The Still Voices in Israel

THE tribal nature of the Israeli-Palestinian "war" makes it difficult for either side to give much ground. Both see their ethnic or religious survival at stake. There's little room to consider the other side's needs, especially in the heat of battle.

Few Palestinians would stand up to actively oppose suicide bombings, let alone organize a movement against them. They might, in private, argue against the tactic of killing civilians. But Palestinian society still lacks a tolerance for those who openly oppose such cruelty. And Yasser Arafat himself has shown little resolve to arrest those who train the bombers.

Israel is different. It is showing some tolerance toward an organized group of army reservists who are refusing to obey their government in raiding Palestinian towns, supporting Jewish settlers on Palestinian land, harming families whose relatives have killed Israelis, or conducting extrajudicial killings of Palestinian leaders.

Like similar groups, such as Rabbis for Human Rights, these army "refuseniks" are a ray of principled hope in a bleak Middle East landscape.

Their numbers are small but growing. About 1,000 reservists have pledged noncooperation with Israel's actions in the occupied territories of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, taken in the 1967 war.

It's unlikely that they will influence the Sharon government. But by risking their livelihoods in demanding for Palestinians the same equality and freedom Israelis enjoy, they are a reminder for both sides to consider the interests of the other.

This kind of Golden Rule action shows Israelis a way out of their fear of annihilation as a state. By honoring the human rights of the now-subjugated Palestinians, Israel can create mutual respect and avert turning the occupied lands into ghettos of the oppressed and a greenhouse for terror. Leaders on both sides know what the final details of a peace deal are likely to be. But they lack the mutual respect and trust to get there.

The dissenting soldiers are not worried solely about the Palestinians. They also know that Israel's democratic values are eroded by its actions on the West Bank and in Gaza.

The suicide bombers say they help their country by killing themselves and Israeli civilians, while they really just corrode the Palestinian cause.

The refuseniks are showing both sides a better way.

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