Military court upholds pacifist's jail term

Conscientious objector Yonatan Ben-Artzi said Sunday that he would ask the Supreme Court for permission to appeal against a military court decision handed down earlier in the day, which upheld a sentence against him of two months in jail and a NIS 2,000 fine for refusing to obey army orders. "The court's decision was exactly what could have been expected," Ben-Artzi told The Jerusalem Post after the verdict was handed down. "Nevertheless, they accepted my arguments all down the line. If at the beginning, they refused to accept that I was a pacifist, today the army has no doubt that I am." Ben-Artzi was the first of a new generation of high school graduates who refused to serve in the army on the grounds that he was a conscientious objector. Unlike other high school seniors who refused to serve in what they described as an "occupying army," Ben-Artzi said he refused to serve in the army under any circumstances because he was a pacifist. He first wrote to the Minister of Defense in 1999, when he was 16 years old, asking to be exempted from military service on those grounds. When he appeared before the military Conscience Committee for the first time the following year, it rejected his claim. At the same time, the committee deferred his service by one year on the grounds that he was "not ripe." In 2001 Ben-Artzi appeared before the Conscience Committee for the second time and once again his appeal was rejected. He then petitioned the High Court of Justice, asking it to transfer his case to a civilian court. The High Court rejected the petition but ordered the state to grant Ben-Artzi another hearing before the Conscience Committee and this time, to allow him to present written documents, to be accompanied by a lawyer and to have two witnesses testify on his behalf. Ben-Artzi appeared before the Conscience Committee for the third time in November 2001. Once again his appeal was rejected. He was conscripted into the army on August 8, 2002, but refused to don a uniform. Subsequently, a series of military disciplinary courts sentenced him to seven consecutive prison terms amounting to more than six months in military jail for refusing to obey orders. In February 2003, the army decided to change tactics and court-martialed him. The court-martial convicted Ben-Artzi on November 12, 2003 and sentenced him six months later. On Sunday, a panel of five judges, all of them holding the rank of general in active service or in the reserves, rejected Ben-Artzi's appeal and upheld the lower court ruling. The judges included the president of the court, Yishai Ber, and reserve generals Gideon Sheffer, Yitzhak Eitan, and Ilan Schiff. The prosecutor, Yaron Kosteleviz, said, "The judges rejected all of the arguments of the defense and ruled that the army had done everything it could to meet Yoni Ben-Artzi halfway. After Ben-Artzi rejected the army's offer, it upheld the lower court's decision."