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Military leader's concern

by: Larry James - Last updated: 2004-10-21



Israel's top military leader blasted some Jewish religious leaders for urging followers to refuse to follow military orders to evacuate settlements, as part of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's disengagement plans.

Chief of staff, Lieutenant General Moshe Yaalon lashed out at the rabbis who called for the disobedience. He says they put the Israeli military in what he calls an impossible situation. He calls their appeal dangerous and illegitimate. Speaking at a memorial service for fallen soldiers on Tuesday, General Yaalon said that "refusal is dangerous to us as an army, as a society and as a state."

Last week, 60 rabbis joined former Chief Rabbi Avraham Shapira in calling on observant soldiers to disobey orders to evacuate settlements. The rabbi issued a religious ruling that said no government can give back the territory, because it is God-given.

Orthodox Jews make up only about a quarter of Israel's population, but observant soldiers are present in enough combat units to make a refusal to obey orders significant.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's plan to remove all 21 Jewish settlements from Gaza and four small ones in the West Bank has sparked one of the most intense Israeli political dramas in years.

Settlers and their backers - many of them from Mr Sharon's own Likud Party - hotly oppose the plan. Now, rabbis identified with the settlers are giving religious backing to the opposition.

Analysts say even a small-scale mutiny could paralyze the army. Jonathan Reinhold is a political science professor at Bar Illan University.

"I think the chief of staff is right to condemn this, although in most democratic societies one sees conscientious objection - people who don't want to serve in the military - and this is acceptable on an individual basis," said Jonathan Reinhold. "What is threatening to a democracy, any democracy, is an organized political campaign to refuse to serve collectively, as a group, because of political objection to the actions being taken."

Some of the strongest opponents of the disengagement plan also oppose the call by the rabbis for observant soldiers to refuse their orders. But they say the issue is just another example of the bad leadership of Ariel Sharon. Rachel Saperstein is a settler who lives in the Neve Dekalim settlement in Gaza.

He has ripped the country in half, he has caused a rift in the army," she said. "He has caused a rift in the Likud Party. He has done so many things that is causing such misery in this country.

Mr Sharon will bring his disengagement plan up for a parliament vote, next week. Opinion polls show the majority of Israelis approve of the plan.

Story supplied by: VOAnews