negohot nachshon soldiers 248.88.
(photo credit: Courtesy of Negohot resident Asaf Freed)
Following the sentencing of four Nahshon Battalion soldiers for a protest against the demolition of two illegal settlement structures, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said that subordination was essential to a functional IDF.
"Insubordination will lead to the downfall of the state," he said during a visit to an army base, adding that Israel relied on its army, which is based on discipline.
The four soldiers on Monday hung a banner reading "Nahshon also does not expel" from the roof of a building at their base to protest the razing of two illegal structures near the Negohot settlement. Two of the soldiers were sentenced to 20 and 14 days in the brig, respectively, while two others were sentenced to four-week confinement.
On Monday, two other soldiers from the battalion were sentenced to 30 days in the brig and expelled from combat and command positions for being the lead perpetrators of the incident.
IDF Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi, who was accompanying the prime minister, told Israel Radio that "there is no place for insubordination and rebellion" in the Israeli military.
Earlier, the army issued a statement condemning the soldiers' protest. "Any attempt to involve the IDF in political discourse is inappropriate," it said.
Maj.-Gen. Yair Naveh told Army Radio that "if the issue of insubordination in the IDF is not rooted out, it could ruin the army from the inside."
Also speaking to Israel Radio was Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilna'i, who asserted that it must be made clear "who in the IDF has the authority to issue commands."
The soldiers, hesder yeshiva students from West Bank settlements, did not take part in the evacuation at Negohot. The Nahshon Battalion did, however, provide general security for the perimeter surrounding the homes that were evacuated by the Border Police.
On October 23, soldiers from the Shimshon Battalion waved a banner during their swearing-in ceremony at the Western Wall that read, "Shimshon will not evacuate Homesh," a reference to one of four settlements in northern Samaria that were evacuated during the 2005 disengagement. Both the Shimshon and Nahshon battalions are part of the Kfir Brigade.
Following Monday's protest, Kadima MK Nahman Shai on Tuesday issued a statement suggesting that "something is rotten in the Kfir Brigade."
Several rabbis and Yesha Council chair Danny Dayan also expressed their opposition to the soldiers' actions.
"I say this to all factions: If we want a 'people's army,' we mustn't operate according to our political views," Rabbi Rafi Peretz of Atzmona said on Tuesday.
Speaking on Israel Radio, the rabbi stated that "things on the sidelines" - a clear reference to the 2005 disengagement from the Gaza Strip, which he had personally experienced - "did not represent the IDF."
Wars against Israel's enemies lie "at the heart" of its army, said Peretz, stressing that "everything else" must be regarded gently, cautiously, and with great respect to the soldiers for whom the task of evacuation is "very difficult" to perform.
"It's not about the sign (held up by the soldiers)," the rabbi clarified. "It's about soldiers who are friends of [those being evacuated]. Commanders must make that distinction."
Asked about concerns that Religious Zionism was no longer dedicated to the state of Israel, Peretz was adamant that the movement had proven its fierce, "unceasing" loyalty during numerous wars. The damage done, he said, was to the consensus in Israel concerning its military. Peretz suggested that responsibility for evacuations "be transferred from the IDF to the Border Police."
According to a source in the IDF's Central Command, the soldiers involved in waving the banner study in yeshivot in northern Samaria, a center of right-wing political extremism. Two of them, the source said, were students of Rabbi Elyakim Levanon from Elon Moreh, who has in the past called on his students to refuse evacuation orders.
"An operation was conducted which was reckless, negative and bad," explained Levanon during an Army Radio interview on Tuesday afternoon, alluding to the Gaza disengagement and subsequent settlement evacuations. "The IDF must be scrubbed clean of this," he said, assuring decision-makers that there was nothing to be gained from involving the army in "controversial political matters" at the soldiers' expense.
"When the IDF is suddenly called upon to evacuate some building or caravan which has been standing for years - it is a political operation," said Levanon. "When soldiers are coerced into participating in political acts which have no bearing on Israel's security, they sometimes react," the rabbi said.
Religious Zionist soldiers, stressed the rabbi, "exemplify obedience," but said was no surprise that soldiers react unfavorably to commands asking them to evacuate friends and relatives - in effect, "demanding that one brother strike another."
Also speaking to Israel Radio on the issue was IDF Chief Education Officer Brig.-Gen. Eli Shermeister, who asserted that although two incidents of insubordination had "occurred one after the other," all they signified was that "a small number of soldiers crossed red lines and must be punished."
Shermeister added that "the IDF will not be able to fulfill its mission if discipline and codes of conduct are not enforced."
When asked if the IDF would "witness to a phenomenon of rebellion" in the future, Shermeister replied that the Religious Zionist leadership, the IDF and its soldiers had been put to the test during the disengagement and proven they could "get the job done" despite their differences.
Confronted with Rabbi Levanon's allegations concerning the exploitation of the military for political purposes, Shermeister firmly stated that "the army does not pick its battles and mustn't get involved in political issues. The IDF is subordinate to [Israel's] leadership."
Yaakov Katz and Matthew Wagner contributed to this report.