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Israeli Soldier Jailed for Refusing to Guard Palestinian Detainees

Yuval Lotem, a 40-year-old lieutenant in the Israeli Army reserve, like most Israeli men is called up for active duty several weeks a year. In early July 1997, Mr. Lotem was called to active duty and assigned guard duty at the Megiddo prison. When he arrived there, he observed two young Palestinian prisoners taking out the garbage. The two youths were ringed by military police officers and a platoon of reservists carrying tear-gas canisters, helmets, and clubs.

"When I saw that, I sensed how right I was when I refused to be a part of it," Mr. Lotem said of his refusal to serve at Megiddo to protest the detention of Palestinians without trial. "If they've done something wrong, why aren't they being tried?"

Mr. Lotem, who helps direct films for a living, was jailed for 26 days in an army stockade for resisting service at Megiddo. He said he thought about his 5-year-old daughter while he served the 26 days.

"I'm willing to sit in jail time after time so that I can look her in the eye and say, 'I didn't do it,"' he said. "That's much more important than seeing her for a few weeks."

This was not the first time Mr. Lotem has been a conscientious objector. He refused reserve duty in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and Lebanon during the last 15 years on the ground that he will have nothing to do with a military occupation. "There is no enlightened occupation," he says, "and there's no good jailer when the prisoner is jailed without justification."

"In this case," Lotem said of the Megiddo detainees, "people are denied the basic right to defend themselves, and the principle of innocent until proven guilty is turned completely upside down. These are political prisoners held because of their opinions, not because of anything they've done. If they had done anything they would have been indicted."

"In school we were brought up on justice," Mr. Lotem continued, "as a people who have suffered so much from anti-Semitism, persecution and discrimination. I can't argue that I'm an insignificant cog in the machine. We're familiar with those arguments."

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