"REFUSENIK" FOUNDERS AND OTHER ISRAELI SOLDIERS WHO REFUSE TO FIGHT IN THE OCCUPIED TERRITORIES SPEAK TO "60 MINUTES," SUNDAY, MAY 5 ON CBS
Yaniv Iczkovics and David Zonsheine, paratroopers who founded the group of Israeli soldiers who refuse to fight in Gaza or the West Bank, speak to Bob Simon in a report to be broadcast on 60 MINUTES Sunday, May 5 (7:00-8:00 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network. Members of the group now number approximately 450 and are considered heroes by some and traitors by others. Simon recently interviewed them in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.
Iczkovics and Zonsheine served a tour in the Gaza Strip last December and say their presence caused impoverished Palestinians additional hardship. "I felt like what I was doing was wrong....Our presence there simply causes an impossible situation for their normal life," says Iczkovics. They discussed their reservations among other soldiers and eventually more joined their movement to refuse to fight in the Occupied Territories.
Amit Mashiah tells Simon of a confrontation with an old Palestinian woman which helped convince him to become a Refusenik. "There was an old lady who ran to me and spat in my face....It's a dangerous situation....You've got your soldiers behind you seeing you've been spat in the face and what do you do?" Mashiah asks. He tells Simon that he "shoved her real hard," and says it was worse for him to shove her than it was to have been spat upon. "It was a terrible thing to do," he says.
The Refuseniks have caused no shortage of soldiers in Israel. In fact, many more volunteers have emerged since the stepping up of Palestinian suicide bombings. Their numbers are small, but because many come from elite units, they must be taken seriously, says Dr. Yoram Ezrahi, a political scientist. "The leadership cannot afford to ignore [Refuseniks]," says Ezrahi, who has served as a strategic analyst for the Israeli Army chief of staff. "My impression was that the leaders of the Israeli Army are definitely taking this message very...seriously," he says.
But a member of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's cabinet says that among the Israeli people, the Refuseniks are an aberration, an embarrassment to Israel. "They are objectors without any conscience," says Limor Livnat. "I believe that the vast majority of Israelis really believe that now we have to...defend ourselves...make sure that there will be no bombers any more," she tells Simon.