The Danger of Mutiny

It is true that the Kfir battalion's signs of protest do not yet constitute a mutiny, but we must not underestimate them. They teach us what is liable to happen.

As soon as the defense minister said "We must be firm and uncompromising with the phenomenon of refusal [to obey orders to evacuate settlements]," I understood that nothing would be done. That's exactly the way Ehud Barak expressed himself after the election results were announced. "The voters have sent us into the opposition, and we are going there without compromising," he said, and immediately entered into negotiations with Benjamin Netanyahu.

That's how it will be now, too. He will deal with the refusal phenomenon with "common sense" and "without a stopwatch," until time passes and a new affair attracts the public's attention. Extremist rabbis will continue to incite, more incidents of rebellion will be uncovered and the danger of the army collapsing will grow, but Barak will continue to be "firm and uncompromising" in maintaining his seat in the government.

A clear line connects Rabbi Moshe Levinger and Hanan Porat to the most recent incidents of refusal by soldiers in the Kfir brigade, and the scattering of dozens of settlements in every corner of the West Bank in order to make any agreement or evacuation impossible. This is the strategy that has guided Levinger and Porat since they took control of the Sebastia settlement in December 1975.

Ever since then and up to this day members of Gush Emunim in their successive incarnations have decided the agenda and the future of the State of Israel. All Israeli governments have yielded to them, widening and advancing construction in the West Bank, so that today there is almost no place in the West Bank from where the red roofs of one settlement or another cannot be seen. And now, when the United States puts on the pressure and Netanyahu speaks about two states, and Shaul Mofaz offers a plan for a Palestinian state within temporary borders, settlement leaders are giving us just a small taste of what the army and the state can expect if anyone dares to evacuate settlements in a serious fashion.

It is no accident that the refusal movement began in the Kfir brigade. It operates solely in the West Bank, with a high percentage of soldiers from hesder yeshivas (which combine army service with religious studies) and from settlements. At first, two soldiers in basic training with the brigade's Shimshon battalion held up a protest sign during a swearing-in ceremony at the Western Wall: "The Shimshon battalion won't evacuate Homesh." Two weeks later, 25 reservist soldiers attached to the unit sent a harsh and unprecedented letter to their commanders in which they protested its "use for the destruction of Homesh in Samaria." The continuation was last week, when six soldiers of the Nachshon battalion held up a sign saying "Nachshon won't evacuate Jews either."

The protest is political. In fact, refusal is forbidden in the army, but the settler public doesn't think this way. They have embraced the eight soldiers involved and turned them into heroes, into miracle-bearers of the refusal against any intention - no matter how far in the future it may be - to evacuate settlements. The World Headquarters to Save the People and the Land of Israel, headed by Rabbi Shalom Wolpe, has announced that it will compensate the families of jailed soldiers NIS 1,000 for each day of their detainment.

One of the wives of a boot camp protester said when her husband was sentenced that she was "happy - I am really proud of him." A mother of another of the soldiers said "My son joined the IDF in order to defend the settlements, not in order to destroy them." That is to say, her son decides the IDF's agenda, and not the elected government.

These eight young men are not worried about their future. They well remember the legal system's soft hand against the young people who cursed, injured and humiliated IDF officers during the disengagement from Gush Katif. Now, instead of conducting a criminal trial, the attorney general is considering giving them a complete pardon and erasing the charges from the record. The lesson is clear.

Barak says that the phenomenon does not exist at all hesder yeshivas, but only at a few isolated ones where extremist rabbis incite the soldiers, and so the IDF should continue the hesder system. But the hesder idea is invalid in principle. There is no reason in the world for religious young men to serve in the army for only a year and a half, instead of the three years served by their secular brothers. Why doesn't the IDF afford such conditions to those who go on to study engineering or computers? Are they less important than Talmud?

We should know that in all hesder yeshivas, and not only those of "extremist rabbis," the students undergo brainwashing against yielding any piece of holy land in the territories, and they listen to their rabbis before they obey their commanders.

There are entire battalions in the army today comprised solely of hesder yeshiva soldiers, who are likely to change sides and fight against the evacuation of settlements. The very fact that they belong to a large, strong and united community, broadly backed by a supportive population, by rabbis and politicians, arouses the suspicion of a mutiny. And so all the hesder yeshivas should be dismantled, and all religious young men sent to a full, three-year tour of duty, just like their secular friends. After their mandatory service, they can go and study whatever their hearts desire.

It is true that the Kfir battalion's signs of protest do not yet constitute a mutiny, but we must not underestimate them. They teach us what is liable to happen, and the wisest course is to take preventive steps. But in order to do so, we need a different defense minister, one who puts the interests of the State of Israel before any other considerations.