Chaplain, central command differ over Shabbat evacuations

Committee clarifies IDF position on evacuating right wing activists.

Rafi Peretz (photo credit: IDF)
Rafi Peretz
(photo credit: IDF)
Shabbat evacuations of settler encampments, illegal outposts and closed military zones are only permissible if they are done in order to save lives, Chief Chaplain Brig.-Gen. Rafi Peretz emphasized, during a meeting Sunday of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.
After a push by settlers’ advocates, the committee heard from top IDF and Defense Ministry representatives who clarified the IDF’s position on these evacuations.
Settler activists have complained that security forces have repeatedly evacuated people from the site of the former settlement of Homesh on Shabbat.
Peretz said that it is the local commander who is responsible for determining whether or not a Shabbat evacuation is necessary.
In the event that such a step is deemed necessary, he said, the evacuees should be taken to the nearest safe place, rather than to a local police station, as is frequently the practice.
But the Central Command’s Chief of Staff Brig.-Gen Moti Almoz disagreed with Peretz’s conclusion, insisting that since the evacuees had broken the law, they should be taken to a police station.
Homesh was one of two northern Samarian settlements evacuated during the 2005 disengagement.
Although the area has since been declared a closed military zone, activists have repeatedly gathered at the site, building sheds and cabins and “moving in” to live atop the settlement’s ruins.
Although the efforts by activists to live in Homesh – and security forces to evacuate them – have been ongoing in the five years since the disengagement, activists said it is only in the past year that the activists have been removed – and sometimes detained – on Shabbat and holidays. The activists have complained that such evacuations constitute violations of Shabbat.
The activists said that the security forces would tell them the evacuation had to be conducted on the holy days due to security conditions, such as intelligence warnings of planned terror attacks on the activists.
But the activists said that they did not believe that such intelligence warnings actually existed, and that they were simply a cover for the security forces’ actions. They stressed that military regulations allow IDF operations on Shabbat only for the purpose of saving lives, and not for law enforcement.
Although the acting committee chairman, MK Ze’ev Elkin (Likud), suggested that the panel accept Peretz’s guidelines as the committee’s own conclusions, Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilna’i objected, accusing him of violating the IDF’s chain of command.
The ultimate voice in the army’s decision-making process, said Vilna’i, is not the chief chaplain but rather the chief of General Staff, who may choose whether or not to approve Peretz’s conclusions.