JERUSALEM – Israel's Supreme Court ruled Monday that army reservists cannot refuse to serve in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, while four Palestinians were killed by troops in ongoing violence.
Another Palestinian died under unclear circumstances in the West Bank city of Hebron. Palestinians said an 18-year-old was taken away by Israeli border police and beaten, then was brought back and died. The Israeli military had no immediate comment.
In its ruling, the high court sidestepped a decision on whether Israel's 35-year occupation of the disputed territories violates international law. Eight reservists contended that Israel's occupation is illegal, and therefore they have the right to refuse duty there. The court ruled that reservists cannot choose their assignments.
Since the outbreak of Israeli-Palestinian fighting 27 months ago, more than 500 Israeli soldiers have refused to serve in the West Bank and Gaza, saying they are unwilling to help perpetuate military rule over another people. Dozens of soldiers have been sent to military jails for periods ranging from a few days to a month or more.
Israel captured the West Bank and Gaza in the 1967 Mideast war, and withdrew from Palestinian population centers as part of interim peace deals in the mid-1990s. But it reoccupied most areas in June, as part of an offensive against Palestinian militants who have been attacking Israelis with bombs and guns.
The court said accepting the reservists' demands could further deepen the rifts in Israeli society. "The considerations of state security and the integrity of Israeli society must be considered against the arguments of conscience and belief," Justice Dorit Beinisch wrote.
In violence Monday, a Palestinian was killed and three wounded in an exchange of fire with undercover Israeli forces in the Khan Younis refugee camp in Gaza, Palestinians said. The military had no immediate comment.
Also, a Palestinian gunman fired at soldiers after breaking through a fence separating Israel and the Gaza Strip, the army said. Soldiers returned fire, killing the attacker, who wore an Israeli army uniform and carried two assault rifles, grenades and ammunition clips.
In a clash in the West Bank city of Nablus, soldiers killed a 20-year-old with a shot to the head. The man was lighting another protester's firebomb when he was killed, witnesses said. Army regulations permit soldiers to shoot those holding firebombs because explosive bottles are considered life-threatening.
Near the West Bank town of Jenin, soldiers killed an unarmed Palestinian motorist after his car rammed a jeep parked near a checkpoint. The jeep tipped over and a soldier was lightly injured, the army said. The Palestinian driver stopped immediately, emerged from his car and approached the jeep, the army said. Soldiers opened fire, assuming he was trying to attack them, the army said.
Palestinian security officials said the man was a 37-year-old teacher who delivered groceries after work to make extra money.
In the southern West Bank, soldiers razed the family homes of two gunmen from the Islamic Jihad group who attacked the Jewish settlement of Otniel on Friday, killing four Jewish seminary students before being shot dead by troops. The army has been destroying the homes of suspected militants to deter attacks. Palestinians say the practice constitutes collective punishment.
Also Monday, the Israeli human rights group B'tselem said in a report that on Dec. 3, soldiers beat five Palestinians in a Hebron barbershop, forcibly shaved the heads of two of the men and tried to make a third swallow shampoo. Troops also used the five as "human shields" in a clash with stonethrowers, the group said.
The report is based on the testimony of the five Palestinians.
The Israeli military said it has been unable to track down the incident, even though the report provides the address of the barbershop.
B'tselem said the beating was not an isolated occurrence. "This grave incident is only the tip of the iceberg. Cases of punishment and abuse of Palestinians by IDF soldiers in the occupied territories occur daily," it said in a statement.
In Cairo, Egypt, an Egyptian official said his country will host a new round of talks next week involving rival Palestinian factions. The talks between Yasser Arafat's Fatah and radical groups like the violent Islamic Hamas are aimed at stopping suicide bombing attacks against Israelis, according to participants.
Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher told reporters on Monday, "There is a time for armed resistance and a time for unarmed resistance. Resisting occupation should not fall hostage to only one way."