TEL AVIV – The U.S. war in Iraq is fueling even more brutality towards the Palestinians by the far-right Israeli government. On April 13, the Israeli army stepped up its attacks on Palestinians when F-16 fighter jets and helicopter gunships killed four children and two pregnant women.

Israelis and Palestinians, with flags waving and chanting, “USA get out from Iraq – Israel out from Palestine,” marched April 12 through Haifa to the main gate of the city’s port, where the U.S. Navy is anchored.

The vast majority of the demonstration was Arab and Jewish working-class youth, students, academics and others. It was called by the Haifa Peace Forum, a coalition of all major peace movements, including the Communist Party-led Israel Hadash Front. The demonstration ended with a rally blocking the port’s main gate.

The day before, thousands demonstrated in solidarity with officers and soldiers who, for reasons of conscience, refuse to serve in the occupied territories. These soldiers and officers object to taking part in the brutal oppression of the Palestinian people. Some are pacifists who refuse army service altogether.

The government is prosecuting some of these objectors in military tribunals. Five out of more than 200 former 12th grade pupils, who signed a letter to the prime minister and army chief-of-staff stating that they are not willing to serve in the occupation army, are standing trial now before such tribunals. This is after they have already served many months in military prisons. The five asked to do civil service instead of army conscription duties.

During the last 12 months, about 200 conscientious objectors have been detained. Twenty-one young men and two women have been incarcerated for refusing to serve in the occupied territories. At the moment, 12 are behind bars in military prisons. In most of the other cases, commanders respect the “refuseniks” objections and do not send them to occupied Palestine.

In other developments, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has sent some of his closest advisors to Washington D.C. Their task is to encourage the White House not only to let Israel amend the so-called “road-map” peace plan according to its “security needs,” but to influence Pres. Bush to continue the war against Syria and Iran.

But in a PR ploy, Sharon told the Ha’aretz daily newspaper that he was prepared “to carry out very painful steps,” such as dismantling some of the settlements and to consider Israeli recognition of a limited Palestinian state. “I do not think that we have to rule over another people and run their lives forever,” Sharon stated. His said rule over the Palestinians was taking a toll on the Israeli public, raising ethical and economic problems, as well as growing criticism in the international arena.

He added, however, his regular pre-condition for any change: “I made no concessions in the past, and I will make no concession now, or in the future, with regard to anything which is related to the security of Israel …”

The author can be reached at