has finished his role with the brigade" and asks to meet with him.
The meeting takes place in the lobby of a Jerusalem hotel and "the tone of
the discussion," as Tamir describes it, "is pleasant." The conversation
revolves around "the nature of democracy" and "the meaning of following
orders." Because this meeting happens to come on the morning of Holocaust
Remembrance Day, the extermination of the Jews is also discussed. The
upshot: He will receive a call-up notice. If he refuses, he'll be tried.
Before the meeting ends, Tamir's superior officer observes thatTamir's
letter arrived at the brigade HQ on the same day that one of its fighters
About two weeks after that talk, he is summoned by the divisional commander.
His friends counsel him to "wear a steel helmet and bring heavy
fortifications." The conversation, according to Tamir, is "formal and very
angry," encompassing the following terms: "democracy," "accepting majority
rule," and "defense of home and hearth."
Tamir mentions the suffering of the Palestinians, and the divisional
commander remarks that he, too, suffers. His daughter, for instance, is
afraid to go to shopping malls lately. He asks Tamir whether he sees
himself as a "part of the Zionist revolution." He clarifies whether Tamir's
objection might be "in response to a religious imperative." He says he'll
even be satisfied with a declaration by the objector that he sees himself
simply as "doing his part in building a just civil society." He can make
any statement he chooses, says the commander, so long as he serves in the
The conversation ends with the divisional commander casting doubt on the
objecting soldier's Zionism. He finds Tamir's responses unsatisfactory. He
declares that officers like Tamir are unfit to serve under his command. A
week later, in the middle of July, Tamir receives a call-up notice for the
20th of August, for two weeks of "guarding structures." He notifies the
liaison officer that he'll appear but will not serve.
Meanwhile, he telephones the soldiers under him and explains his motivation.
Some tell him, "Right on!" Two say, "You're making a mistake." His
girlfriend Karin and his sister believe he's doing the right thing. So does
his mother, but she wonders about how effective this heroic act will be.
She reminds her son that he is planning to go to Switzerland in mid-October
to study at the University of Zurich as part of a student exchange program,
and what will happen to his protest then?
Dan Tamir is trying to persuade himself that prison isn't so bad. He begins
to prepare himself for the possibility. Along with the books, his backpack
will contain some clean underwear. And shampoo - in a transparent bottle
because opaque containers are forbidden. What's worrying him? Being away
from his family and his girlfriend. What's he afraid of? The indifference
with which his detention might be received, that it won't have an impact,
won't make waves.
He's to report on Monday at 9 A.M. at the Beit El base. On Sunday, 24 hours
beforehand, he goes to Mt. Scopus, to his room at the dorm. He clears out
the room and packs his bag for the "worst-case scenario," meaning a month
in jail. He runs into one of his instructors, professor of German history
Moshe Zimmerman, and tells him about what is in store 24 hours hence. The
professor responds "very sympathetically." At 3 P.M., he goes to a cafe to
meet the Swiss student who is his counterpart in the exchange program. She
is still recovering from the trauma of the suicide bombing at the Sbarro
pizzeria, which is not far from her apartment. He tries to calm her.
Toward evening, he goes to his girlfriend's apartment near the YMCA tospend
the night. The next day, Monday, he awakens at quarter to seven, says
goodbye to his girlfriend (who tells him to "take care of himself" and
gives him a farewell kiss). With a pair of army boots dangling from his
backpack, he arrives at the Hizmeh checkpoint near Pisgat Ze'ev north of
The Hizmeh checkpoint embodies all the ugliness that a border checkpoint
can possibly offer. Reserve soldiers lounge in boredom while they wait for
a ride. Settlers nervously stroke the butt of the pistol they carry shoved
inside the belt of their trousers, under their T-shirts. Signs in blue and
green say "To strengthen and be made strong." Soldiers sitting behind
sandbags look on vacantly when someone goes to piss behind the low hills of
rocky gray. Pisgat Ze'ev, across the wadi, is a row of white rectangles
bisecting the defining contour of the rocky hills.
At ten to nine, Dan Tamir gets on an armored yellow bus belonging to the
Benjamin Region Development Company. At nine-ten he checks in with the
reserve duty officer and announces that he's here, reporting for duty. He is
asked whether he'll go to the territories and he replies in the negative. He
is asked to wait. He sits for two hours under a large fig tree, reading. The
deputy division commander calls him over for another conversation.
Immediately thereafter, at about ten after one, he is called in for the
In brief military proceedings, Major (Res.) Dan Tamir is charged with
refusing to obey an order. He is found guilty and sentenced to 28 days'
detention. He is released after 26 days, and this week he is supposed to
leave for Switzerland to study at the University of Zurich.
©Copyright 2001, Ha'aretz
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