Changing the Terms of the Debate

The outcries over the desecration of the Sabbath during the evacuation of the Havat Gilad outpost in the West bank seemed to fade away two days after the mass brawl at the site. Now the Sabbath is shamed and humiliated, waiting for different times.

The outcries over the desecration of the Sabbath during the evacuation of the Havat Gilad outpost in the West bank seemed to fade away two days after the mass brawl at the site. In fact, the leaders of the National Religious Party (NRP) succeeded in turning the Shabbat issue into a sticking point in the political debate over the outposts in particular and the settlements in general, and perhaps even in stifling the ability of the Israel Defense Forces and the government to operate among the settlers.

It might have been possible to wait until Sunday morning to carry out the evacuation, or perhaps not. True, Shabbat is, without question, a supreme value to every religious Jew and it is observed strictly in the IDF's bases and camps. However, there has never been a debate in any unit as to whether it is permissible to conduct operational activity on the Sabbath. No religious soldier thought twice about boarding the buses and then entering the tanks on Yom Kippur in 1973, and no group of religiously observant (or newly religious or "strengthened") soldiers is excused from operational duties, ongoing or special.

When the chief education officer, Brigadier General Elazar Stern, was commander of the Bahad I training base, an argument broke out among the religious cadets about whether to get to the site of the operational activity by motorized vehicle or to walk; and Stern, who is himself religious, stated that there were no differences between religious and secular soldiers: Either they would all walk or they would all ride. No one took exception to the activity itself.

The "Shabbes!" cries of the settlers were, therefore, not intended to protect Shabbat, but to undercut the legitimacy of the evacuation and to annul its definition as an operational action. They apparently succeeded in achieving this. The fact is that a commission of inquiry has been established.

Another thing that shows the confusion the settlers have sown is the complaint of well-meaning religious and secular individuals that it would have been better had the IDF waited until after the havdalah ceremony, which ends Shabbat, so as to undermine the contentions of those who do not believe in the good faith of the IDF and its commanders, or in the purity of intention of the defense minister, and so that the IDF, the people's army, could go about the work of evacuation wholeheartedly.

The very discussion of the question of whether the army should have waited for the end of the Sabbath, in the case of evacuating settlers, shows up the evacuation itself as a subject for debate and not as an action whose urgency is supposed to be decided by the IDF and its commanders - and not by rabbis (be they chaplains or politicians).

The IDF itself is changing with dizzying speed. Many of its officers, both at the junior and senior levels, are bound head and soul, and in some cases by family ties, to the leaders and rabbis of the settlers. Just as many of the commanders in the 1950s were connected with the Mapai party (the forerunner of today's Labor Party). This is part of the new map of Israeli society. Nevertheless, the Sabbath scandal hints at a crack between the top ranks of the NRP and the settlers.

Just at this time, when the public within the 1967 Green Line - which is not really eager to see Yesha coming "here" (as the slogan of the Yesha Council of settlements maintains) and is not thrilled at the sight of veteran settler activist Daniella Weiss hurling herself on a new piece of ground at every new occasion - is worn out, the NRP's anxiety has become apparent. The louder NRP MK Shaul Yahalom shouts "desecration of Shabbat," the more obvious his fear of the "hilltop youth" becomes. Those youngsters seem to be destroying the ramshackle structure of legitimacy that the settlers built in the two years of the intifada.

Just at this time, when in the wake of the terrorist attacks the public in Israel is displaying momentary solidarity with Yesha, when the victims of the intifada there are perceived in the same way as the victims of terrorism in Hadera, the rampaging young people appear on the scene, hitting soldiers and pushing officers, as they learned from their parents in the heroic days of Sebastia and Yamit, but with far greater force and violence. Yahalom and his colleagues cannot simply ignore these unwanted fruits of their endeavors. At most, they murmur that they are not disciplined, but what can be done if the rabbis support them?

In order to blur the dilemma, they began to shout about the Sabbath. Of course, Shabbat didn't stop people from challenging Palestinian olive pickers, striking soldiers or expelling an entire Arab village - truly matters of life and death. Thus, more than the settlers preserved Shabbat, Shabbat preserved them. Now the Sabbath is shamed and humiliated, waiting for different times.