What I begin with today is a thematic follow-up to what I wrote yesterday about the mosque in Yasuf. Whether it turns out that “radicals” in the Jewish community of Samaria were responsible for the vandalism in that mosque or not, what disturbs me is the alacrity with which many people — Jews included — rushed to make the assumption that they were, even when evidence was lacking (and there was plenty of evidence that it might have been Arabs who did it).
I’ve written, and will continue to write, about the bad press and vilification that the Jews of Judea and Samaria are subject to. These “right wing settlers” who create a stumbling block to negotiations and cause Arabs difficulties. Or so it goes.
Here I want to touch upon a similar story, which makes the same point: Back in December 2008, charges were made that when the police were evacuating Beit Hashalom in Hevron one officer was injured when an activist resisting the police action threw acid in his face. This was reported in the Jerusalem Post.
There was doubt within the community of Hevron regarding the authenticity of this claim. And so a request was made to the Post that it be checked out.
Yisrael Medad has written about this in his blog (http://myrightword.blogspot.com) but it is unclear to me as to whether it was he who actually made the request to the Post.
Time dragged on without confirmation or resolution of the issue. At some point Medad then made a very specific suggestion:
“why not ask the police medical department if any policeman was treated for acid burns and ask the payments section if any policeman received sick leave and compensation for his acid wounds.”
It was then Susie Dym, an activist who heads Mattot Arim, who followed through. She founded it particularly disturbing that this incident was referred to time and again as an example of “settler violence,” even though it had never been verified. She saw this as just one of a litany of false charges that are leveled at “settlers.”
And guess what? The Post has now printed an article stating that the claim was unsubstantiated. No one was ever charged in connection with this alleged act. Said Dym, “They [residents of Judea and Samaria] have not committed one-thousandth of the [crimes] of which they have been accused.”
I raise the next issue reluctantly. I have, in fact, resisted writing about this for an international audience, because I believe it is very much an internal Israeli affair. But it has made the press in such significant measure, that it seemed to me time to explore the issues for my readers:
It involves, at core, the use of the IDF for police work, rather than reserving our armed forces for defense of our nation. We are the exception among democracies in this respect: in most — if not all — other democracies, armies can be used only for national defense. Not here. The army was used in the evacuation in Gush Katif, and is used in certain actions in Judea and Samaria. These political actions pit Jew against Jew, splitting the nation apart and destroying army morale.
Underlying the current situation we see these basic facts:
Religious nationalist young men serve most eagerly in the IDF, volunteering in disproportionate numbers for elite combat units and exhibiting an exemplary bravery and loyalty. Their religious underpinning gives them an understanding of why defense of Israel is important. What is more, the religious nationalist educational institutions — yeshivas of a particular stripe — teach this point of view. It is deeply bred into the perspective of these young men, as religious Israelis with an obligation to the nation and the people. When you read a story, during war time, of a young commander who throws himself on a grenade, for example, to save his unit, it is most likely to be a person who was a religious nationalist.
For decades, the IDF has run a five-year “Hesder” program, which allows these religious young men to combine religious study in participating yeshivas with army service. There are 7,500 who are enrolled this program, and tens of thousands of Hesder graduates who serve in the reserves.
In Samaria, there is a yeshiva called Har Bracha, headed by Rabbi Eliezer Melamed, which until just days ago was part of the Hesder program. Rabbi Melamed, concerned with Jewish teachings and law about the sanctity of the land for Jews, told his students who were going to be serving in the army that they should refuse orders regarding a building freeze or evacuation of Jews in Judea and Samaria.
Minister of Defense Ehud Barak — hard-nosed, secular and left-wing — was furious because it is essential to maintain discipline in the army. He cut Rabbi Melamed’s yeshiva from the Hesder program.
Now, Barak has a point about the need for army discipline. A soldier in the field absolutely must obey orders or the whole system breaks down. However (and this is a big “however”), that is the case when the army is fighting an enemy and acting to protect the nation.
The problem has arisen because the army is being used in political actions as well. There were perhaps ways of handling this other than the way Barak chose. Certainly it could have been decided that the army would no longer be used for political tasks (with a law ultimately passed with regard to this) — that only the police and related law enforcement units would be involved. Or — though more complicated — possibly some sort of “conscientious objection” principle could have been instituted, exempting soldiers who believe they are bound by Jewish law to retain and develop Judea and Samaria from participating in actions that restrict or prohibit Jewish presence in Judea and Samaria.
Barak’s approach is counterproductive. He is acting against and alienating the very best soldiers that the IDF has. Not a smart move, nor one that expresses appreciation and respect for these soldiers. The very religious conviction that makes them the best of soldiers because of their devotion to the land and their desire to defend it, also makes them devoted to the retention of Judea and Samaria as a matter of religious belief.
This week, dozens of reserve soldiers and officers who had been educated in Hesder yeshivas sent a petition to Barak:
“Many of us fought in the Second Lebanon War and in Cast Lead with a willingness to carry out any order and even to give our lives for the protection of the State of Israel.
“Our yeshiva heads taught us this selfless devotion to the State of Israel. In yeshiva we were inculcated with the spirit of fighting, devotion and giving our best. If the decision to remove Har Bracha from the Hesder framework is implemented, it would be interpreted by us as the IDF’s rejection of us and our service and it would force us to leave the ranks of the IDF.”
Rabbis who head other yeshivas in the Hesder program have rallied to the support of Rabbi Melamed, who is seen as exhibiting enormous clarity of moral vision. Additionally, interest by high school students in attending Har Bracha yeshiva after graduation has grown considerably.
I don’t know if there can or will be a positive resolution to this situation, or if it will be allowed to fester. The prime minister has refused to get involved.
Since the time of the Gush Katif evacuation, I have felt that any major threat to Judea and Samaria would lead us toward civil war. This is just a hint of what might come if, G-d forbid, we were to see attempts to move out the residents of Judea and Samaria. May such a day never come.
A small correction from yesterday. Abbas is not demanding that WE recognize that we must pull back to the ’67 lines, including in Jerusalem, before he’ll come to the table. He is demanding this recognition from the international community. For this we can thank, first, Obama, and then, the EU. Abbas is convinced that he can get what he wants without negotiation. From us, at this point, he is demanding a complete and total freeze everywhere beyond the Green Line.
He says that he will bring this to the Security Council, and ask that body to recognize a Palestinian state within these lines. With regard to this happening, I remain essentially dubious.