OUR IDF

I want to return here to the issue of soldiers who refused to participate in evicting Hevron residents from the marketplace, Mitzpe Shalhevet.

The story as it was widely presented, was that 30 soldiers refused, but when they were threatened with disciplinary action, some 20 relented. Those who remained adamant in their refusal were very swiftly disciplined -- they were jailed for 28 days and removed from their combat units. (Arutz Sheva says the numbers were much higher and that many were quietly reassigned to duty such as washing dishes and kept out of the eye of the media.)

Following the incident, a rash of op-eds appeared that criticized the soldiers and lamented the break-down of essential discipline in the IDF: orders are orders and orders must be obeyed. If these soldiers can refuse orders here, went the thinking, other soldiers who don't want to participate in other actions -- don't want to serve in Judea and Samaria or go on forays into Gaza, whatever, will be inspired to similarly refuse and then everything will fall apart.

But there is an essential fallacy in this thinking and another side to this story. The issue here is whether Jewish soldiers in the Israeli army should be enlisted to enforce a political decision that requires taking action against other Jews. The IDF is the "Israel defense force." Its role is to DEFEND Jews, and it should be asked only to act against our enemies. Involving the IDF in any other sort of action is illegitimate. Whether or not what was done in Hebron was itself either legal or moral, the sort of political operation that took place there should have been executed only by police.

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The soldiers who refused were almost all religious. There is a tremendous irony in that. For religious boys opt for combat units in greater proportions than other segments of our society. They make the best soldiers, in the main, because they are fiercely dedicated to the land and what they are defending. There is nothing slipshod or lackadaisical about their attitude towards being soldiers; statistics show them to be among the bravest and most competent. But what was being asked of these boys here went against the grain of their ideology: they were more than ready to defend Israel at any cost but not to evict Jews from their homes (or, I would add, to destroy or dismantle synagogues or religious houses of study).

For the powers that be to persist in this approach is to demoralize some of the best soldiers we have. And that is downright stupid. There were, among the boys ordered to participate, some who live in Judea or Samaria. They know their families might be next. How can you ask them to participate without doing damage to their spirit? I understand there was even one soldier whose family had been evicted from Gush Katif. Where was the thinking, that he should have been ordered to help do this to others?

I lay the blame here on the political leaders, beginning with Ariel Sharon. He set a precedent with the use of the IDF for the "disengagement." This tore the nation apart and had a tremendously negative effect on some of the soldiers who participated. I have placed elsewhere on this website photos of soldiers crying -- in one case, an officer sobbing -- over what they were told to do in Gush Katif.

Please, take a minute to look at these photos: http://www.arlenefromisrael.info/gk-photos/

Then ask yourself if -- aside from it being inhumane -- a policy that promotes this response is a smart policy when we are a beleaguered nation and must have a strong, motivated and invigorated defense force at the ready.

I understand that our weak performance in Lebanon last summer was partly because of how the soldiers had been used in Gush Katif. There was the factor of demoralization, but also a lack of preparation because soldiers had been trained for evacuation of Jews instead of defense. The situation was so egregious that money was dedicated to such things as special new uniforms for some of the forces going into Gush Katif, but supplies were lacking a year later for those going into Lebanon to defend the nation. The people in charge who set up this scenario had lost their way, their vision of what we are about. Painfully, painfully is this so.

For the dimwits that are in charge now to continue this policy, when it's clear that we face difficult days ahead, is indefensible (excuse the pun). I applaud those who had the courage to say "no."

It's time for us to recall who we are and what we are about, before it's too late.