Image: Israeli soldier
Abed Al Hafiz Hashlamoun  /  EPA
As many as 30 soldiers, most of whom are Orthodox Jews, announced they would not help evict Jewish settlers in Hebron, Israeli media reported.
updated 8/6/2007 6:07:49 PM ET 2007-08-06T22:07:49

A group of religiously observant Israeli infantry soldiers on Monday refused an army order to evacuate Jewish squatters from the biblical city of Hebron, the traditional burial place of Abraham, saying they would not expel Jews from sacred land.

The army quickly announced it would not tolerate any form of mutiny and will prosecute a dozen of the soldiers, including two commanders. If convicted, all could face jail time.

Monday’s mutiny came as Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert met with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to discuss creation of a Palestinian state.

The rebellion reflects a growing schism between Jewish settlers and the army. Tensions have been high since Israel unilaterally withdrew from the Gaza Strip in 2005, forcibly removing its 9,000 settlers. Last February, soldiers clashed with settlers again when they uprooted part of the illegal West Bank outpost of Amona.

Incident 'endangers the foundations'
Some of the soldiers who took part in those operations were themselves from settlements and wept as they carried out their orders. Some said they were later ostracized by their communities, and there were reports of angry neighbors assaulting settler officers.

Israeli media reported that as many as 30 soldiers, most of whom are Orthodox Jews, announced they would not partake in another eviction of Jews from their homes.

Moshe Rosenfeld, a father of one of the soldiers, said he and other parents would block the transport of their sons to Hebron, where the military on Tuesday is slated to evict two Jewish families that have been squatting illegally in an Arab neighborhood.

“My son was trained to be a sniper. My son was trained to lay in ambush. My son was not educated to evict his brother from the tomb of the patriarchs. He will not do it,” he told Israel’s Army Radio.

Maj. Gen. Gadi Shamni, the top army commander in the West Bank, said the army would deal harshly with any soldier who disobeyed a direct order.

“This phenomenon endangers the foundations on which the army operates as the army of the people in a democratic state, and its obligation to carry out all of its missions,” he said in a statement.

Yaakov Amidror, a right-wing retired general, said he strongly opposed the evacuation but that soldiers had no choice but to carry out their orders.

“There is only one thing that is worse than the decision to expel Jews from their homes in Hebron ... and that is to ruin the army. Disobeying an order is a sure way to ruin the army,” he said.

Eviction notices allegedly ignored
Hebron, a frequent flashpoint of tensions between Israelis and Palestinians, is home to about 500 Jewish settlers living in heavily guarded enclaves among some 160,000 Palestinians. Clashes are frequent.

The two Jewish families have been squatting illegally in several apartments in the Hebron market for several months. The market has been closed since 1994, when the Jewish militant Baruch Goldstein opened fire in a shrine holy to both Jews and Muslims, killing 29 Palestinians. Settlers have been seeking to re-establish a presence.

The settlers claim the property was owned by Jewish families for decades until Jordanian authorities seized it after the 1948 Israeli war of independence. Israel captured the West Bank from Jordan in 1967.

The police said the families, who have ignored several eviction notices, would be removed by police special units and the army would provide backup.

David Wilder, a spokesman for Hebron’s Jewish settlers, promised the troops would face “civil disobedience and passive resistance” upon their arrival. He commended the rebelling soldiers.

“It’s a very positive sign and we hope to see more of that,” he said. “The army should defend its people, not expel them.”

The battalion in question is the same one whose soldiers last week took over a taxi in the West Bank town of Dahariya, and opened fire at a Palestinian man who apparently aroused their suspicion. Three senior officers, including the battalion commander, were reprimanded for the incident, and an officer and five soldiers were suspended.

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