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Courage to Refuse > Article > It’s not refusal. It’s obedience - by B. Michael
It’s not refusal. It’s obedience - by B. Michael 14/11/2004
Those who object to the Occupation have wrestled with their own individual consciences, and have freely and willingly decided not to carry out orders that they believe illegitimate, bearing sole responsibility for possible subsequent punishment that may be imposed upon them by law.

Once again, it seems, the right-wing’s conglomerate of deception has succeeded in steering public debate to murky byways, hiding the real issue from public scrutiny.

Thus continues the fracas regarding the growing number of refusenik religious soldiers and soldiers of the Yeshivot Hesder, as if this is the main issue at hand.

It is not the refusal of the Yeshivot Hesder soldiers that is the problem; it is rather their zeal for obedience.  We should not be overly worried that they refuse an Army order, but we should beware the chilling reality that they will eagerly and unhesitatingly accept any rabbinical order, unblinkingly preferring it to any order issued by their Army commanders.

This is the principal, fundamental demarcation between refusal of those who object to the Occupation and the obedience of the order-refusers.  Those who object to the Occupation have wrestled with their own individual consciences, and have freely and willingly decided not to carry out orders that they believe illegitimate, bearing sole responsibility for possible subsequent punishment that may be imposed upon them by law.  No one ordered the refuser to refuse.

The obedient-refuser, on the other hand, is first and foremost obedient.  He will obey any command that he is given.  This is how he was brought up.  Conformity and fellowship in a disciplined society have been ingrained in him from infancy.   But his obedience to army commands is conditional.  Obedience to his rabbi is a much more powerful force.  And when his rabbi orders him not to obey the orders of his commander, the obedient-refuser has no doubts as to his allegiance (even when the rabbi is an irresponsible fool of negligible eminence as is Avraham Shapira,).

No one can claim surprise at this rising tide of mutiny.  From the moment it was decided - in a bizarre flash of stupidity and blindness - to establish, within the Army, units of one consciousness and one ideology, it was clear that this recipe would lead catastrophe.  It was evident that the theo-fascist right would not hesitate to consider these units to be its military arm, and would do everything in its power to subject them to rabbinical authority.  In this past decade we have witnessed one warning sign after another in the power struggle between right-wing rabbis and the army for controlling the allegiance of the religious militias on the day of reckoning.

The chronology of warning signals begins perhaps on 11 November 1993, shortly after the first Oslo agreement was signed.  An organization called “Union of Rabbis for the Nation and State of Israel” published a manifesto prohibiting any withdrawal from Occupied land, concluding with the words: “anyone remiss in preventing fulfillment of the ‘agreement’, transgresses against the command ’thou shalt not take a stand against the life of thy neighbor’”.  Clarifying, for those not conversant in rabbinical law, this means “Din Rodef” or “verdict of the pursuer”.  This is exactly how “Din Rodef” is put into practice.  A violent, nearly murderous, claim against legitimate authority.  Two years after it was published, someone apparently understood it for what it was and acted accordingly.

On July 12, 1995, with the second Oslo agreement imminent, seven rabbis convene in Avraham Shapira’s house.  Again Avraham Shapira.  They issue a rabbinical decree forbidding soldiers from following orders to evacuate army bases, settlements or installations and “conferring them upon foreigners”.  Some turmoil follows, but in those days chaos did not yet reign, and the cloud passes without creating the commotion that should have been generated.

In October 2000, another warning sign.  The same organization which had published
Din Rodef” in 1993 reconvenes.  One of the speakers, Elyakim Levanon, also wielding the title of rabbi, announces: “It is time to seize control.  Time to return to the epoch of King David.  To understand that the function of rabbis is not to teach Torah, but to establish leadership, ‘Rabbinical Kings’, that will be the real government of the Israeli nation!”

A sharp, clear, unequivocal call for a putsch, or, at least, a disclosure of intents.  And yet no one is alarmed.

July, 2001.  The rabbis prevail upon Army chiefs on the issue of women soldiers in bases where religious men serve.  Ostensibly, a minor, if not silly matter.  As a matter of fact, an arm wrestling match between rabbi and Chief of Staff, culminating in rabbinical victory.  Several additional skirmishes of this type also end in IDF capitulation.

June 23, 2003.  The “Union if Rabbis” again reconvenes.  The pretext:  The roadmap Ariel Sharon pretended to be accepting.  This was sufficient for the rabbis to proclaim again – seven and a half years after the murder of Rabin – another “Din Rodef”.  Just like that, using the same vocabulary.  And no one stirs.

Ocotber 2004.  Avraham Shapira commands his holy flock not to carry out the order of withdrawal.  This time, the power play was mature.  Dozens of rabbis join his call, proving that thousands of obedient religious soldiers are ready to act upon his orders with complete submission.

Only a few (good) people cautioned, again and again, throughout these ten years,  that the Yeshivot Hesder were a hidden threat to Army legitimacy, and called upon the Prime Minister to act “decisively like Ben Gurion” to disarm this menace.  Nothing was done.

Nothing will be done now, either.  The religious soldiers will not be put to the test, for the chances that any withdrawal whatsoever will actually occur are well below zero.  And even the fact, now made painfully clear, that a huge military force (comprised of religious settler and Yeshivot Hesder soldiers) blindly follows rabbinical orders will wake none from their slumber.

And this underground resistance, which does not even bother to conceal its goal of seizing control of the country and crowning religious clerics, will continue gnawing, continue growing, and continue conquering more and more power.  It has been doing so, unmolested, for nearly forty years.


Originally published in Yediot Ahahronot, October 2004.

Translated to English by Dror Etzion.


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