A street in an evacuated settlement was named after him by the residents, and his heroism has been evoked by right-wing activists as a symbol of resistance to the disengagement from the Gaza Strip
. But for Avi Bieber, the first IDF soldier to refuse military orders in the run-up to the summer evacuation, fame and publicity were the last things on his mind.
Even now, close to half a year later, Bieber still speaks about the incident on the Gaza Strip sand dunes with a mixture of anger and excitement. Freshly discharged from the army, Bieber, whose family made aliya from New Jersey
nine years ago, speaks freely about his refusal of orders and what pushed him to disobey the military he said he still loved.
"Everyone knew I wasn't going to participate in the evacuation and it is as much their fault as mine," Bieber told The Jerusalem Post
Thursday. "I spoke with all of my commanders and everyone knew I wasn't going to do it. I told them I wasn't going to be part of the disengagement. I said I would not [even] wash a fork that someone ate from to expel Jews."
In late June, Bieber's combat engineering unit was deployed to secure a beachfront strip of land in Gush Katif which the army feared would be taken over by anti-disengagement activists. Watching over the bulldozers as they demolished single-story houses, Bieber noticed his commanders beginning to scuffle with right-wing activists attempting to stop the demolitions.
"We got there and we hadn't been given any orders and I thought we were destroying Arab houses and that Arabs would come and riot," he recalled. "[But] Jews came and I saw my officers grab a Jew and throw him to the floor, and I needed to get out of there." In response to the violence, Bieber said he began to scream and told his sergeant that he needed his space and couldn't continue to watch "Jews expel Jews."
"I made aliya to make Jews more secure here and to populate the country," he explained. "I volunteered for a combat unit to help Jews and the disengagement was against that."
Bieber was arrested immediately and stood trial before his superiors. Sentenced to 56 days in prison, Bieber was transferred to Prison 4 in Tzrifin. But even before he got there he knew, by the dozens of phone calls, that he had done the right thing. An 80-year-old Holocaust survivor, Bieber said, called him and said that he put on tefillin for the first time in 40 years after watching the refusal of orders on television.
"When I walked into the prison I got a standing ovation from the prisoners and it made me feel that what I did was right," he said.
Three months ago, Bieber got out of jail and was released from active duty. He now spends his time studying for his matriculation exams to improve his scores, and dreams of studying architecture. He is also asked once in a while to give a lecture to religious students on the eve of their conscription.
What does he tell them? "I think we need the army and shouldn't disobey orders," he said. "But this [disengagement] was an immoral order. I believe everyone should go to the army but not if it is an immoral order. We are supposed to protect Jews."