Analysis: The IDF and settlers: The new ground rules

Three decades after Gush Emunim, the dilemma of how to resist evacuation is still a sensitive issue.

outpost evacuation 88 (photo credit: )
outpost evacuation 88
(photo credit: )
In the mid-Seventies, Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda Kook, the spiritual mentor of the Gush Emunim settlers movement, was asked by his students what was the correct way to resist the IDF arriving to evacuate them from a hilltop in Samaria. His instruction was never to use violence, physical or verbal, against the soldiers. So as not to cooperate in the eviction, the rabbi's followers were told to resist as "sacks of potatoes," forcing the soldiers to bodily remove them. That didn't totally solve the question, as some of them preferred to act as "sacks of moving potatoes." Three decades later, the dilemma of how to resist evacuation is still a sensitive issue. On Wednesday, the youngsters who camped out at the destroyed settlement of Homesh opted for the inert potato sack option. This does not mean that the option of using more violent means in the future has in any way been ruled out. The traumatic confrontation 14 months ago at the Amona outpost where the security forces were greeted with a hail of rocks and responded with a mounted charge and a storm of baton beatings is still seen by the younger generation of settlers as an heroic stand. There has been very little soul searching, if any over whether that was the right course to take, with accusations being leveled exclusively at the police. So why was the outcome this time relatively peaceful? For one thing, they weren't defending a living settlement this time. Despite the declarations of rebuilding Homesh, no one really believed that this round would be more than a symbolic demonstration. In addition, the settlers were allowed one major achievement in their eyes: actually reaching Homesh, a closed military area, with over 2,000 people staying there for almost two days and holding the brit of Limor Har-Melech's son at the place which her murdered first husband had sworn to defend. After receiving these concessions, they agreed to be peacefully evicted. Both sides have now established the ground rules for future confrontations. The IDF and police have demonstrated that they won't let the settlers reestablish themselves in the evacuated areas, and they are still capable of using force if needed. But they will do a lot to prevent another punch-up. Senior army officers showed the same inclinations last week when, instead of rushing to evacuate settlers from a controversial building in Hebron, they gave them time to prove the authenticity of their purchase. The settlers have once again proven capable of mobilizing thousands of activists, prepared to march for kilometers, climb over rocks and spend nights on freezing hillsides. They were also making it quite clear this week that their future cooperation is not a foregone conclusion, and it will have to be reciprocated. Two elements are firmly out of the equation. The first is the official settler leadership, the Council of Jewish Settlements in Judea, Samaria and Gaza. Discredited among the younger generation for failing to put up a more spirited resistance to the disengagement, they proved powerless to prevent the violence at Amona, and for now they have been relegated to the sidelines. The council now deals mainly with municipal issues and is searching for a new role. The IDF negotiated the outcome of the Homesh showdown with a new, younger and much more radical leadership. Even more irrelevant is Defense Minister Amir Peretz, nominally in charge of upholding the law in the West Bank. Peretz said at the beginning of the week that he would not allow "extremists" to reach Homesh, only to discover that officers had already reached an agreement with the extremists. Neither was he informed about the planned house entrance in Hebron, despite the IDF being aware of it in advance. Only nine months ago, Peretz ordered the security forces to prepare the evacuation of three major settler outposts. A day before it was to take place, Hamas attacked and Cpl. Gilad Schalit was captured. Since then it's all been downhill for Peretz, and he has nowhere near the necessary credibility to order such a procedure.