Refusal, Disengagement, Civil War, Uprising, The Shame

I have written about my love affair with Israel on many occasions. I have fielded comments and questions about why I still live in America, whether I would still consider making aliyah and have sparred with people who accuse me of having mixed loyalties, who question my patriotism to the U.S.

I don’t feel much like discussing the ‘ins and outs’ or the ‘hows and whys’ of why I do what I do. I don’t really care that much because in the grand scheme of things it is immaterial. For now I live in the US and am committed to living here and doing what I can to make the US a better place, but none of that precludes my being interested in doing the same for Israel. Nor does it prevent me from having an opinion on the disengagement.

There are those who would say that because I do not live in Israel I am entitled or allowed to have an opinion on disengagement, but I disagree for a couple of basic reasons.

  1. What happens in Israel has an impact upon Jews worldwide.
  2. As a Jew it is my right to have an opinion, ask your rav or look at the certificate you received at your bris.

In all seriousness, I get to voice my opinion but I don’t get to vote because I live in the galut and that is as it should be. But enough of this, enough of the ridiculous banter and the small talk and into the meat.

I am torn and upset by this. I am angry and frustrated by the pictures I see of the infighting, of Jews fighting Jews and the idea that land is being given to people who have been trying to murder us. I don’t like it, it is a painful thing to see.

But I tend to believe that it is necessary and I am very concerned with the actions of those who are resisting the move, especially within the IDF. A nation should have soldiers who act and think on their own, but at the same time they must follow the chain of command or the entire system breaks down. I thought that this and other thoughts was summed up well in the following editorial from the Jerusalem Post.

“The father of Avi Bieber, a soldier who refused orders during the demolition of some abandoned buildings in Gush Katif on Sunday, spoke of being “proud that he was able to stand up and say what he feels.” Without detracting from a father’s natural role in backing up his son, refusing orders for political reasons should not evoke pride, but concern over the shallowness of our democratic roots.

Political refusal is nothing to be proud of, and both sides know it. Disengagement opponents who are now blithely urging refusal were the first to be appalled at leftwing calls to refuse to serve in the territories. One such call currently online, for example, organized by “Courage to Refuse,” states, “We shall not continue to fight beyond the 1967 borders in order to dominate, expel, starve and humiliate an entire people. We hereby declare that we shall continue serving in the Israel Defense Forces in any mission that serves Israel’s defense. The missions of occupation and oppression do not serve this purpose – and we shall take no part in them.”

Who gave this organization and the soldiers who have heeded it the right to decide which missions serve Israel’s defense? It does not take “courage” to refuse, but arrogance. It is a selfish act in which the refuser decides not only to arrogate to himself the roles of elected leaders, but to transfer the burdens he refuses to share to his law abiding compatriots.

Those who are proud of Bieber would have only disdain for his counterparts on the Left, and no doubt the feeling is mutual. But neither side can have it both ways: refusal begets refusal. We have one prime minister, one Knesset, one army and one people. The refuser, more than advancing his own cause, is undermining the institutions on which we all depend for our lives, our security, and our existence.

This is not to deny the legitimate category of refusing to obey illegal orders. Soldiers are taught, and rightly so, that they have the right and sometimes the duty to refuse to obey illegal orders. A soldier’s judgment of what is illegal may or may not be upheld against that of his commander, but there is no doctrine that every order is by definition legal.

On the civilian side, there is also the institution of civil disobedience, which can go so far as breaking the law. But there is a difference between dissent in the military and civilian cases. In both, the dissenter must be willing to bear the legal consequences of his actions. But only in the civilian case is dissent legitimate on political grounds.

Civilian dissent does not undermine the institution of democracy, though it can to some extent challenge the legitimacy of its elected institutions. Refusal in a military context directly undermines the bedrock principle that is necessarily drummed into every soldier: that legal orders derived from democratic decisions must be followed. Without this foundation, the army that both the Left and Right agree is critical to this nation, and therefore democracy itself, cannot function.

The question is how we can better inculcate in our youth a revulsion of political refusal, rather than the notion that it is a noble act. Some refusers, either because anarchy does not concern them, or because they place other sources of authority, such as religion, above democracy, know what they are doing. Others may fully understand the gravity of their attack on their own democracy and society.

