200 high-schoolers: We won't evict settlers

200 high-schoolers We w

A group of more than 200 high school seniors from across Israel sent a letter to Defense Minister Ehud Barak on Thursday, stating that they would refuse to take part in military actions that went against their religious beliefs, including the evacuation of outposts and settlements. The students, also known as shministim, pledged in their petition that they would refuse any order that their rabbis deemed contrary to the Torah, stating that their loyalty to the Torah preceded any other order or command. The youths made it clear that they were interested in enlisting in the army, but only under their own terms. "We consider utilizing the army for political ends and for warfare against Jews an existential danger and a destruction of the military, especially when it includes a severe transgression of the mitzva of settling the Land [of Israel]," read the letter. "We will not take part in any evacuation of any outpost or settlement in the Land of Israel, in keeping with the true values of the IDF." The letter and petition followed the leak of an IDF document outlining plans to use force to uphold the 10-month construction moratorium in the West Bank, a document the Defense Ministry later characterized as "only a draft." The letter is also seen as a response to Barak's excluding the Har Bracha Yeshiva from the hesder arrangement after its head, Rabbi Eliezer Melamed, refused to denounce insubordination in the military. The students' letter is reminiscent of initiatives by conscientious objectors from the Left, who have written to the defense minister every year since 1979 and stated their objections to serving in the military - most often citing their refusal to enlist in what they see as the army's unjust behavior toward the Palestinians. "Objectors from the Left and from the Right are completely different," said Effie Brenner, a signatory to the shministim letter sent this past October. "Insubordination among right-wing supporters is legitimate, but it comes from completely different motives. They see an act as immoral only when it is directed at a certain race," Brenner said. "Insubordination by the Left sees any immoral action as problematic, no matter who it is committed against. [Objectors from the Right] have no problems with evacuating Palestinians from their houses, but not Jews. We are acting in the name of justice, equality and against discrimination, while the right-wing objectors work toward maximal oppression of the Palestinian people." On Wednesday, IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi spoke before high school students at the 30th Zionist Youth Conference in Ashdod, talking to them about the importance of the IDF in Israeli society, and the need to fight the rising phenomenon of draft-dodging. "It is my goal that we will have a society in which everyone, religious and secular, serves. There is no reason that not everyone should contribute to the country," said Ashkenazi. Ben Hartman contributed to this report.