Sensitivity at Oz Zion

But it is preferable, when possible, to use intelligence and sensitivity when enforcing IDF orders. What happened at Oz Zion is proof.

Demolished structure in Oz Zion outpost 370 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Demolished structure in Oz Zion outpost 370
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Perhaps as many as 300 religious high school-aged boys gathered at Oz Zion – an outpost at the entrance of Beit El – to spend a Shabbat engaging in collective praying, Torah learning and singing.
We have nothing against uplifting spiritual retreats in the heart of nature. Such events can be a formative experience for youths.
Unfortunately, this particular retreat took place in an area of Samaria designated by the IDF to be closed to civilians due to military considerations. Organizers were well aware of this fact but conveniently decided to ignore it. The youths who made their way to Oz Zion did so on Shabbat eve.
Planners purposely and provocatively created an untenable situation in which the IDF would be faced with the unsavory prospect of beginning a forced evacuation of a large group of people that would inevitably drag on into Shabbat.
Initially, that is precisely what Border Police and the IDF began doing, despite knowing that the youths had all the while planned to leave Oz Zion on Saturday night of their own free will. In hindsight, the initial attempts at evacuation were unwise. And security forces might have used excessive force, as claimed by the settler youth. But there was absolutely no excuse for the rock throwing on the part of the settlers, which left five Border Police officers lightly wounded, or the puncturing of the tires of a Border Police vehicle.
Ultimately, reason prevailed and a rerun of the scenes of bloody clashes witnessed at Amona was sagaciously avoided thanks to the levelheaded leadership of IDF officers on the scene – many of whom themselves products of religious-Zionist schooling who identify ideologically with the settler youth – and the intervention of Likud MK Ze’ev Elkin, chairman of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense subcommittee on Judea and Samaria. The IDF achieved the desired outcome – evacuation of the area – without the need to resort to force that could have easily deteriorated into violence.
On Saturday, after the youths evacuated the area, IDF bulldozers destroyed the illegal structures in accordance with military orders.
In parallel, the youths made a political statement calling for Jewish settlement of land adjacent to Beit El, which Defense Minister Ehud Barak recently admitted would be part of any future two-state solution with the Palestinians. Hopefully, Chief Rabbi of Safed Shmuel Eliyahu and other rabbis who spent the Shabbat at Oz Zion made it clear to the impressionable youths that while it is legitimate to peaceably demonstrate in favor of Jewish settlements, expressions of violence against IDF soldiers or Border Police troops is reprehensible and must be banned unequivocally. The vast majority of young men who took part in the Shabbat will themselves soon serve in the army. Many might become officers in combat units. It is absolutely imperative that they learn to show respect for an institution tasked with protecting Israelis from their many enemies.
Meanwhile, IDF officers serving in Judea and Samaria should avoid unnecessary clashes with religious-Zionist youths.
Oz Zion should serve as an example to IDF officers of how to avoid violent confrontations while achieving security objectives through dialogue and compromise.
Too many young religious-Zionist men and women have become disenchanted with the IDF due to its role in evacuating Jewish settlements, particularly during the 2005 disengagement from the Gaza Strip and northern Samaria.
The IDF should be sensitive to this and take care to reduce to a minimum this conflict with a highly patriotic, idealistic segment of the population. The IDF is, of course, the final arbiter of security considerations in Judea and Samaria and elsewhere in Israel. And if the IDF determines that places such as Oz Zion must remain a restricted military zone, this decision must be respected.
But it is preferable, when possible, to use intelligence and sensitivity when enforcing IDF orders. What happened at Oz Zion is proof.