What is the army for? That sounds like a rhetorical question. Obviously, the answer is to defend the country and its citizens. That is also the only justification for asking our young men and women to devote years of their lives in obligatory service to their country. No other reason, no matter how lofty, can justify forcing young people in a democracy to postpone their own plans to work or study or travel.

But this seemingly compelling logic has been called into question when the Knesset, at the government's initiative, passed "the law for the implementation of the disengagement plan." Paragraph 25 states that the security forces will act so as to expel those who are present in the areas to be evacuated in contravention of the applicable paragraphs of the law, and bring them to a population center in Israel, and that it is permitted to use reasonable force for this purpose. Security forces as defined in the law include the Israel Defense Forces, no exception being made for the men and women doing their compulsory military service.

For the past few weeks, we have witnessed a good part of the army, which over the years had become the symbol of the unity of the people of Israel, preparing to force Israeli citizens out of their homes. Even the Israel Air Force has been mobilized for this task, and the navy commander has proudly announced that the navy, as well, will share part of the burden.

Some have questioned whether it is permissible for a soldier to refuse to follow the order to pull Israeli citizens out of their homes. Of course it is not permissible. In the army you have to follow orders, or else it ceases to be an army. But what about the order itself? Employing the army not against the enemy but rather against the citizens of the country is hardly consistent with a modern democratic society.

Some try to depict the current confrontation between supporters of the disengagement plan and its opponents, as pitting the supporters of democracy against those trying to subvert the democratic process. Presumably, the decision taken by the Knesset is sufficient to justify the enforcement of this draconian law, regardless of the means being used to enforce it, and to turn the whole process into a paragon of democratic procedures. But in most democracies nowadays, it would be viewed as a blatant violation of the principle of the separation of the military and civilian spheres of activity, generally considered one of the fundamental precepts of the democratic form of government.

This subject has received considerable attention in the United States in recent years in light of the discussion about the possible use of the armed forces against U.S. citizens that might be engaged in terrorism. The defining law on the subject in the U.S. is the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878, which forbids the use of the armed forces for the enforcement of laws unless expressly authorized by the Constitution or an act of Congress. In discussing the possibility of utilizing the armed forces for anti-terrorist law enforcement, Tom Ridge, who became the director of homeland security after the terrorist attack against the Twin Towers and the Pentagon, said, "It goes against our instincts as a country to empower the military with the ability to arrest."

Just what the instincts in Israel are on this matter, seemingly depends on whether you are for or against the disengagement plan. No legislation similar to the U.S. act proscribing the use of the armed forces for law enforcement purposes exists in Israel. With the multitude of legislation being rushed through the Knesset on an almost daily basis, no one seems to have considered the need for such legislation.

That presumably is the reason that the Knesset, under government pressure, authorized the use of the Israel Defense Forces against Israeli citizens in Gush Katif, the settlements south of Askelon, and northern Samaria, without taking into account the full implications of this move. The use of soldiers doing their obligatory military service, in addition to regular army personnel, to remove citizens from their homes makes the matter particularly problematic.

It can only be hoped that following the traumatic events of the coming weeks, it will be generally recognized that the separation of military and civilian spheres of authority should be one of the foundation stones of our system of government, and that the IDF should at all costs continue to be maintained as a symbol of unity of the people living in Israel.