Two soldiers who were severely punished for raising an anti-expulsion banner on the roof of their base last November have finally been reinstated in the Hesder program. Three others who protested more quietly are still in limbo.
The two, of the IDF’s Nachshon battalion, raised the large sign shortly after security forces destroyed two Jewish homes near their base and expelled the families living there. They were punished in several ways: They were first sentenced to 30 days in the brig, were then dismissed from command and combat duties, and then were demoted in rank. To top it off, they were removed from their Hesder framework and ordered to serve the regular three-year stint of service.
The two had signed up with Hesder because they wanted to study Torah as well as serve in the military. While normal army service is three years, Hesder is five years - 16-18 months of army service and the remainder in Yeshiva.
The two Hesder protestors were joined in their protest act by several non-Hesder soldiers.
At the same time, three Hesder students from Yeshivat Har Bracha who have refused to switch yeshivot in accordance with army demands are still in limbo. Their story began last year when Har Bracha Dean Rabbi Eliezer Melamed, known to be in favor of refusing army orders to expel Jews, made strong comments against some of the top army brass. Defense Minister Ehud Barak decided to punish the rabbi by removing his institution from the Hesder framework, and ordered all its students to either leave Hesder or to switch to a different yeshiva.
The students originally did not agree, saying they were not obligated to sacrifice their Torah studies for Barak’s political machinations. In time, however, various ways were found to sweeten the pill, mostly involving switching yeshivot on paper only. Three students, however, refused that idea as well; two of them have therefore sat in army prison for 25 days, and a third for nearly 50. The situation of none of them has been resolved as of yet, though the third one has been told that he is unlikely to sit in prison again.
A third incident occurred in October of last year, when several soldiers held an anti-expulsion banner at their swearing-in ceremony at the Western Wall.
The two Nachshon banner-wavers were returned to the Hesder yeshiva in Elon Moreh after they apologized for their actions and promised not to repeat them. In addition, the army acceded to a special request from the Union of Hesder Yeshivot on the matter. Union Director Eitan Ozeri said the decision “expresses the strong, decades-long connection between the Hesder yeshivot and the IDF.”