(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Warning of a growing wave of insubordination, senior defense officials called on Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi on Tuesday to work to withdraw the IDF's support of hesder yeshivas whose heads have called on their students to refuse military orders.
On Monday, 12 soldiers refused orders to man a checkpoint near Hebron ahead of the evacuation of two stalls in the West Bank city's marketplace on Tuesday. The 12 were sentenced to 28 days in prison.
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"This type of insubordination needs to be uprooted from its core," explained a senior IDF officer. "It is not enough to punish the soldiers, but the rabbis they consulted with and who gave them permission to refuse the orders also need to be punished."
Following the disengagement from Gaza, then-chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. (res.) Dan Halutz announced that he would work to revoke the arrangement with a number of hesder yeshivas whose heads called on soldiers to refuse orders. The decision, however, was never implemented.
Hesder, first created over three decades ago to allow religious soldiers to combine Torah studies with military service, today encompasses about 6,000 soldier-students and about 40 yeshivas across the country. It is a five-year program during which the students serve 16 months in the IDF.
On Tuesday, Defense Minister Ehud Barak voiced concern with Monday's act of insubordination and said that such a phenomenon did not have a place in the IDF.
"Our army is the only army we have and the soldiers receive their orders solely from their commanders and no one else no matter how important, honorable or worthy they might be," Barak said Tuesday during a visit to the IDF Ground Forces Training Base in Tze'elim. "There is no place among us for insubordination."
Speaking to a group of reserve officers, Barak added that he planned to take action to curb the growing number of youth who evade military service. "We intend to deal with and drastically limit this phenomenon," he declared.
Barak went on to say that he believed one way of reducing insubordination and draft dodging would be for Israeli society to find the right way to express its appreciation by compensating and offering incentives to reservists who "carry a difficult burden."
In addition to revoking hesder status from certain yeshivas, defense officials also called on OC Human Resources Maj.-Gen. Elazar Stern to speed up a process he had set in motion last year to dismantle segregated platoons for hesder soldiers and instead integrate them into regular military units. Officers said Tuesday that by integrating the hesder students - viewed as potential refusers - into regular units, the IDF would significantly minimize the chances of entire platoons refusing to obey orders.
"There is no reason for the hesder students to be in segregated units," one officer said. "It will also reduce the chances of mass refusal since when they are separated the hesder students will be more reluctant to refuse orders on their own."
Earlier Tuesday, Zehava Gal-On (Meretz) wrote a letter to Barak, calling for the immediate dismantlement of hesder yeshivot.
Gal-On also said that rabbis who urged soldiers to refuse the IDF orders must stand trial.
"These rabbis are part of a rebellious leadership revolting against government and Knesset legislation," wrote the Meretz MK.
Meanwhile, Knesset Education Committee chairman MK Michael Melchior (Labor-Meimad) also berated the soldiers' insubordination. Melchior said that the "soldiers, parents, and rabbis are cynically using the Torah for political aims."
"The insubordinates are endangering the army and the existence of the State of Israel," warned Melchior.