Refusal Controversy Rages; Soldier Arrested

A stormy national debate rages over the growing number of reserve soldiers signing a pledge not to take part in the demolition/evacuation of parts of the Land of Israel.

, | updated: 3:17 PM

Over 5,000 signatures have already been gathered.

Kedumim Mayor Daniella Weiss, head of one of the largest communities in Samaria, has openly called on soldiers to refuse expulsion orders, echoing a call by leading religious-Zionist Rabbi Avraham Shapira, a former Chief Rabbi. Other leaders in Judea, Samaria and Gaza (Yesha) distanced themselves from these calls, saying that the responsibility for causing such a situation lies only with Prime Minister Sharon.

MK Effie Eitam (NRP), a reserves IDF officer of the rank of Brigadier-General and one of the strongest opponents of Sharon's withdrawal plan, is strongly against refusal to fulfill army orders.

In preparation for possible execution of the expulsion/retreat from Gaza and northern Shomron, protest leaders have organized a team of lawyers who will be on-call 24 hours a day. The attorneys, including volunteers, will act to free protestors and passive resistors arrested by police during the coming months. The team will photograph incidents, advise people of their rights, and more.

Every participant of the current sit-in around the Knesset will receive a printed card advising them how they must behave if the government tries to carry out the eviction plan. They have been instructed to bring a camera, cell phone, pencil and paper and the phone number of the legal counsel control center.

The instructions also advise people to resist any attempt to be drawn into violence. If injured by police in the course of the protest, participants are advised to remember the names of witnesses to the event. They are also advised to remain silent, in keeping with their rights, if police inquiries are political, and to refuse to be photographed or fingerprinted. The instructions also emphasize that it is against the law for police to arrest children under 12.

"It is important to communicate to the police that arrests will not break us," the instructions add.

A violent clash between policemen and residents took place in an outpost in Yitzhar yesterday, and some fear it might be a small preview of what could occur in Gush Katif. Yitzhar resident Yehuda Libman, considered an influential leader in the efforts to settle the area, was put on the spot by Israel Radio interviewers today: "If this is what you caused over the evacuation of two empty caravans, what will you do when it comes to Gush Katif? Do you not accept any responsibility for what happened?"

Libman said that the responsibility for the clash lies with the government: "We're the victims." He added that he and his colleagues have spent many long hours in meetings with army officials on evacuation-related matters, "and it needn't have come to violence. Why did [the soldiers] bring rifles? It merely escalates the already-high tensions."

Some 15 people were arrested after yesterday's clash, and one soldier has been given a speedy military trial for calling on his comrades to refuse orders.

The soldier, Sgt. Yosef Pilent, has lived in Yitzhar for most for most of his life since immigrating to Israel with his family from the U.S., and is now serving in an army unit stationed in Yitzhar. Released on furlough for a few days, he arrived home yesterday – wearing his uniform - only to see his unit destroying two trailer homes (caravans) in the outlying Yitzhar neighborhood of Givat Lehavah. Adding insult to injury, his brother and his fiancee were considering moving into one of the caravans after their wedding this coming April. Sgt. Pilent made a quick and instinctive decision, and called upon his comrades to refuse to participate in the destruction – even as they attempted to drag him away and continue the destruction.

Manufacturers Assocation chief Oded Tira, who oversaw the evacuation of Yamit as an IDF general in 1982, decried the army's decision to court-martial Sgt. Pilent: "Why are they making such a big deal about it? When we were in Yamit, a soldier came to me and asked to be excused because his parents lived there. So I said OK, and we didn't make a big deal about it. The way it's being treated today, it merely magnifies the problem and gives it proportions it wouldn't otherwise receive."

Yehuda Libman said that the government put the soldier, as well as the army, in an absolutely impossible situation: "The orders [to evacuate the two caravans] either came from the Prime Minister, or from the Civil Administration. Whichever it was, it is simply an attempt to pick a fight with us. These are two caravans that we put here two months ago as part of the natural growth of a normal, 9-year-old neighborhood in Yitzhar. No one ever warned us that they were unacceptable. If they had, we could have come to an agreement; we could have moved them to a better spot. But they came suddenly, with no warning and no dialogue and swooped down to destroy them."

Libman also said that in light of yesterday's events, "we asked the army to remove this unit from our premises. We have given them a compound of six or seven caravans, and we offer them coffee, and Sabbath food, and we are generally on good terms with them. But after such a thing as what happened yesterday, we feel that we can't continue this way. We didn't give an ultimatum, as the media reported, but merely explained our difficulties with the current situation."