Thirty-eight soldiers from the Duchifat battalion, all of whom came out of the hesder system, refused orders to fill in for IDF forces that had been sent to evacuate two Jewish homes in Hebron yesterday. Of the 38, most reconsidered when faced with punishment, but 12 continued to refuse and were sentenced to jail for two to four weeks and banned from combat army service.
This event has rightly set off alarm bells. Defense Minister Ehud Barak said: "Our army is the only army we have, and the soldiers receive their orders from their commanders and no one else, no matter how important or honorable he might be.... We intend to deal with and drastically limit this phenomenon."
We agree with Barak. Even those who oppose the evacuation in Hebron, as does Maj.-Gen. (res.) Ya'acov Amidror, should realize as he did that, "There is only one thing that is worse than the decision to expel Jews from their homes in Hebron... and that is to ruin the army... Disobeying an order is a sure way to ruin the army."
Refusing orders on ideological grounds is morally indefensible regardless of which end of the political spectrum motivates it. Just as it is wrong for the Left to refuse to serve in the territories, it is wrong for the Right to refuse to evacuate them. The reason is the same: Neither side has the right to arrogate its own authority in place of our elected government, even if that government is unpopular or mistaken.
Perhaps even more disturbing than the actions of the soldiers is the support they have received from rabbis and politicians. In an interview with Army Radio, Safed Chief Rabbi Shmuel Eliahu, son of former chief rabbi Mordechai Eliahu, said he supported the soldiers' decision to refuse orders. He said he was relying on the halachic decision of Rabbi David Lior, chief rabbi of the settler community, and that the "wicked and corrupt" High Court of Justice would not decide where or what to evacuate.
"This is clearly an illegal order," MK Zvi Hendel said. "There is a limit to the extent to which the Jews can be abused, only because the extreme Left has taken over the Supreme Court. The IDF needs to prepare for war and not deal with political policing actions."
Who are these rabbis who presume to overrule the state? Who are these politicians who presume to pronounce Supreme Court decisions "illegal"?
The recent controversy over the small but growing number of secular Israelis who avoid army service has prompted calls for various boycotts, such as of entertainers who avoid service. Whether with respect to avoiding service or refusing orders, the reaction of society at large is crucial to limiting the phenomenon.
In the former case, IDF leaders have been calling for restoring the societal stigma against avoiding service. A more productive direction might be to increase motivation to serve by doing a better job of educating our children about their country, how it got here and what free people need to do to stay free.
In the case of refusal, education is also part of the answer, but so are swift and unmistakable actions.
We have strongly resisted calls to dismantle the hesder yeshiva system, whereby soldiers combine yeshiva study with army service. But such steps must be considered when the yeshivas concerned produce excellent soldiers who, in this case, decided to follow extremist rabbis rather than their commanders en masse.
The least that should be done is for the IDF to end any association with yeshivot or rabbis that support or have produced soldiers who refuse orders. Further, any rabbis who support refusal should be removed from state-supported jobs.
We have only one country and it has only one army. An army cannot function if its orders can be overruled by other authorities, whether of a religious or secular variety. Just as the army protects us, we must protect it by refusing to stand idly by as currents that undermine it arise and strengthen. Without our army, the question of the morality of the state's actions will be moot, since we won't have a state.