Halutz: If religious troops refuse pullout order, secular troops won't guard settlers

Posted in Israel / Palestine | 25-Jul-05 | Author: Amos Harel and Nir Hasson| Source: Ha'aretz

Israeli army Chief of Staff Dan Halutz

Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Dan Halutz warned settler leaders yesterday that mass refusal by religious soldiers to carry out orders connected to the disengagement could encourage a surge in refusal to serve in the territories among secular leftists.

"Refusal is unacceptable, whether from the right or from the left," said Halutz to leaders of the Yesha Council of settlements in a meeting at his office that lasted more than four hours. "What do you want - for a day to come when a secular soldier says that he refuses to participate in guarding the beit hasho'eva celebrations [a traditional Sukkot festivity] in Hebron?"

The IDF is determined to carry out the disengagement, regardless of how many troops the task ultimately requires, Halutz said.

"We are committed to the mission because that's what the state has decided upon," Halutz told settler leaders. "We will implement it on time, however many [troops] it takes."

Halutz's remarks came in response to the council's unveiling yesterday of its plans for the next phase of its anti-disengagement protest, which is due to start next week. The goal of this phase will be to disrupt the disengagement by diverting large numbers of policemen and soldiers to the task of preventing demonstrators from reaching Gaza and joining the Gaza settlers in resisting the evacuation.

Halutz added that while he does not object to demonstrations against the disengagement, he does object to physical or verbal violence, such as the graffiti reading "Judenrat" that right-wing activists scrawled at the Kissufim checkpoint or catcalls terming the IDF "the expulsion and uprooting army."

The settler leaders responded that they also condemn violence but intend to continue their protests, as they want the trauma of evacuating settlements to be "seared into the consciousness" of all Israelis. Halutz responded that "going all the way" with their protests was liable to lead to a loss of control.

The Yesha Council utilized the meeting to protest the massive IDF presence at last week's demonstration in Kfar Maimon, where police and soldiers surrounded the moshav to prevent demonstrators from continuing their planned march into Gaza. The IDF, charged council members, should not be operating inside Israel. But Halutz rejected these accusations, saying that the IDF had acted legally.

They also protested Halutz's definition of the disengagement as a national mission, terming it "politicization of the army," in the words of council member Pinhas Wallerstein. Halutz responded that the government sets the IDF's missions.

But despite the disagreements, both sides reported afterward that the atmosphere at the meeting was good.

The Yesha Council's new plan for disrupting the disengagement calls for tens of thousands of demonstrators to gather at two sites in the Western Negev. Some of the sites under consideration are Sderot, Ofakim, Kibbutz Sa'ad and Moshav Patish. Each site will serve as a base from which groups of activists will try on a daily basis to evade police and army roadblocks and reach the Gush Katif settlement bloc. These efforts will include both mass marches toward Gaza and infiltration attempts by small groups and individuals, with some activities scheduled to happen simultaneously at several different locations in order to make the security forces' task more difficult.

The plan was devised in response to the lessons learned from last week's mass demonstration at Kfar Maimon - which, though it failed to culminate as planned in a march on Gaza, did succeed in pinning down some 20,000 policemen and soldiers who were deployed to prevent the demonstrators from achieving that goal. In this way, the council hopes, activists can successfully disrupt the disengagement.

This week, the council has no protest activities scheduled, preferring to use the time to prepare for next week's events. But other anti-disengagement groups plan to continue their actions in order not to grant the security services time to rest and recuperate.

Meanwhile, some 100 Gush Katif residents marched down the Kissufim road last night to protest the attack in which Rahel and Dov Kol were killed there a day earlier. A similar march was slated to leave from the Gaza settlement of Kfar Darom, but was canceled at the army's request due to fears for the protesters' safety.