Let Them Refuse

The IDF is strong enough and large enough to carry out the evacuation without the refuseniks, and the state is strong enough to withstand the hitch. The two strongest forces in the Israeli society, the IDF and the settlers, have again hooked up to conduct a baseless campaign of intimidation.

With cynical manipulation the settlers aim to aggrandize the dimensions of the disengagement from the Gaza Strip - from the threat of civil war to the description of the evacuation of a few thousand settlers as a national calamity. To this their leaders have now added their "Doomsday weapon" - backing soldiers' refusal to obey a command to evacuate settlers.

Here too it's a case of much ado about almost nothing and here too the settlers have chalked up another impressive achievement in their war of blackmail. They have again succeeded in instilling fear into everyone, though it's a false fear.

The IDF is strong enough and large enough to carry out the evacuation without the refuseniks, and the state is strong enough to withstand the hitch. The two strongest forces in the Israeli society, the IDF and the settlers, have again hooked up to conduct a baseless campaign of intimidation. The systematic campaign serves the interests of both groups well.

For the settlers it is an effective and brutal means to frighten the largely indifferent public; for the IDF it is one more way to perpetuate its status as the central factor in Israeli life. It is only in this light that it is possible to understand the statements made by generals and rabbis, all of which bordered on hysteria.

From Rabbi Yoel Bin Nun, who said that "refusal endangers the state," to Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, who described refusal as "one step before civil war;" from the prime minister, who warned that refusal is liable to cause a calamity, to the chief of staff, who called refusal a "danger to Zionism," no less.

The question, though, is whether refusal really poses such a great danger to Zionism. Why should a group of soldiers who refuse to obey an order bring about a Spanish civil war here, according to the dire warning of the justice minister?

Who decided that refusal to obey an order in the army is substantively different from the non-fulfillment of other civic duties? Why won't nonpayment of taxes or nonpayment of salaries to employees bring down the whole building, but refusal by a group of soldiers to obey an order will?

Not one soldier has as yet disobeyed an order, but the generals and the settlers are already firing their heavy artillery, the better to frighten us. Their message is clear - even in its fifty-seventh year, Israel continues to be a country whose whole existence is based on its military strength, and any minor harm to that force, refusal is no more than minor damage, threatens to cause the collapse of the state.

Is a regional military power with a developed economy, sophisticated science, industry, art and a high standard of living going to fall apart only because of a hitch in the army? What kind of country is this? Why is it so important to know what this or that rabbi mumbled about the IDF? What future does a national movement have which, even after establishing a powerful independent state, continues to rely so heavily on its army?

Either the threat is groundless, in which case we have to ask why it is so effective, or it has good grounds, in which case we have to ask about the character of a country in which the army not only continues to be the basis of its existence but even a central value in its life.

When will we finally be free of the inane notion that the IDF is the "melting pot" of the Israeli society? When will we understand that a healthy society has to rely on its civil strength and not on its army? The IDF is an important organization that has the goal of preserving the security of the state and its residents, no more and no less.

The damage it has been doing to security for years in the form of its decisive role in perpetuating the occupation is greater than all the damage done by all the refuseniks, but hardly anyone talks about that. The IDF's monumental failure to provide the country's residents with security does not stem from manifestations of refusal by soldiers; to a certain degree it can be said that it stems precisely from the eagerness of its soldiers to obey every order, even if the order is illegal and immoral.

According to statistics that appeared in Haaretz last Friday, there are 3,000 soldiers in the IDF from hesder yeshivas - those which combine religious studies with army service - and another 1,500 graduates of pre-army religious institutes. That is the hard core of potential right-wing refusal. Can it be that this number of soldiers is enough to destroy the army and the country?

In recent years the number of religiously observant officers has increased and is now 30 percent of the total. Israeli society was delighted with the new pioneers who replaced their forerunners and is now confronted with the consequences of this change in its army. But not all the soldiers who wear kippas will refuse to evacuate settlers - and even if they do, what of it?

The IDF is capable of carrying out an operation of a relatively modest scale such as is entailed in the lawful evacuation of a few thousand people from their homes. Here again there is of course wild exaggeration in the description of the events. Most of them will leave without resistance.

An army which in the past few years has excelled in evacuating tens of thousands of civilians from their homes and in the destruction of thousands of houses, sometimes with the occupants still inside, will not find it difficult to evacuate another few hundred houses. The know-how, the tenacity, the moral blindness and the engineering equipment are already in the field.

Those who transformed the Jenin refugee camp, which has more residents than all the settlements of the Gaza Strip combined, into "Teddy Stadium" should have no trouble in forcibly evacuating a handful of settlers who will persist in their refusal to leave. The more so because this mission is far more of a security mission than the earlier one.

Everything depends on whether the majority of the Israeli public truly wants the evacuation of the settlements and will also be sufficiently determined to contribute something to the move. They will be evacuated a lot more easily than people are now trying to make it seem. But if the majority continues to demonstrate indifference, disengagement will not take place in any case.

In a situation in which only the extreme right is active, and everyone else is in a pathological slumber, the extreme right can continue to foment almost anything it wants.

As we call see, they can even organize a few hundred soldiers and officers who obey the orders of rabbis and not those of their commanders, and they can frighten an entire country into believing that its existence is truly in danger.

Do the religious soldiers want to refuse? Let them refuse. If we really want to, we will get along without them, too.