On July 25, some 20,000 Israeli soldiers and 8,000 policemen will embark on a mission that none have experienced before.
The “target” this time will not be Palestinian terrorists, but rather some of the 8,000 Jewish settlers living in the Gaza Strip and northern West Bank, who are to be evacuated back to Israel under the government-approved disengagement plan.
For the settlers, the disengagement decision represents a nightmare come true, and the end of a dream for a "Greater Israel.”
The settlers believe Gaza and the West Bank are part of “the land of Israel,” as promised by God in the Bible, an ideology which claims the right for all the land bordered by the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River. Right-wing settlers and some Jewish rabbis have called for soldiers not to obey the command to evacuate Jews.
There is a long tradition in Israel of soldiers refusing to obey orders, based on their religious or political convictions. Last year, 34 reserve officers, living in the West Bank and Gaza, signed a petition stating their refusal to obey any command to evacuate settlers.
In response to the threat of disobedience, the Israeli Army has devised an action plan in the shape of a special kit that will be handed out to field commanders giving instructions on the hard task of forcing families from their homes.
The kit provides a fascinating insight into how the Israeli Army views its role in a democratic state, and what it expects from its soldiers, even when it comes to confronting their own people.
How to handle soldiers 'living with the conflict'
The kit, which contains two CDs with almost 120 text pages, still pictures, and video clips, begins with a definition of democracy and an explanation of its values.
Ideas of social equality and respect for the individual within a community are values that are particularly highlighted. The kit also emphasizes the important role the army plays in a democracy, specifying the army as an integral part of the system.
Commanders receiving this kit are expected to use the information, and the simulation scenarios attached, to make sure soldiers, "Identify themselves with the duty to execute all missions and obey orders.”
The issue of freedom of speech and soldiers having their own opinion is also addressed. There is an acknowledgment that "Israeli society is split and torn,” but it strictly condemns soldiers voicing their own opinion in public, reminding them that the army is "an operational tool of the government and its duty is to carry out the political decisions.”
"For the people who are going to be evacuated, like for some of our soldiers, this mission set before us comes with feelings of despair and anguish, we can't ignore this,” reads Section Four of the kit. “In this situation, our mission is to listen and assist those soldiers who are 'living with the conflict' in a way of respecting their stand and values. All this, without giving up the duty to carry out the mission.”
What will happen is yet to be seen
High-ranking officers are counting on their subordinates to be tuned in to the soldiers’ feelings, spending time preparing them and, most importantly, dealing with any signs a soldier may refuse to obey an order.
The army will use fast and strict measures against those who disobey. “Refusal hurts the foundation of the democracy and the military and national might,” the kit states.
The settlement movement is at a crossroads. Some settlers have expressed their desire to willingly leave their homes, in return for compensation offered by the government. Others promise a very fierce battle against the disengagement.
Last week, 16 Israeli right-wing activists were arrested for obstructing traffic by burning tires on the main highway linking the center of the country with the south.
But that’s not what the security forces are really afraid of. The real fear is a scenario the kit does not address or provide answers for: What will happen if a group of radical settlers decides, in an act of total despair, to open fire with rifles they already own, upon soldiers who try to evacuate them?
How the Israeli Army hopes such a hypothetical situation might be dealt with can be found in the main motif repeated in the kit: "With wisdom, with sensitivity and with determination.” If the army can maintain that standard, it may achieve its goal of a peaceful disengagement mission at all costs.