Israel disbands ultra-orthodox army units - Move to prevent mutinies over Gaza withdrawal (GUARDIAN UK) Chris McGreal in Jerusalem, Israel 01/27/05)
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The Israeli military is to disband some religious army units amid
growing resistance among soldiers to removing Jewish settlers from
the Gaza strip later this year.
The army denies that the move was prompted by concern over defiance
among religious and rightwing troops of the first forcible removal of
settlers from the Palestinian territories. But Israeli MPs and rabbis
have accused the military of planning to disperse soldiers likely to
dissent as the army grapples with a growing split over Ariel Sharon´s
plan to move all 8,000 settlers out of Gaza.
In recent weeks, the military has dismissed dozens of reserve
officers who publicly called on soldiers to rebel.
But Mr Sharon´s hope of an end to Palestinian attacks before the
withdrawal were bolstered yesterday as senior officials from both
sides met in Jerusalem to plan the first summit between the Israeli
prime minister and the new Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas. The
meeting is expected to take place in about two weeks.
Hours earlier, Israel told the Palestinians it would stop the
assassinations of Hamas and Islamic Jihad as long as an informal
truce holds, a key condition of the armed Islamist groups for a total
end to their attacks on Israeli targets.
The US Middle East envoy, William Burns, was expected to arrive in
Jerusalem last night for meetings with Palestinian leaders who are
seeking American help in winning guarantees that Israel will respect
a ceasefire. The decision to disband the "religious Zionist" units,
which combine Torah study with military service, has outraged many on
the religious right. The army does not intend to disband another
ultra-orthodox unit, the Nahal Haredi brigade. About 3,000 ultra-
orthodox soldiers serve full-time in religious units.
Effi Eitam, a former member of Mr Sharon´s cabinet, is demanding
parliamentary hearings on the move. "This is not operational but
political, and threatens to harm seriously the delicate fabric of
religious Zionism and its integration in the army," he said.
Although the army is not concerned about disobedience over the
withdrawal, which it describes as a "fringe phenomenon", dissent is
Earlier this month, the military dismissed 34 reserve officers living
in West Bank settlements, including four battalion commanders, after
they published a petition claiming that the planned dismantlement of
the Gaza settlements is unlawful.
"We think that any order to carry out disengagement is a patently
illegal order," the officers told their commander in the letter.
The attorney general is investigating two Jewish settlers - one of
them the brother of the education minister - who have gathered
thousands of signatures from soldiers pledging to disobey the orders.
A Jewish settler and army staff sergeant, Yossi Filant, created a
stir by calling on other soldiers to disobey orders to remove an
illegal Jewish outpost in the West Bank. He is serving 28 days in the
The army chief of staff has condemned the rabbinical council in the
occupied territories for backing the disobedience campaign.
The government fears that some soldiers will view rabbinical rulings
as higher than national law.
Last year, a former chief rabbi, Avraham Shapira, called on soldiers
and the police to refuse to remove the settlers, comparing the policy
to "desecrating the Sabbath and eating un-kosher food".
Soldiers in two brigades last week told the Israeli newspaper Ma´ariv
that they would disobey their orders.
"On the day of the evacuation we will not only refuse to evacuate,
but we will also surrender our weapons to our platoon commander and
cross over to the other side, with the settlers, in order to help
them fight," said one soldier.
Resistance to disengagement is also growing within Mr Sharon´s Likud
One party official, Moshe Feiglin, is heading a "Jewish leadership"
group that is circulating a booklet calling for mass civil resistance
to the pullout.
"In the face of the legal establishment´s backing down on its
principles, which has presented the Knesset with a new version of the
Nuremberg laws, the only option is a civilian campaign of
disobedience," the booklet says.
Mr Sharon responded defiantly in a speech to the Israeli parliament
"A democratic regime is truly such when the minority knows that it
must accept and respect the decisions of the majority, even when they
do not like them," he said. (Guardian Unlimited © Guardian Newspapers
Limited 2004 01/27/05)
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