Efrat symposium tackles tensions between IDF and settlers

“From Protest to Clash” meeting was initiated by Efrat Mayor following clashes last month between settlers and IDF forces.

police settler violence 311 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
police settler violence 311
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
High school students in Gush Etzion affirmed their feelings last Thursday that the IDF is “their army” and that the State of Israel is “their country,” but leaders of the settlement bloc were critical of IDF officials who refused to take part in an evening of discussion that was intended to diffuse tensions between the settler community and security forces.
The evening, titled “From Protest to Clash,” was initiated by Efrat Mayor Oded Revivi following clashes last month between settlers and IDF forces in the Jordan Valley and the Samaria region. For three hours, about 250 teenagers, educators and community members listened to speeches, participated in roundtable discussions and informal conversations about the IDF’s place in settlement life and the settlers’ place in the army.
Revivi, a brigadier-general in the reserves, said the evening was crucial because of the widespread feeling among non-religious Israelis that all settlers support so-called “price-tag” attacks on IDF soldiers or Arab targets.
“Anybody who could even think about raising a hand against an IDF soldier fails to understand what a miracle it is that we live here, that we have a sovereign Jewish nation in the Land of Israel,” Revivi said.
Revivi said the evening was a success because it opened a serious discussion about a sore issue for many settlers. But he added that the event was incomplete because the army and “other groups” refused to attend. He declined to say which “other groups” had been invited to the conference.
“I don’t know what sort of message the army thinks it is sending to our community by refusing to participate in a dialogue with us, and particularly with our young people. The army would do well to understand that although the IDF is entrusted with military command, it is not the IDF’s army. It is all of our army,” said Revivi.
Revivi also noted that the event took place after the Orthodox community completed the Tenth of Tevet fast, and said the timing was not coincidental.
“By choosing this date, the message we’re trying to get across is clear: We – and by “we” I mean all sectors of Israeli society - if we don’t realize that, for all our differences, we are all family, that we are all in this together, we could find ourselves in a similar situation today, God forbid,” he said.
The event was attended by high school and post-high school students from around Israel, including a strong contingent of boys without kippot on their heads and girls dressed in tight jeans instead of the long skirts favored by many young women in the national-religious sector. Aside from Revivi, the list of speakers included Rabbi Avichai Ronsky, a former IDF chief rabbi; Uzi Dayan, Dr. Gabi Avital, the chairman of Professors for a Strong Israel and an former chief scientist at the Education Ministry; and Ra'aya Ben- David, a 12th-grade student at the Neve Chana girls high school in Gush Etzion. The speeches were followed by roundtable discussions facilitated by teachers, rabbis and other public figures from the national-religious community.
Six-and-a-half years after Israel pulled out of the Gaza Strip, settlement leaders continue to talk about the disengagement as a watershed moment in the downward spiral between the national-religious community and the IDF, but most of the young people who agreed to be interviewed for this story said the event does not play a significant role in their consciousness. Most said they barely remembered the trauma of the pullout and spoke strongly in favor of national service and against people who attack soldiers.
“If things aren’t perfect, I think about what I contribute in order to make things better,” said Ra'aya Ben-David. “Think about how you react when you get angry. Do you react when you are angry and all emotional, or do you stop, take a deep breath and try to make it better?" she asked.
However, other teenagers said their daily experiences in the settlements contributed to mixed feelings about the army and the state.
“On one hand, I know the IDF is there to protect me, but outside my house in Tekoa, we can see Arabs building all the time, but the army won’t do anything about it. But if we build one tiny little house without a permit, the army is there the next day to tear it down. Many times it feels like the army is against me, not protecting me,” said one 17- year-old who only identified himself by his nickname, Migdo.
Migdo said he “rejects” people who attack the army, but he added that he can understand where those people are coming from.
“We’re always portrayed as the enemy, as those crazy settlers who had to go out and live in Judea and Samaria. The army has come so many times to destroy so many homes – how long can you expect people to sit back and be silent?”