Daily Israel Report

Student-Soldier Refuses Barak's Hesder Ultimatum

Defense Min. Barak’s fight against the Har Bracha Hesder yeshiva has been kicked up another notch: A student-soldier has begun a slow-down strike.
By Hillel Fendel
First Publish: 4/8/2010, 11:33 AM

Defense Minister Ehud Barak’s fight against the Hesder yeshiva in Har Bracha has been ratcheted up another notch: A student-soldier thrown out of the Hesder arrangement has begun a work-to-rule strike, and refuses to serve in the new track assigned to him. He faces possible jail time for refusing to cooperate with what he views as a heavy handed IDF approach to force soldiers to expel Jews.

The soldier enlisted in the army as part of the Hesder track, a five-year committment that involves 16-18 months of active service and the remainder in day-long yeshiva study. He chose to enlist in Yeshivat Har Bracha, one of dozens of Hesder yeshivas in the country that are nationally recognized for their contributions to the army and to society in general. A postage stamp honoring the Hesder program was issued in 2003.

However, Defense Minister Ehud Barak abruptly decided some months ago that Yeshivat Har Bracha in the Shomron (Samaria) must be closed as a Hesder yeshiva. The reason for this was that its Dean, Rabbi Eliezer Melamed, failed to sufficently condemn political protests - specifically, those against forced expulsions of Jews - within the army. Rabbi Melamed had written, before the controversy erupted, that had the protestors asked him beforehand, he would have advised them not to do it, but that after the fact, he would not condemn them.

Barak "Fires" Rabbi Melamed
Subsequently, Rabbi Melamed refused Barak’s request that he sign a letter condemning soldiers’ protests against IDF orders to take part in actions to expel Jews from their homes. In addition, Rabbi Melamed instructed his students, as did other yeshiva heads, that they are forbidden by Jewish Law to take part in expulsions of Jews. As a result, Barak “fired” Rabbi Melamed from heading a Hesder yeshiva.

Students entering their army service via Har Bracha were then issued an ultimatum: Either sign up in another yeshiva, or be drafted for regular three-year service. None of the students agreed to either choice, and the ultimatum was extended for another month. Each Hesder Yeshiva has its own character and students spend much time choosing the one that suits them.

Sources close to the story told Arutz-7 Hebrew Site editor Uzi Baruch that the Hesder student-soldiers fear that the IDF is preparing for another round of expulsions of Jews in Judea and Samaria, in which the campaign against Yeshivat Har Bracha plays a role.

After the IDF Personnel Branch realized that the students would rather sit in jail than leave their yeshiva, Baruch reports, the soldiers were apparently informed that they need not leave Har Bracha, but must merely “sign up” at another yeshiva. Only a few soldiers agreed to this arrangement, and the officers then made another offer: “Just say the name of another yeshiva, and we’ll take care of the rest.”

IDF's "Final Offer"
Most of the students agreed to this, but some holdouts remained, viewing it as a surrender to the notion that soldiers must agree to expel Jews. Some of them were therefore removed from the Hesder arrangement, and forced to complete three years in regular IDF service without yeshiva studies. At least one of them, however, refuses to accept the decree.

Soldier: I'll Sit and Study Until Decision is Changed
As of this morning (Thursday), the soldier, who serves in the Shimshon Battalion in the Hevron district, is carrying out what is known in Hebrew and other languages as an “Italian strike.” It was manifest by walking into his commander’s office, laying down his gun, and declaring, “I am not interested in leaving the Hesder and serving in the new track to which you have assigned me. I will sit and study in the synagogue or in my tent until the decision is changed.”

The bottom line, therefore, is that despite Barak’s vendetta against Rabbi Melamed, no student has left Yeshivat Har Bracha, nor has any student faced punitive action - yet.