Too ideologically close for comfort at Beit Yatir

Religious students grapple with option of evacuating neighboring outpost.

beit yatir 224.88 (photo credit: Courtesy Beit Yatir)
beit yatir 224.88
(photo credit: Courtesy Beit Yatir)
BEIT YATIR, Southern Hebron Hills - The Beit Yatir religious pre-military academy is located just a few kilometers south of Avigail, a settlement of 12 families and one of 26 illegal outposts that the IDF is preparing to evacuate. Both Beit Yatir, technically inside the Green Line, and Avigail, located outside it, are situated on these windswept rolling hills of Judea among vineyards and olive groves. They share the arid view of Massada and Arad to the east, and the barren Arava to the south. But the proximity of Beit Yatir to Avigail is not just geographic. The four dozen or so students enrolled at Yatir's academy, which is located on the site of an old Jordanian army fortress, identify ideologically with Avigail's residents. These future soldiers, like the residents of Avigail, believe that the Jewish people - under God's close guidance - have entered into a new, radically unique era of history. After nearly two millennia of wandering and powerlessness in galut [exile] the Jewish people have returned to their land, regained sovereignty and once again have the military might to assert themselves on the stage of history. Both the creation of a Jewish army and the settling of the hills of Hebron are part of the same inevitable process of national growth that will one day lead to the messianic age. However, with talk of settlement evacuation in the air again, these future soldiers and thousands of their peers who have already graduated Yatir and 16 other religious pre-military academies, face tough choices of loyalty. On Sunday, the Ministerial Outposts Committee reconvened for the first time in over a year to discuss criteria for determining the legality of settlements in Judea and Samaria. On the same day, the IDF announced that it could carry out the evacuations in a matter of weeks once the government gives the OK. The question is whether IDF soldiers who are graduates of religious pre-military academies will carry out evacuation orders. Every year about 700 graduates enlist in the IDF. These graduates, who see army service as a God-given commandment of utmost importance, are highly motivated. More than half join combat units and they are more than twice as likely to become officers. Yatir's graduates have also distinguished themselves. At least five have become deputy battalion commanders, especially in foot soldier brigades, and one is a high-ranking intelligence officer. Many serve in elite units. During the Gaza disengagement graduates of pre-military academies proved their loyalty to the IDF. Despite their personal opposition to the evacuation of Jewish settlements in Gaza and Northern Samaria, these soldiers refrained from insubordination for the sake of unity. But post-disengagement reality is different, say educators familiar with religious Zionist youth. These young men and women, educated to believe in the ideal of Greater Israel, who witnessed the traumatic scenes of Jewish families being torn from their homes, are less willing to accept compromise for the sake of national unity, say educators. Recently, in an incident that seemed to indicate a sea change in religious Zionist youths' attitude, a group of religious combat soldiers refused to cooperate in the evacuation of two Jewish families from the Arab market in Hebron. Rabbi Daniel Shilo, spokesman for the Yesha Council of Rabbis - which includes some of the leading settlement rabbis in Judea and Samaria, including Elyakim Levanon of Elon Moreh, Zalman Melamed of Beit El and Dov Lior of Kiryat Arba-Hebron - told The Jerusalem Post Monday that evacuating Jewish families from their homes was against Jewish law. "A soldier must not take part in such a crime. I see it as equivalent to using soldiers for preventing the Jews of the Diaspora from immigrating to Israel." Nevertheless, at Yatir opinions about insubordination are varied. Ariel Mazor and Dan Katz, two newly enrolled students at Yatir, are both opposed to insubordination. "I have a strong desire to integrate, to become a part of the melting pot that makes up the IDF," said Mazor, who grew up in Ra'anana. "As soldiers we must strive towards unity. Insubordination destroys unity." Katz, who spent his senior year of high school in Netivot tutoring children of needy families, agreed. "If everyone in the army decides which orders to follow and which to refuse we will have a catastrophe on our hands." However, Motti, a second year student at Yatir [about half of Yatir's students remain for a second year of studies] said he doubted many of his peers would be able to bring themselves to evacuate a settlement like Avigail. "It is too close, we are too attached," said Motti. "Besides, a few of the guys here come from families that were expelled from Gush Katif. How could they do the same thing to someone else?" Rabbi Col. (res.) Moshe Hagar-Lau, a deputy tank division commander, who heads Yatir, preferred not to discuss the issue of insubordination. "I believe that he [Prime Minister Ehud Olmert] does not have a majority in his government that would back the expulsion of Jews. So the question of insubordination is not even relevant."