Attempting to bridge the gap with the settlers

National religious settlers wage war against media, claim their case remains unheard.

settlers police clash 88 (photo credit: )
settlers police clash 88
(photo credit: )
A few days after Maj. Ro'i Klein, deputy commander of the Golani Brigade's Battalion 51, and now nominated to receive posthumously the IDF's highest medal, was killed in Bint Jbail during the Second Lebanon War, two e-mails began circulating within the national religious community. In one, an unnamed writer accused the mainstream media of "hiding" the heroic way Klein had died. He had flung himself over a Hizbullah hand grenade, saving his soldiers' lives at the price of his own. The second e-mail showed three photographs of another officer in the battalion who was killed in the same incident, Lt. Amihai Merhavia. One showed the official photograph released by the IDF announcing his death. The other two showed Merhavia in civilian clothes, protesting against the evacuation of a West Bank outpost. He was being forcibly removed and almost strangled by border policemen. The caption beneath the photos said: "Don't believe what they're telling you - the youth that is fighting over the Land of Israel and against the expulsion of Jews is the same youth that is fighting and defending the northern settlements." The e-mails were part of the perception, during last summer's war in Lebanon, that the IDF and the media were not reporting that many of the soldiers and officers sacrificing their lives for their country had faced the IDF the summer before during the disengagement - from the other side. This was, of course, a rather one-sided viewpoint. Klein's heroism was widely reported. But under the weight of daily events, his story was quickly put aside to make room for fresh news. Neither did the preponderance of young national religious and settler soldiers (Klein and Merhavia lived in Eli) among the war's casualties go under-reported by the mainstream press. But feelings still run high. A year and a half after the uprooting of the Gaza Strip and northern Samaria settlements, many of the settlers have trouble identifying with an army that both protects them and might, in the not too distant future, be charged with removing them forcibly from their homes. The IDF is very aware of this situation. A senior officer, Brig.-Gen. Tal Russo, has even been tasked with smoothing over relations with the settlers, especially with the younger generation. Enlistment numbers were anxiously checked for a dip, but none apparently was found. On the other hand, there were accusations from settlers that some of their sons were being asked "political" questions during their induction process. Sunday's report that Klein has been nominated to receive the Medal of Valor, the IDF's highest honor, might be seen not only as a justified recognition of his ultimate sacrifice, but also as an attempt by the IDF to mend bridges with radicalized young settlers. How ironic that on the same day, security forces and settlers exchanged threats over Monday's planned march back to Homesh. Homesh, in northern Samaria, was the last settlement to be evacuated in the disengagement. It was also one of the few places that the moderate settler leadership lost control of events and the younger generation put up a more spirited resistance to the evacuation. Earlier Sunday, the police said anyone trying to break their way into the demolished settlement would be prosecuted and fined. Defense Minister Amir Peretz announced that he wouldn't let "extremists" through. By evening, the IDF had let it be know that an agreement had been reached that would allow the marchers to arrive in Homesh peacefully - provided they wouldn't take alternative routes through Palestinian areas. Whatever the arrangement, the demonstration has the potential to recharge tensions - particularly if the settlers insist in prolonging their stay among the ruins, or the police and soldiers use force to expel them. Peretz's threats notwithstanding, the IDF seems willing to give quite a bit of ground right now - to make sure the medal to Maj. Klein's family doesn't turn into an empty gesture.