Jerusalem -- Insightfulness doesn’t readily leap to mind as the defining characteristic of Ehud Barak, the failed prime minister whose midnight dispatch of the IDF from south Lebanon set the stage for Hezbollah’s takeover of that strategic area and the disastrous 2006 Lebanese war. But even a stopped clock tells the right time twice a day and Barak, in his second incarnation as Israel’s defense minister, set the chimes ringing a couple of weeks ago when he observed that “any state that wishes to live can have only one army.”
Israel could wind up with two armies, or maybe half an army under an Olmert government that seems hell- bent on blowing the morale of the IDF, already badly bruised in the 2005 Gush Katif evacuation, out of the water. One army might remain dedicated to carrying out any order sent down by an increasingly unhinged “political echelon.” However, there’s a second army, with a rising representation among Israel ’s elite combat units, that is assembling under the banner of a 1947 “Nuremberg Judgement,” which, in the words of Professor Louis Rene Beres, unequivocally asserts that “the obligation to disobey military orders contrary to any state’s survival is generic and universal.” Member of Knesset Dr . Aryeh Eldad envisions a third, even worse scenario . If the government’s enlistment of IDF muscle in the expulsion of Jews from their homes is not halted, he warns, “we may remain with no army.”
The split opened in the IDF’s ranks at Gush Katif and northern Samaria was further widened this past summer with the refusal of 12 solders of the Kfir regiment, including two company commanders, to participate in the evacuation of two Jewish families that had taken up residence in a shuttered Hebron market adjacent to the city’s tiny Jewish quarter, which the courts have ruled to be under legal Jewish ownership. The 12 refusers were promptly court-martialed and packed off to prison for 28 days, sparking an uproar that has swept Knesset members, rabbis, parents and soldiers, including a retired general, into its orbit.
A furious Avner Cohen, father of Sgt. Haim Cohen, one of the jailed 12, charged that his son “was paying the price for the outrageous removal of Jews in the Land of Israel .” Additional weight to Cohen’s allegation was provided by what may have once have seemed the most unlikely of sources. General Yaacov Armidor (Res.), one of the IDF’s most respected intelligence experts, declared outright that “the reason for the evacuation of the families from Hebron was not strategic, but political.” MK Eldad, the Knesset’s passionate critic of Jewish evacuation, echoed Armidor’s conclusion some weeks later, as he joined a hike by some 2,000 residents of Efrat, the Gush Etzion community just outside of Jerusalem , to five empty hilltops within the boundaries of its state owned charter. The Olmert government, waving the sword of the IDF, has declared the hilltops to be land upon which Efrat may not build to accommodate an expanding population and strengthen its security. “Instead of fighting Israel ’s enemies,” Eldad asserted, “the IDF has become a political army. The failures of the next war are already written on the wall.”
To the daily Ha’aretz, the institutional voice of Israel ’s ruling elite, the message speaks for itself. “The ideological refusal to evacuate settlers,” the newspaper opined in a recent editorial, “is no longer a marginal phenomenon.” Indeed, from the perspective of Rabbi David Stav, the influential head of the pluralistic and decidedly moderate “Tzohar” movement, what occurred at the Hebron market in August was just a hint of the resentment against involvement in settler evacuation being expressed by members of some of the IDF’s key combat units. Giving voice to that emotion, one paratrooper, who admitted using a subterfuge to escape participation in the Hebron market affair, asked “Why do we have to be dragged into this despicable business?” Declared a buddy standing nearby: “I will fight the enemy to the best of my ability, but there’s a red line I will not cross to help evict Jews from their homes.”
Rabbi Stav would advise the government to be very much aware of that red line. “If the state has another mass expulsion such as Gush Katif,” he cautions. “the conscientious objection will also be massive. I’m saying this as someone who is opposed to refusing orders, but people have had enough. They feel they have become a tool in the hands of a government they do not consider legitimate.”
Legitimate or not, one fact is becoming ominously clear with each passing day of the Kadima-led coalition: If the IDF, Israel ’s lifeline, is to be spared any further damage, it must, by law and with all urgency, be placed beyond the political grasp of this or any other Israeli government. The responsibility for that task rests squarely with the Knesset. The moment for enacting a law specifically prohibiting the employment of the IDF or any of it components for any mission other than the defense of the nation and the protection of its citizens could not be more compelling. And if the Knesset requires any stiffening of its spinal column in this regard, a class action lawsuit charging the government with misuse of the IDF in violation of the spirit, if not the letter, of Israeli Basic Law should certainly be entertained. Scores of thousands of Israelis would jump at the invitation to join the class and there ought to be a raft of competent, national Zionist-oriented lawyers ready to lend pro bono assistance to the effort.
It is time to lay down the law to Mr. Olmert’s runaway regime – both in the Knesset and the courtroom.
*Bill Mehlman represents Americans For A Safe Israel (AFSI) in Israel and is co-editor of the Jerusalem- based internet magazine ZionNet. (www.zionnet.net). He is also one of the founders and sponsors of Just Peace For Israel