homesh idf evac sign 248.
(photo credit: Courtesy of Miri Tzachi (Homesh Tehila))
Two IDF recruits from the infantry's Shimshon Battalion were sentenced to 20 days in a military jail and ejected from their unit by a military tribunal on Sunday for engaging in an illegal demonstration. The two held up a banner protesting the army's evacuation of an illegal settlement outpost last Thursday during a swearing-in ceremony at the Kotel.
Their actions have sparked a media firestorm and a debate over whether pro-settlement ideological organizations were increasingly undermining the IDF's chain of command.
"Shimshon does not evacuate Homesh," read a large hand-written sign held up by the soldiers during the ceremony.
The recruits were tried by Col. Oren Aman, commander of the Kfir Division, to which the Shimshon Battalion belongs.
IDF Chief of General Staff. Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi, took a dim view of the action by the recruits, the IDF said, adding that he categorically rejected "the use of IDF soldiers or commander to promote any political interest," and that such acts had the potential of damaging the IDF's apolitical status.
OC Central Command Maj.-Gen. Avi Mizrahi said, "We must ensure that the IDF is not dragged into the political discourse and guard against the creation of factionalism in the military, which is the people's military."
On Friday, images and video of the protest spread around the media like wildfire, and the IDF has since become suspicious that a pro-settlement organization called Homesh T'hila (Homesh First) organized the media stunt.
Speaking to The Jerusalem Post on Sunday, a member of Homesh T'hila denied the group organized the protest, but said he was proud of the soldiers for taking a public stand.
"We would have been proud to organize this, but we didn't," said the activist, who wished to remain anonymous.
"We didn't know it would happen. We had information that relatives of soldiers were planning to demonstrate during the swearing-in ceremony, and so we dispatched a photographer and told her to be on the lookout for a protest. Only later did we see soldiers - secular and religious - hold up the signs. We are very proud of them," he added.
Homesh, a settlement in northern Samaria, was evacuated by the IDF during the 2005 disengagement. Over the past two years, settler activists have returned to the site and established illegal outposts there, which are periodically cleared by the army.
"There is a great deal of resentment over the fact that this battalion is working mostly against Jews. It's been taking down outposts on Saturdays deliberately to provoke the settlers. Therefore the soldiers took this unprecedented step," the activist added.
Asked whether such acts did not undermine the IDF's ability to remain outside political debate, the source said, "I think the commanders of the battalion and the Judea and Samaria Division should think long and hard over why such an unprecedented act took place.
"Some of the soldiers who took part are not religious and are not settlers. They feel that the army has, over the past year-and-a-half, been fighting only against the Jews."
He added, "I hope they reach the needed conclusions."