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OC Manpower Maj.-Gen. Elazar Stern, who was assaulted last Friday evening by Orthodox Jews at the Western Wall for his role in carrying out disengagement, said Thursday he had no remorse.
"I do not feel the need to ask forgiveness of anyone for what I did," Stern, a religious Zionist and former schoolmate of some of his most vocal critics, said in an exclusive interview with The Jerusalem Post.
"But I think there are a lot of people who should ask forgiveness from me. Especially those who did things like exploiting the Holocaust to create an artificial trauma."
Stern was referring to the use of Holocaust symbolism, such as the yellow Star of David, to protest disengagement.
Stern is a graduate of Netiv Meir High School, as are many leading religious Zionist rabbis.
He has been attacked both verbally and physically on several occasions for bucking majority opinion among religious Zionists and cooperating with the disengagement.
Stern said that he was singled out by settlers because he is religious.
"People would say, 'I understand how secular soldiers are capable of evacuating Jews, but how can you? Aren't you ashamed of yourself?'
"That is a condescending attitude. How do they know if I have more in common with someone who went to yeshiva than with someone who has fought by my side for seven years? Who says secular Israelis love the land of Israel any less than religious Israelis? These people belittle my ability to make decisions."
Stern said the success of contemporary Zionism depended on cooperation.
"My Judaism is Zionist and my Zionism is Jewish. What that means is that I understand, unlike others who fail to understand this point, that for religious Zionism to be realized there must be compromises. The world is a complex place."
Commenting on his virulent opposition to insubordination, Stern pointed out that many left-wing soldiers gave their lives to protect settlements in the Gaza Strip even though they disagreed with the policy of settling there.
"Religious people and rabbis who demanded insubordination do not understand what keeps the IDF together," he said. "Serving in the IDF is a life of working together with fellow citizens who do not necessarily share your views. It means thinking together. It means true cooperation."
Stern also criticized rabbis for advocating insubordination.
"People blame me for going against the Torah. I do not think that it had anything to do with Torah. Rabbis who came out in favor of insubordination did something terribly wrong," he said.
"I can understand a rabbi saying, 'According to my religious opinion, disengagement should not be done.' But to make a truly educated and well-rounded decision, he must take into consideration all of the ramifications of disengagement.
"For instance, there are economic considerations and defense considerations. We are saving money. Perhaps in the next 10 years soldiers lives will be saved. With the money saved, we can heal more sick people in hospitals. We can devote more resources to education.
"Therefore, I think that rabbis, and this is how I was taught in Netiv Meir, for me, rabbis need to deal with strictly halachic issues. Every time they deal with things that they do not understand, it causes a desecration of God. And I say this out of respect."
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