Is This an Army or a Political Party?

The basic weakness in the selective "refusal" approach - army yes, territories no - which is also premature (the moment of truth has not yet arrived) is its evasion of individual action in a specific instance.

The mixing together of soldiers' treatment of Palestinians at Israel Defense Force roadblocks and the refusal of some reservists to serve in the territories is weakening the arguments of the refusniks (who so far are doing more threatening than refusing).

From their statements, it would seem their opposition to the occupation is conditioned on the active resistance of the occupied. After all, we have no reports of soldiers refusing to serve on the Golan Heights, which is even more of an occupied territory than either the West Bank or the Gaza Strip - it was taken by force of arms from a sovereign state, tens of thousands of its residents were uprooted from their homes, and several years after its capture, Israel annexed it and forced its Syrian citizens to take Israeli citizenship.

Now that Palestinians have turned the weapons allowed them under the Oslo agreement against Israel, a refusal to serve on the West Bank and in the Gaza Strip sends a powerful message to the Druze on the Golan - one that packs the power of a bullet.

And what about the Shaaba Farms? This is unquestionably occupied territory. The debate revolves solely around the following question - from whom was it captured and to whom should it be returned, when peace comes - Syria or Lebanon? Morality, like the occupation, cannot be divided into separate parts. A reservist officer with a conscience must refuse, on this basis, to serve on the entire northern border because, according to Hezbollah, resistance to the occupation will continue until the Shaaba Farms is liberated.

The basic weakness in the selective "refusal" approach - army yes, territories no - which is also premature (the moment of truth has not yet arrived) is its evasion of individual action in a specific instance. No one can stop a soldier who is ordered to carry out what the soldier considers a clearly illegal order, from refusing to obey the order.

He can report the commanding officer for issuing an illegal order, risk a court martial, possibly be acquitted and - what is most important - become not a victim of, but the driving force behind, the entire judicial process. Furthermore, that soldier, like every civilian, is authorized and even obliged to report any crime - including illegal orders - to the authorities.

Take, for example, a civilian named Ami Ayalon. Since May 2001, Ayalon has been walking around with a dark cloud of anger over his head because of guidelines Chief of Staff Shaul Mofaz issued during a meeting at Jerusalem's Ammunition Hill with career and reservist brigade and battalion commanders in the Judea and Samaria Division. Ayalon alluded to these guidelines when he spoke of a certain commander who demanded that troops bring him "seven dead bodies."

Mofaz's briefing for senior commanders created an uproar of fury at the time in the IDF Central Command. It prompted the command's top officers to call a meeting of the participants in the first gathering and to warn them not to interpret the chief of staff's words as an order. An order must pass through the chain of command until it reaches the direct commander, and is circumscribed by the IDF's regulations on opening fire. These have been authorized by the Judge Advocate General, as well as being limited by the specific regulations on opening fire that have been issued by the military unit in charge of the specific zone involved.

The fears of these top officers were justified - one commander attached to one of the reservist battalions who was present at Mofaz' briefing, Lieutenant Colonel Yehuda Albek, lost no time in getting himself needlessly caught in a deadly incident involving Palestinian police officers. In his defense, Albek used the chief of staff's guidelines.

The affair was brought to light here but was put to sleep under a thick blanket of public indifference. However, neither Ayalon nor GOC Central Command Major General Yitzhak Eitan, who is groaning under the chief of staff's yoke, dared to approach the JAG or the state prosecution with a demand to investigate Mofaz.

Ayalon prefers to complain about, rather than file a complaint against, anyone. He did not resign as head of the Shin Bet internal security service when then-prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the security cabinet he intended to expand the settlements, even though Ayalon considered this the start of a countdown to war. At the time, Ayalon limited himself - rightly - to thwarting Netanyahu's stupid plan.

Since September 2000, he has been emulated by all senior IDF officers on the general staff and in the territories. None has resigned to protest instructions from the politicians or orders from the chief of staff. Even top brass who had strong reservations about the Barak government's order to withdraw from South Lebanon without an agreement carried out the order. By the thinking the proponents of the "refuse to obey" approach endorse, GOC Northern Command Gaby Ashkenazy and the divisional and brigade commanders should have gone home with horrified expressions, leaving the dirty work for their colleagues who themselves would then decide whether to resign or obey.

Ayalon has not joined the "Ami Ayalon for prime minister movement" that is being fueled (with or without Foreign Minister Shimon Peres' knowledge) by the Foreign Ministry director general Avi Gil. However, Ayalon should know from his experience as head of two centralized organizations - the Israel Navy and the Shin Bet - that there must be a single source of legal authority in the military.

This source must not be subject to religious intervention - like that trying to separate religious yeshivot and hesder males from females in a pilot course. Nor should it be subject to interference by political parties tearing apart the IDF, company by company. The only way to change the course of the ship is to work for replacing the captain, not by calling on the sailors to mutiny.