August 07, 2007

Israel's right refuseniks

Apparently refusing to obey orders to evict settlers from certain settlements or taken over houses is a growing phenomenon in Israel. Soldiers are phoning their parents or rabbis and asking what to do when told to evict settlers. Ha'aretz's editorial today showed signs of panic over the problem. Here's the whole thing:
Dozens of Israel Defense Forces soldiers in the Duchifat Battalion - part of the Kfir Brigade, which, as a rule, is stationed in the West Bank - informed their commanders, after consulting with their rabbis, that they would refuse to participate in the evacuation of Jewish families who took over buildings in the Hebron marketplace.

The soldiers were not slated to evacuate the settlers-intruders with their own hands, but were going to be replacing Border Police officers who were being removed from their posts for the evacuation. Some of the soldiers explicitly announced their intentions to refuse orders, while others reported being stricken by various aches and pains that led to their being granted sick leave. Twelve of them were sent, under orders from the commanding general officer, for a disciplinary hearing. However, that is not enough; tomorrow there will be another evacuation, and more refusal.

This is the big test for Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi. Over the last few days, Barak and Ashkenazi repeatedly condemned evasion of duty, but refusal is no less dangerous. Political refusal - and cloaking it in religious terms does not disguise its political nature - is a malignant growth in the IDF's body. Military authorities must fight it without compromise. Refusal from the right is no more acceptable or worthy of understanding than refusal from the left. If there is the chance of a political compromise that will lead to peace with the Palestinians, it entails the evacuation of settlements. An army that conveys weakness toward those who refuse its orders will not be able to be a reliable and skilled tool of those who dispatch it.

The refuseniks' organization is a declaration of revolt, and must be dealt with to the full extent of the law. The army must cancel its arrangements with yeshivas whose rabbis reject the commanders' authority. If it is true that extremist groups, some of them from abroad, are offering financial compensation to the refuseniks, they are abetting the soldiers in committing an offense. Those bribing the refuseniks should be brought before the police and the prosecution.

The founders of the state understood that the IDF must have a unified chain of command that includes only military commanders subordinate to the chief of staff, who in turn follows the orders of the supreme headquarters of the IDF: the government. Private armies will lead to the disintegration of the IDF, and will ultimately fight each other, as in pre-revolution China or in Iraq after the American invasion.

Two years ago, ahead of the evacuation of the settlements in Gaza and the northern West Bank, the government and General Staff took a forgiving approach toward the refuseniks, people staying in settlements illegally and violent anti-disengagement protesters. Just recently, MKs on the religious right once more asked that youths who harmed soldiers and police officers at the time of the pullout be pardoned and allowed to join the IDF. But this is not the place for compassion.

Israel is facing several difficult military fronts - Iran, Syria, Hezbollah, Hamas - over which it has limited control. It must not accept the existence of an internal front as well, within the sole armed force under its authority. This front, the refusal front, must be dismantled without delay. If Ashkenazi, Barak and the government, led by Ehud Olmert, are too weak to do so, then they must not remain in their posts a single day longer.
So call for the Likud or call for the army? Who else is there to call for to rule Israel?

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