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American Conscientious Objector Jailed for Refusing Reserve Duty

November 7, 1989

JERUSALEM (AP) _ A man who was a conscientious objector in the United States during the Vietnam War has gone to jail in Israel rather than serve his adopted country as a soldier in the occupied lands.

Stephen Langfur joined a small but growing number of Israelis who refuse to serve in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, where a Palestinian uprising against Israeli occupation began 23 months ago.

″We have been watching the uprising, on television and on the streets, and he has been upset at what he has seen,″ said his wife, Noga Treves Langfur. ″When he came to the point where he couldn’t stand seeing the way Palestinians are being mistreated, it was natural that he didn’t want to take part in this.″

Langfur, 48, was sent to a military prison Nov. 1 to serve 21 days, an army spokesman said. He would not discuss specifics of the case and refused to permit an interview with Langfur.

According to the army, 72 men have been jailed for refusing duty in the West Bank and Gaza. A support group for them, called Yesh Gvul, puts the total at 91.

″We believe it is on the increase,″ said Yesh Gvul director Peretz Kidron. ″The army is very embarrassed by this, of course, and seems to be responding with a crackdown.″

Kidron said Yesh Gvul, Hebrew for ″there is a limit,″ has found the army giving repeated sentences to men who refuse duty in the occupied territories. He said one had spent more than 100 days in jail.

The army spokesman, who would not let his name be used, said the number refusing is very small compared with those who willingly serve in the lands Israel captured from Jordan and Egypt in the 1967 Middle East war.

″There have always been a few who refuse orders, even when there is no war, and we have a judicial system to deal with them,″ he said.

Newspapers say many reservists, instead of refusing service in the West Bank and Gaza, avoid it by making arrangements for other assignments. The daily Yediot Ahronot said thousands had used that means.

Israeli soldiers or settlers have killed at least 612 Palestinians since the uprising began Dec. 8, 1987, and 142 have been killed by other Palestinians, most of them on suspicion of collaborating with Israel. Forty Israelis have died.

The regular army of 130,000 is supplemented by 310,000 reservists, like Langfur, who are called up each year for about 40 days of active duty. In Israel’s last war, the invasion and occupation of Lebanon in 1982-85, about 160 soldiers were jailed for refusing service in the neighboring country.

Langfur’s decision was ″a natural outgrowth of his moral beliefs,″ his wife said.

He was born in Cedarhurst, N.Y., earned a doctorate in philosophy from Syracuse University and taught at Temple University in Philadelphia and the University of Houston.

In the 1960s, during the Vietnam War, he won conscientious objector status ″on moral grounds,″ Mrs. Langfur said.

After moving to Israel in 1979, Langfur worked as a tour guide to support his family, which now includes a daughter, Tali, 11, and son, Benny, 9.

″He studied the history of Israel closely and caught the sense of the miracle of the creation of the state,″ his wife said. ″He still has this feeling.″

Like most immigrants, Langfur completed military training and has done reserve duty within Israel. He was not called to Lebanon and when orders came last month for duty in the territories, he refused.

″He feels, and I feel, that there’s no way to peace but to come to some kind of terms with the Palestinians,″ Mrs. Langfur said. ″The way it is now can’t go on.″

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