Politics & Policy

Disengaging From Disengagement

How widespread cooperation?

–As I write, Israeli policemen and soldiers are being deployed on a mission against fellow Israeli citizens. It is not a mission they will easily complete.

Pursuant to Ariel Sharon’s disengagement plan, thousands of Jews are facing deportation from their communities and demolition of their homes, schools, synagogues, factories and farms. The areas where the forced evacuation is being carried out, of course, is in the Gaza region and in northern Samaria.

Nearby, in Palestinian Authority-controlled areas of the Gaza Strip, many Arabs are celebrating. The local terrorists are exulting in what they see as proof positive that their breed of terrorism works–marches, speeches, candies, and floats in the shape of Kassam rockets that have rained down on Israeli cities. Naturally, therefore, Hamas and Islamic Jihad are planning more of the same terror. PA officials, such as Saeb Erakat and Abu Alaa, are also openly acknowledging that terrorism has worked, holding it as an implied threat for possible future negotiations. PA President Mahmoud Abbas suggested that the firing of rockets could have destructive consequences. After all, he said, “No one of us could forget last week’s tragedy when a father and his son were killed by a rocket.” The father and son he was referring to were Arabs, killed when a rocket fell short of its Israeli target.

As Michael Freund has written, “You can tell a lot about a political or historical event by looking at who’s celebrating it.”

As for Ariel Sharon, whatever else he thinks he is doing–and it is getting harder and harder to figure that out–the Israeli prime minister is sweeping part of the historic land of Israel of Jews, to the applause of those who would rather Israel not exist.

In light of such considerations, as well as serious questions of democracy–considering that Sharon won a landslide victory on an explicitly anti-withdrawal platform–a growing wave of soldiers serving in Israel’s draft army are expressing their unwillingness to take part in what they see as a crime of the state against its citizens. Over the past year, soldiers in increasing numbers have been refusing to carry out orders related to the disengagement implementation. A cross section of the population, they come from the reserves and compulsory service; they act in groups and as individuals. This week, with the official closure of Gush Katif and northern Samaria, and the start of forced evacuations, the phenomenon of “last-minute refusal” by soldiers assigned to “disengagement duty” has been spreading hour by hour.

However, clearly not every soldier opposed to expelling Jews from Gaza and Samaria is willing to publicly refuse orders or go AWOL, as he may lose his rank, sit in jail, and possibly be thrown out of elite courses that he worked hard to get into. Still: Estimates by various sources indicate that between 3,000 and 10,000 supporters of Jewish Gaza have made their way into the area over the past month or so, when it was ostensibly closed to all except local residents. While there may be ways to sneak into an area under military closure, reports from those who have done so indicate that many soldiers assigned to securing the area were purposefully doing a less-than-exemplary job, if not outright assisting the “infiltrators.”

In one instance last week, a group of Americans that arrived to show solidarity with the Gaza communities made their way through all the checkpoints and ultimately into the closed area. They did so thanks to lax enforcement of rules keeping non-residents out, as well as the assistance of a generous IDF officer.

A group of young Israeli men who were carefully picking their way through fields to try and sneak into Gaza last week were spotted by two combat soldiers of the Golani Brigade assigned to prevent such shenanigans. The young men froze in their tracks; the soldiers, young men themselves, merely smiled and waved at them.

In a similar instance, a soldier assigned to make sure vehicles driven by residents did not also bring in outside “guests” stopped a van carrying several people in it. After checking the ID of the driver, a Gaza resident, the soldier poked his head into the vehicle, looked at the people in the back seats and loudly announced, “My, what a lot of bags you have there,” and waved them through the checkpoint.

These are, of course, merely anecdotes. But such instances are not rare. At the same time, IDF radio has reported concerns in the security establishment that mass refusal of soldiers to take part in the expulsion can “complicate” the disengagement. And youthful residents of Jewish communities in Gaza have worked hard in recent weeks to encourage that “complication”. They have spent their days talking with soldiers at the checkpoints into Gaza, cajoling, encouraging, and persuading them to reject orders that are contrary to their consciences and to IDF ethics, which forbid employing force against civilians.

Large-scale activities against the disengagement plan have been taking place for over a year. No matter where they were held and how they were billed–a prayer rally in Jerusalem, a demonstration in Tel Aviv, a protest march in the south, a human chain along the nation’s roads–such events have consistently attracted between 150,000 and 250,000 people. The results? Polls of recent weeks show that only a minority of Israelis support Ariel Sharon’s disengagement plan.

Assuming that Israeli soldiers are not different from the rest of society (even if, in fact, election results seem to indicate they are more right-wing), then there is a strong possibility that, even at this late stage, the residents of Jewish Gaza and northern Samaria may yet see the plan to expel them disrupted by widespread “lack of motivation” among IDF forces.

Nissan Ratzlav-Katz is opinion editor of www.IsraelNationalNews.com.

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