Soldiers' refusal to heed West Bank evacuation orders roils Israel
Israel is jailing soldiers who disobeyed orders Tuesday to evict Jewish settlers in Hebron.
(Page 2 of 2)
The military's outrage over the issue was underscored by the fact that several prominent rabbis from the right-wing religious seminaries told their students – who are simultaneously enlisted in the military – that they shouldn't participate in the evacuation of settlements.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
"We of course support what these soldiers did," says Elyakim Veisman-Stern, the spokesman of the council of rabbis in Yesha, the settlers' umbrella organization.
He quoted a late rabbi who ruled that soldiers should not do what is against the Torah, and this included giving up part of Israel.
"We argue something like this strengthens the army," he adds, "because if its army that does something without thinking, that's what destroys. That's like acting like a computer, with a disk in your head."
Defense Minister Barak, the Labor party leader and former prime minister, offered pointed words Tuesday for those who refused to follow orders.
"Soldiers take their orders from the company commander, the unit commander, the brigade commander, and no one else, important and dignified as they may be. The army of a nation seeking to survive must be adamant about this principle," Mr. Barak told reporters.
A religious vs. secular debate
But the head of one yeshiva, or seminary, in the West Bank settlement of Otniel, charges that the real failure was on the part of the army commanders, because some of the soldiers asked to do the job were either settlers who lived nearby or, in one case, a young man whose family had been evacuated from a Gaza Strip settlement two years ago.
"I'm usually against refusing orders, but the reason for it here is a total failure of the officers' orders," Rabbi Ram Hacohen said in an interview on Israel Radio.
Zevulun Orlev, the head of the parliamentary faction of the National Religious Party, said in a later interview that it was "total insensitivity" to demand that a soldier who lost his home in Gaza participate in evacuating other families.
"The criticism of these refusals to carry out orders should also come alongside criticism of the government policy," Mr. Orlev said.
The refusal en masse strikes a nerve among many Israelis because it forces into the spotlight the split between those who believe in the primacy of state decisionmaking and those who feel themselves answerable to a higher authority. Israel's mostly secular establishment harbors an underlying discomfort with the ascendancy of religious people in the military, says Eyal Ben Ari, a professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
"The perception among the majority of Israeli Jews is that the crunch has come. They think there is a substantial part of this national-religious camp [that] does not accept the State of Israel as a democratic, open society, and basically follows the rabbinical authorities," says Mr. Ben-Ari, a sociologist and anthropologist who specializes in the role of the army in Israeli society.
"A very vocal minority is saying that 'we are above the law, the land of Israel is one of the most important values that we believe in, and under certain circumstances, we can question the very authority of the state to preserve it,' " Mr. Ben Ari explains. "This division between obeying rabbinical authority and obeying state authority is now coming to a head."