They have harsh words for their fellow "kippa-wearers" who took part in the implementation of the expulsion, and say they will only wear the olive-green uniforms of the Israeli army once it returns to the IDF it once was.



Elazar Sandorfi, Dmitri Pechnikov, Avidan Weitzman, Moshe Gonen and Shaya Leib Gilo spoke with Hagit Rotenberg of the B'Sheva weekly, describing their ordeals. The lengthy trials and jail-time they have faced does not make them flinch from their belief that they did the right thing from an ethical and Jewish legal perspective.



Moshe (Botavia) Gonen of Beit El had served just two months as the commander of an Engineering Vehicle Operators’ (TzaMA) company in the Judea and Samaria division, when he was stripped of his duties for refusing to take part in the Disengagement. He recounted the following story:



"The day before I was supposed to go up with my platoons to northern Samaria. I toured the region and saw the enormous expanse before me. I understood that all this was going to be handed over to Arabs. I went to my commander that very night and told him, 'I am incapable of carrying out this mission. I am not going up with my platoons tomorrow.'



"He was surprised and I tried to explain it to him in understandable terms: 'I am not able to get up in the morning, to put on tefillin, to pray for the integrity of the Land and its holiness, and in the afternoon to do the opposite of all that. This prayer book is not some magazine. I try to mean what I say.' 'Don't mix religion with the army,' he answered me.



"He continued to try to persuade me. 'There is a plan to retake the region,' he said. 'What is the connection?' I asked. 'It is like eating swine and then later eating strictly kosher. It is forbidden by our Torah. With all due respect, commander, there is One who outranks you.'



"He still didn't give up, insisting, 'There are religious officers who are executing this mission.'



"'Maybe they put on tefillin and fast on Tisha B'Av, but they are not religious,' I answered. 'It is black and white: forbidden to carry out.' "



Moshe was sent to three weeks in prison under conditions difficult for an observant soldier. He was relieved of his command, stripped of his rank and compelled to release the IDF from his two-year contract. "I had the best contract of any company commander in the IDF," he recalled, "great salary, meals at home, company car, cellular phone, my own schedule. It was not simple to give all that up. But every man has lines he won’t cross and principles on which he lives, and he cannot throw them away because of a Toyota or an honor."



Moshe says the army wanted to deal with him the way they did with so many other soldiers who refused to take part in the Disengagement – under the table, quietly. "I am the highest ranking standing army soldier who refused," he explained, "and besides, the show trial that is to take place is not meant for me, it is aimed at anyone who wears a kippa, at anyone who insists on 'mixing religion with the army.' "



Moshe, who became religiously observant later in life, is married and the father of a three-month-old daughter. He now works as a supervisor for a security company in the western Binyamin region. The decline in his quality of life due to the loss of his job as a ranking officer was drastic, but he does not regret a thing. "I am happy. There is nobody happier than me," he said. "The only decision I sometimes regret was not speaking with my soldiers and convincing them to refuse as well. I decided not to, because they were men with problems at home, with criminal files and the like, who the IDF was actively rehabilitating – I didn't want to be the cause of complications for them."



Commander Was Proud of Him



Dimitri Pachnikov, married and a father of two, lives in Kiryat Gat. He worked for eight years as an investigator in the Ashkelon police. When the police began preparing for the expulsion, he was shaken to the core. The regional commander informed the police that any refusal would be met with unequivocal termination of his job as a police officer.



"I understood that it would be difficult for me, and I didn't want to be in a situation where they would give me an order and then I would refuse. I could not see myself carrying out such orders and remaining a normal person. I thought about how I would be able to look at myself and how people would look at me."



Dimitri requested to be dismissed on the day Gush Katif was first closed to enable the evacuation of the Maoz HaYam Hotel stronghold. When he saw his former co-workers taking part in dragging people from the hotel, he knew he had done the right thing. "I didn't regret it for a second – I was happy I wasn't there," he said.



Interviewer Rotenberg asked whether it was his own decision or whether he was influenced by any rabbinic rulings. "I asked two rabbis, who both said it was forbidden for me to take part in the expulsion. That wasn't the deciding factor, though. I don't see it as a question of kashrut; even if the rabbis had ruled that it was permitted to fulfill the order, I would not have been able to do it."



Most of Dimitri's friends from the police identified with his decision, but the financial need for their jobs outweighed their conscience. He received the most moral support from one of his commanders, whom he met on his way to Kfar Maimon. "He hugged me and said, 'I'm proud to be your commander.' " His wife also supported his decision all along the way, despite the fact that it has meant financial hardship for the family. Now Pachnekov has found only part-time work in a nearby kibbutz, relying on the Lev Yehudi organization - which provides help to those who refused to take part in the Disengagement - to make ends meet.





Settlers as Amalek



Avidan Weitzman served for six years in the now-infamous Yassam riot police, becoming deputy commander of his unit. Avidan took part in a police conference prior to the Disengagement in which 3,000 police took part, including the country's most senior officers.



"They told us they were bringing a rabbi to speak to us. When they called the rabbi to the podium, a guy with a three-foot ponytail got up and compared the conflict we would be taking part in against the settlers with the biblical mandate to make war against Amalek, saying it was just as critical. I sat there fuming; my hands were shaking. My commander grabbed my hand so I wouldn't get up and yell at him. Afterward, someone got up from the Israel Democracy Institute and presented a code of ethics, asking for participation from the audience.



"I asked him, 'What must we do if obedience to the government violates the rights of the citizen?' There was a huge round of applause, with officers yelling out that the whole plan was illegal, and it simply destroyed the conference. Someone in the audience tried to explain that it was democratic, and one of the commanders said that Hitler was also elected democratically. The next day the regional commander came and declared that there would be absolutely no refusal, and that anyone who refused would be thrown out of the police."



