On Nov. 16, a group of Israeli soldiers disobeyed orders to assist in the dismantling of two wooden structures that Jewish settlers had built without Israeli government authorization near Hebron. A military official said two of the soldiers were sent to prison for 30 days and permanently dismissed from command or combat positions. Several others are still being investigated. The area was secured by soldiers from an infantry battalion, some of whom “did not follow orders given to them,” the official told Reuters, declining to provide exact numbers. The YNet news service said six soldiers were relieved of duty.
Last month, a group of conscripts disrupted their swearing-in ceremony at Jerusalem’s Western Wall, calling for continued Jewish settlement in the West Bank. The military said two soldiers were sentenced to 20 days in jail for their actions at the holy site and removed permanently from the unit.
“Our security and existence depend on the Israel Defense Forces,” Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu responded to the mutiny. “If you promote disobedience, you will bring about the downfall of the state. There is no place for disobedience.” But chief of staff Lt-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi played down the significance of the protests. “This is not a political tidal wave washing through the military and the matter has not spiraled out of control,” he said. (Zaman, Turkey, Nov. 18; Reuters, Nov. 16)
The mutiny comes amid controversy over apparent extremist comments by Brig. Gen. Avichai Rontzki, the IDF’s chief military rabbi. The Israeli daily Haaretz on Nov. 15 published statements Rontzki reportedly made last week in a lecture at a hesder yeshiva (which combines Torah study with military service) in the West Bank settlement of Karnei Shomron. Quoting the medieval Jewish scholar Maimonides, he said that “in times of war, whoever doesn’t fight with all his heart and soul is damned—if he keeps his sword from bloodshed, if he shows mercy toward his enemy when no mercy should be shown.” He then immediately applied these words to the current controversy over Israel’s Gaza campaign, saying that in Operation Cast Lead, the IDF “fought with all their heart and soul” because “the people of Israel has united recently around the simple understanding of how it must fight.” Rontzki later denied having made the remarks. (Haartez, Nov. 17)