Refusal to Serve

Sarbanut in a Jewish-Democratic State.

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Reprinted with the permission of the author.

On January 3, 2005, a reserve unit of the Israel Defense Force was called in to evacuate two illegally installed caravans at the outpost of Givat Shalhevet in Samaria. The soldiers and police officers were met by hundreds of settlers who, throwing up a roadblock, attempted to prevent the unit from entering the outpost. Rocks were thrown, abuse was hurled, settlers branded the soldiers "Nazis."

During the clash, Yossi Filant, a Yitzhar resident and sergeant in an IDF combat unit, called on the soldiers to refuse their orders to evacuate the caravans. Still in uniform, he joined the demonstration against the soldiers. Filant was arrested and tried before a court martial and sentenced to 28 days imprisonment for "inappropriate behaviour and obstructing the work of IDF soldiers and reservists," for defecting to the side of the settlers and urging his comrades to refuse orders during the evacuation.

A Legal Ruling

Yossi Filant is not the only person calling on soldiers to refuse orders. After the announcement of the Disengagment Plan, dozens of rabbis associated with the settlement movement published halachic (Jewish legal) rulings prohibiting soldiers from participating in the evacuation of any part of the land of Israel.

One such halachic ruling, issued by the Union of Rabbis for the Jewish People and the Land of Israel, an organization headed by former Chief rabbi and spiritual leader of the settlement movement, Avraham Shapira, reads as follows:

israeli defense forces"All aspects of our lives are determined according to the Torah. It is clear to every Jew that religious observance is above any directive or law that contradicts Torah law. It is inconceivable that a ruling by the Rabbis forbidding Shabbat desecration should be considered as sowing disunity in the IDF and an incitement to disobey an order. This ruling, referring to the evacuation of army settlements and the army bases protecting them, is no different. And it is unthinkable that an act forbidden by Halacha shall be made permissible because of a military order of one kind or another…

"The Halachic ruling is based on decisions of the Israeli Chief Rabbinate for over twenty years, that have forbidden evacuating parts of the Land of Israel and handing them over to non-Jews. Moreover, abandoning the land endangers many Jewish lives. Therefore such an act contradicts halacha and one must avoid taking part in such activity…"

According to this pan-halachic perspective, the Torah prohibits the handing over of any part of the land of Israel to non-Jewish control. Since halacha takes priority not only over military orders but over democratic decisions, religious Jews, it is argued, have a clear responsibility to disobey orders to evacuate settlements. In fact, since lives are considered to be in danger, the refusal to participate in the evacuation of settlements falls into the category of pikuach nefesh (the saving of life)--one of the supreme duties for any religious Jew.

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Matt Plen

Matt Plen is the Chief Executive of Masorti Judaism in the UK. He has taught and trained educators in diverse institutions in Israel, the UK and the USA and is currently researching his doctorate on Critical Pedagogy and Jewish Ideologies of Social Justice.