Analysis: Soldiers' insubordination a growing concern to IDF brass

Analysis Soldiers insu

negohot nachshon soldiers 248.88 (photo credit: Courtesy of Negohot resident Asaf Freed)
negohot nachshon soldiers 248.88
(photo credit: Courtesy of Negohot resident Asaf Freed)
In August 2007, 12 soldiers from the Duhifat Battalion refused to climb aboard a bus departing their base in the Jordan Valley and meant to take them to Hebron, where they were slated to provide perimeter security during the planned evacuation of a home taken over by settlers. Last month, two soldiers from the Shimshon Battalion pulled out a banner reading "Shimshon does not evacuate Homesh," - a reference to the northern Samaria settlement evacuated during the 2005 disengagement - during their swearing-in ceremony at the Western Wall in Jerusalem. On Monday, in the latest act of insubordination, several soldiers from the Nahshon Battalion were suspended and punished by their commander for waving a banner reading "Nahshon also does not expel," from the rooftop of a building on their base in the southern Hebron Hills, and shortly after the Border Police razed two illegal homes in the Negohot outpost. While the three incidents took place in different battalions, all of the battalions are part of the same brigade - Kfir. The Kfir Brigade, commanded by Col. Oren Avman, is the largest brigade in the IDF, with six battalions, while most infantry brigades have just four. The brigade was officially established in 2005 and brought together the Nahshon, Duhifat, Shimshon, Lavi, Haruv and Netzah Yehuda battalions, which until then had operated in the West Bank without a clear framework. The results have been impressive. In 2009, for example, the brigade was responsible for 70 percent of all arrests of Palestinian terror suspects in the West Bank. Senior officers in the Central Command praised the brigade, which had earlier in the year come under criticism after several cases of violence against Palestinians were exposed by the media. At the time, the violence against Palestinians was described as an anomaly, but to some extent it was understood within the IDF, since the Kfir Brigade's soldiers have the most interaction with the Palestinian population in the West Bank. While the Nahal, Givati and Paratrooper's Brigades switch off tours between the West Bank, the border with Gaza, and the Lebanese front, the Kfir Brigade is permanently deployed in the West Bank, manning checkpoints and conducting arrest raids 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The recent wave of insubordination is linked to this deployment. Firstly, it is the Kfir Brigade battalions that are chosen to provide general security for evacuations which are carried out by the Border Police. In addition, in recent years, since the IDF Manpower Division has cut the number of hesder students who are drafted into the traditional infantry brigades, Kfir has seen a rise in the number of soldiers it gets from yeshivas, many of which are located in the West Bank. The two Nahshon soldiers, for example, are from settlements and both serve in the IDF via the hesder program, which combines yeshiva learning with military service. While hesder students are for the most part loyal to the IDF, senior officers are concerned about a growing trend within this group of soldiers to heed their rabbis' advice or rulings over obeying their commanders' orders. For this reason, Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi has issued a standing order that IDF soldiers do not participate in actual evacuations, but are limited to providing perimeter security, at a distance from the scene. This, however, does not appear to be preventing insubordination, and behind closed doors, IDF officers are increasingly concerned that there may be massive wave of refusals in the event of larger evacuations in the West Bank, possibly under a peace deal with the Palestinians. Aside from prosecuting the insubordinate soldiers and issuing a condemnation, the IDF's hands are tied. What could make a difference is for the rabbis and settler leaders who these youth follow to understand that their advice and actions ultimately undermine the Israel's democratic and Jewish character.