Avidan was unimpressed by the threats, and when his commander ordered him to pack up the crowd-dispersal equipment to be transported to Kfar Maimon, he replied that he wasn't planning on going anywhere. When they tried to convince him that it wasn't worth losing his job, he called his wife to consult with her, and then told them he stood by his decision. The next day he was fined 1,500 shekels and fired.



"Almost all my friends at the police were lamenting the fact that they didn't have the courage to do the same thing," he said. Today he is taking a Labor Ministry course and living off of unemployment and help from Lev Yehudi. Though his financial situation is not good, he insists that he and his wife have never been happier.





On the Roof in Kfar Darom



"You have crossed all the red lines," said the 12th Golani regiment commander to Elazar Sandorfi when he saw him among those on the fortified roof of Kfar Darom's synagogue on the day of the expulsion.



Just weeks earlier, Elazar had been the deputy company commander in the same battalion, recognized as an outstanding soldier. He commanded the Kfar Darom region, but when the IDF was ordered to lay siege on protestors at Kfar Maimon, he refused orders and was compelled to dissolve his four-year contract with the IDF. "I lost my entire career," he said, "but I don't have one millimeter of regret. It was the right thing to do. Everyone needed to do his part in the struggle. Now they are trying to convince me to go back to the army, but I'll only go back once the army goes back to what it is supposed to be."



Elazar, a resident of Nachliel, a settlement near Modi'in, still stands to be tried for his presence on the Kfar Darom rooftop. He is still angry about the IDF's role in the expulsion, and particularly the religious soldiers and the rabbis who legitimized their behavior in carrying it out. "We received an order to block the gate of Kfar Darom the day they evacuated the [Maoz HaYam] Hotel. A very large number of the soldiers heard the order, but continued to sit on the side, ignoring it. Suddenly I saw a rabbi show up, one of the heads of one of the IDF preparatory academies. He approached the soldiers and told them: 'Carry out the order!' "



Avidan Weitzman said the phenomenon of rabbinic support for soldiers 'just following orders' was one of the worst aspects of the expulsion. "This is something that is very difficult for the youth," he said. "On the one hand, they hear that it's totally forbidden, but then they ask about those rabbis who say yes to carry out the order - and I have no answer for them."



Shaya Leib Gilo told Rotenberg that scores of religious officers and soldiers with whom he has spoken justified their participation in the expulsion, saying, "There are rabbis who say it is permitted." Elazar Sandorfi added that many soldiers he knew planned to wait until the day the order was given to refuse, but when the time came, they instead relied on the rulings of the rabbis from the pre-army academies to solve their ethical dilemma the easy way.



"The youth were ready for anything and everything," Avidan said. "If they had been told unequivocally to refuse, they would have done so without question."



Shaya Leib, from Maaleh Levona, was a platoon commander in the Duchifat battalion stationed outside Beit El. After he refused to go to Kfar Maimon, he was sent to prison and thrown out of his combat unit. He was assigned to janitorial work for the remainder of his army service and chose to leave early for psychological reasons. Leaving the army in such a manner has many negative effects on his civilian life, but he says he has no regrets.



Won't Wear Olive Green



Moshe misses the IDF often. "I would like to return to serve in the reserves," he said. "There, it's a different mindset. On the other hand, it is hard to wear that uniform now."



He recounted a number of his students at one of the religious military academies who returned from witnessing the expulsion and have since expressed their inability to wear the olive-green uniform and are considering not enlisting at all. "I tell them that they should enlist, but not agree to be rags and instead stick with their faith to the end. 'You are Jews with faith and there are things you simply don't do, even if they beat you,' I tell them. It needs to be clear to them that everyone is united on this matter, that there is a clear line that we are determined to stand by."



Avidan and Dimitri express no interest in returning to the security forces until the IDF embraces "Jewish ethics" once again.



At the time of the expulsion, each of the refusers was in a different place.



"I was in jail," recalled Shaya Leib. "The prison commander forced us to watch the broadcast of the expulsion, saying it was an important event in the nation's history. It was very hard to watch. After I refused to take part, I regretted not having gone AWOL and joining them in Gush Katif. Everyone there in the prison watched and wept together."



"I was on the roof there in Kfar Darom," recalled Elazar, "in a crazy conflict. The whole community recognized me, because I was in charge there. All the tools they used against me had been under my command the day before and now I was standing in the same place, but on the other side. I was faced with my own soldiers and the officer who replaced me, convincing them to refuse orders as well."



"I felt completely betrayed by the State and the public," said Avidan. "My covenant with the state has ended. The symbols of the State of Israel no longer move me. I know that they are empty of content. I felt mourning, but a bit of happiness that I was not a part of them."



Asked if their actions were for naught, and if they were disappointed that masses of soldiers didn't follow their lead, Avidan answered: "In a police bulletin after the expulsion, it said about 30% of police was absent from the force during the expulsion for health reasons. Do you think that so many police just happened to get sick during those five days?"



"We wanted there to be a wave," Elazar said, "but even if I knew there wasn't going to be, I still would have done it. I have my path – the Torah, and to it I am obligated."



With other high-profile refusers, such as Avi Bieber, recently breaking their silence, the expulsion objectors hope that their message will ensure that at least the religious public will learn the lessons of the Disengagement and will act differently next time.



"The next stage is the destruction of Amona in Ofrah and the Shalhevet neighborhood in Hevron," Elazar told B'Sheva, adding that he hopes that soldiers will realize that they held it in their power to stop the destruction of Gaza and northern Samaria and hold the keys to the future of the Jewish people in the rest of the Land of Israel as well.

Join our official WhatsApp group