Whether refusal comes from ideology or ignorance, our society must defend itself not only by punishing the perpetrators, but by maintaining the stigma against political refusal and bolstering democratic values through civic education. Defenders of democracy need as much courage, tenacity and creativity as those whose, deliberately or through ignorance, would undermine what we must all hold most dear.”

I have also shared the words of Rabbi Daniel Gordis on a number of occasions and I would like to do so again with two pieces.

First, this is a link to an article he wrote for the Jerusalem Post.

“Hamefaked, anahnu yehudim, ve’et ze ani lo mesugal, read one that’s appeared all over. “Commander, we’re all Jews, and this I cannot do.” It is a call to soldiers, encouraging them to declare that even if ordered, they will not force Jews from their homes.

The phrasing was brilliant, I thought. Not “I won’t do this,” but “I can’t do this.”

It evoked, in almost wordless fashion, the bewilderment of those in Gaza who will be moved. It suggested that the Knesset’s decision is not simply wrong, but that it verges on a violation of nature.

This simply cannot be done. It is an assault on too much of what we stand for, an assault on fairness, on decency. Even those of us who (however unhappily) favor the disengagement can, and must, understand this sense of betrayal.

Because these Israeli citizens were encouraged by Labor no less than by the Likud to build homes in Gush Katif, and they did so with exemplary dedication. Because, our protestations to the contrary notwithstanding, we are withdrawing under fire.

Because Ariel Sharon effectively promised these people that this would not happen, and they supported him with that assurance in mind. Because homes will be destroyed, communities dismantled, playgrounds abandoned, synagogues emptied, batei midrash razed.

Because those who left Yamit could at least console themselves with the knowledge that it was land for peace; while this week we could not point to anything that we were getting in return for our evacuation.

Because there are cemeteries there, where these citizens have buried their parents and their children.

And what should happen to those graves? Shall we disinter the children killed and buried there, and force those people to relive once again the torment of those funerals? Or shall we leave the graves there, even as the Palestinians move in, pretending that we don’t recall the desecrations of Joseph’s Tomb in 2000, or of the Mount of Olives before the Six Day War?

Sadly, we hear little validation of the settlers’ angst from those who favor the withdrawal. Where is the grieving on the Left for a human tragedy of enormous proportions? Have we become so embittered that we feel nothing for those whom we must dislodge?

Is that what statehood has wrought? Yotzim me’aza, mathilim ledaber, proclaimed the other side. “Leave Gaza, and start speaking,” as if there were anyone with whom to speak.”

And I leave you with this excerpt from his most recent dispatch:

“Which was the end of the answer to Micha’s question. What will be left when we give it all back? A Pesach like this one, and you know the answer. What will be left will be a country where “Exodus” isn’t only a reference to the ancient past. And what will be left, undoubtedly, will be a smaller country.

What will be left it a country deeply wounded by the pain it is about to inflict on itself, by the price it is asking its best pioneers to pay for having heeded the call of previous governments to move to precisely where they now live. But what will be left is a population that is still in love with the land that it does have, and that hikes it and bikes it at every opportunity. That fills the roads to overflowing on vacations, that fills the wadis way beyond safe numbers. A place where the sense of shared enterprise is palpable, especially when you need it. What will be left are people who, if someone gets hurt, respond so selflessly that it takes your breath away. And then don’t understand why you’re making such a big deal of thanking them.

What will be left will be a country in which, if you go to a couple of doctors in the space of a few hours, one will have made aliyah from France, one from Spain and one from Russia. Where even the food cart in the waiting room reflects the fact that it’s Pesach. It will be a country in which, despite all the years of conflict, kids still reach
out to each other, across the chasms of cultures, and of languages.

But, most importantly, what will be left will be a place that people have left everything behind to come back to. It will be a country where, after this summer, people will have proven that despite the enormous and almost unspeakable pain entailed, they have decided to have less even in the short run, rather than nothing in the long run. Because they will still love what they’ll have. Because they can’t imagine surviving without it.

What will be left, when the pain begins to subside, will be home.”
From Exodus(es), Redux

Here is my wish for hope and that this works out for a better future and peace for all.

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  1. Jack's Shack June 30, 2005 at 4:37 am

    That is true.

  2. YoelBA June 30, 2005 at 1:03 am

    Another way of looking at this entire issue is that it is an (unfortunately) necessary process of clarification Israel must undergo in order to come to some form of national concensus. I commented on this (and the fact that this morning coincidently so did several others) in

    Yoel Ben-Avraham
    Shilo, Benyamin

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