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The IDF cracks down on political protest in the ranks
Yehonathan Tommer (tommery06)     Print Article 
Published 2010-01-22 13:28 (KST)   
The IDF's discharge this week of an Israeli soldier drafted to an elite combat unit for demonstrating his refusal to evacuate Jewish West Bank settlements marks a mounting crackdown by the country's top brass to root out what they fear is spreading insubordination among the ranks.

Colonel Gadi Agmon, commander of the Israel Defense Forces' Meitav Induction base made the unprecedented decision after Aryeh Arbus refused to express remorse for raising a banner during a swearing-in ceremony of new recruits at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, marking the completion their basic training. The banner proclaimed that "the Shimshon battalion will not evacuate Homash."

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The Shimson battalion is a crack undercover unit in the IDF's Kfir Brigade.

Arbus had also refused to promise that he would abstain from similar acts in the future.

Colonel Agmon labeled Arbus's conduct "bad and grave."

"The banner was a political act and, by raising it, the soldier breached an army order," a senior IDF officer told Maariv daily. "Such acts must be rooted out and must not be allowed to take place inside the army."

Arbus's young wife, Ruhama, told another Israeli newspaper that her husband's dismissal was a disgraceful "political act." Left wing soldiers who signed various letters refusing guard duty at settlements and at checkpoints and roadblocks should also be dismissed from military service, she said. "My husband represents many soldiers who do not want to be used for corrupt political purposes." Discharging him from the army had "stripped him of his right and duty as a Jewish man to protect his land and the nation," she said. "It also proves the army views the evacuation of Jews from their homes as a national mission of the highest priority."

A second soldier, involved in the same incident, was sentenced to 20 days in an army lockup. He was removed from combat service as well as from the hesder program; this permits observant young men to combine longer religious studies with a shorter 16-month period of compulsory military service. He will be transferred to the regular three year army program.

The protest banner referred to soldiers of the same unit who had unfurled an identical banner last October proclaiming their opposition to the forcible removal of scores of young settlers attempting to resettle the North Samarian settlement of Homash which Israel had unilaterally evacuated in June 2005. Homash at the time was razed to the ground, along with 11 Israeli settlements in the Gaza Strip.

Senior IDF officials have decided to clamp down severely on all acts of insubordination among the troops in view of certain confrontations with settlers over possible future evacuations of unauthorized outposts and West Bank settlements.

Growing numbers of highly motivated soldiers in the IDF's elite units are also religiously observant as well as residents of West bank communities; many profess rightwing political attitudes opposed to evacuating Jewish settlements. This is even truer of young soldiers serving in the yeshivot hesder program who tend to answer to rabbinic over secular and state authorities.

The IDF's fears have grown acutely real with a recent high profile confrontation between the defense and rabbinic establishments. These came to head last month when Defense Minister Ehud Barak decided to sever the IDF's ties with the Har Bracha Hesder Yeshiva near Nablus, after its head Rabbi Levanon refused to retract his public approval of insubordination among soldiers refusing to evacuate Jewish settlements.

These tensions have rekindled a persistent, though highly emotional, debate among Israelis over Jewish settlements in the territories; whether the government should rightly call on the army to evacuate them; or leave the unpleasant job to the police and para military forces.

It is a debate in which protesters against evacuation spuriously harp back to the Holocaust and make dubious comparisons between the IDF and the Nazi era of Germany.
©2010 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Yehonathan Tommer

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