The Dimensions of Refusal

A memo sent by the Manpower Branch raises the grave possibility of physical resistance to police, who are supposed to deal directly with the settlers - resistance that could prevent police from doing their duty.

The Central Command believes that the defense establishment's assessments of the developments yet to come in the disengagement process are lacking in two key areas: a minimizing of the crisis in the settler community because of the need to evacuate their homes and withdraw from their ideology; and a minimizing, apparently, of the dimensions of refusal that can be expected from Israel Defense Forces troops.

Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz's decision to shorten the evacuation operation will require more soldiers in the "inner circle" that deals directly with the settlers. The size of the evacuation of the four settlements of the northern Samaria district is much smaller than the scope expected in Gaza, but because of assessments that there could be large numbers of soldiers who refuse orders, command Maj. Gen. Yair Naveh has decided not to use soldiers in his command within the "inner circle."

When Manpower Branch Commander Maj. Gen. Elazar Stern was asked about the anticipated soldiers' refusal to serve, he said, "I'm optimistic but afraid." That is basically the response of Chief of Staff Moshe Ya'alon, who believes there are not yet enough indicators on the ground to predict what might happen.

Some believe that a lot depends on the rabbis - especially those who head hesder yeshivas - and what they say a few days before the operation begins. Attention should be paid to a letter sent by the hesder yeshiva heads to the chief of staff, in which they issued a call against using violence against soldiers but did not rule out refusal.

For years, the hesder yeshiva rabbis have concentrated a lot of power in their hands. Their association, for example, recommends to the defense minister which yeshivas should be recognized as hesder yeshivas. That enormous power is the reason that Maj. Gen. Stern is convinced that authority must be removed from their hands.

There are currently 41 hesder yeshivas. Out of a 48-month period of conscription, their students serve between 16 and 18 months net in the army, and the rest of the time they do "unpaid service," when their direct "commander" is the yeshiva rabbi.

There are complaints being heard from the rabbis, as well. Some complain that every kippa-wearing new soldier is immediately suspected of refusing the order to evacuate. Indeed, there are junior officers who ask the new soldiers who show up for preliminary testing and training if they plan to refuse the order to evacuate the settlements.

One of the rabbis asks why not ask secular conscripts if they plan to refuse to serve in the territories. Indeed, the officers do not have permission to ask such a question, but the hesder yeshiva rabbis should examine whether the indirect support that some of them have given to refusal did not contribute to these suspicions.

The army currently places great importance on the mental preparation of the commanders and soldiers ahead of the large evacuation. The intention is to integrate as many older officers as possible, including from the general staff, for the actual operation. After discussions in the general staff, Manpower Branch sent a memo to all the army commanders - including the navy's - explaining in detail the way the army was dealing with the disengagement and refusal.

The memo recommends not "banging your head against the wall" with refuseniks, and focusing on those who behave provocatively and arrogantly. The memo tries to deal with possible questions that refuseniks might raise. For example, the argument that the disengagement order is illegal. The recommendation is to say that the soldier had enough time and still has enough time to go to the appropriate judicial institutions, and that in the absence of any court order declaring the orders illegal, the argument that the disengagement order is illegal is baseless.

The memo also raises the grave possibility of physical resistance to police, who are supposed to deal directly with the settlers - resistance that could prevent police from doing their duty. In such a case, the memo says, it is possible the army will have to evacuate people directly. "We do not have the freedom to avoid that," the officers were told. "Our duty is to prepare for that possibility, too."