Settlers struggle to keep fighting top priority

A year ago today, IDF officers arrived at all the houses in the settlements in Gush Katif to hand out the official notices stating that the inhabitants were about to be evicted. The officers belonged to the specially formed units that were going to begin and carry out the evacuations two days later, expect for at one settlement. Golani commander Col. Erez Zuckerman asked to be allowed to distribute the orders together with the brigade's officers at the southernmost settlement in the Gush, Morag. Zuckerman wanted to use this gesture to show Golani's sympathy for the settlers' sacrifice. He also made sure that all the families in the Gush who had sons who had been killed in action serving in Golani would be evacuated only by the brigade's soldiers. Some high-ranking officers dismissed Zuckerman's initiative as a brilliant PR stunt, but there was a hidden motive. The percentage of religious soldiers and those living in settlements is particularly high in Golani, at all the levels of command. The concern of the IDF command was of an avalanche of soldiers refusing to carry out their orders as a protest against disengagement, especially in units like Golani. In the end the cases of official refusals were isolated and there were none in Golani, officially. The truth was that Zuckerman and his officers dealt with dozens of soldiers on the verge of refusing orders, but they managed to close all these cases "within the brigade." In one case, a soldier was on his way to join his unit near Gush Katif, planning to refuse orders in public. Zuckerman met him by coincidence on the way and when he understood the soldier's intentions, immediately transferred out of the brigade, robbing him of his chance. A year later, Golani is once again in the limelight as one of the units baring the full brunt of the fighting in Lebanon, having already lost already five soldiers in the first battles in Maroun A-Ras and Bint Jbail. There is no talk of insubordination. Well almost - a group of soldiers from Golani who were assigned to guard duty within Israel threatened to run away if they were not sent to join their friends up north. Also the privates undergoing their basic training have been moved to duty up north, guarding kibbutzim on the border. The officers are insisting that despite the losses, the morale in the brigade has never been higher. But not everyone is pleased to see this sudden consensus around a common cause. Over the past week, right-wing elements have been e-mailing photographs of Capt. Amihai Merhavia, killed last week. In the e-mail there are photographs of Merhavia grappling with border policemen who were evacuating the Gilad Farm outpost, of him lying on the ground after being beaten by the policemen and then the official photo the IDF released after announcing his death. The e-mail also reminds its readers that Merhavia was suspended from service after writing a letter to Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Dan Halutz criticizing disengagement. He was returned to Golani following demands by his senior officers. He was killed together with Maj. Ro'i Klein, his neighbor in the settlement Eli. Unlike last year, no one is worried this summer about discipline in Golani. However, if all goes according to Ehud Olmert's plans and in another summer, a year or two down the road, the IDF again is evacuating settlements, it will be a totally different picture.