Article By Dr. Noah Nissani

[Comments are welcome at our Dialogue Corner]

Separate Army and Politics

One of our supreme values, on which our security is based, is our youngsters' readiness to volunteer and make sacrifices in defending our country during their military service. This spirit is only guaranteed as long as the army acts as the Israel Defence Force, whose goals unite us all. Those who take our young people's spirit for granted are seriously mistaken by thinking that it would survive if the army is used by the government to impose its policies by force. This mistake endangers our future, especially if the army is used in actions that divide the nation. It is seriously wrong of the authorities to use our youngsters' patriotism in actions that clash with some of our best soldiers' faith and conscience.

The right to refuse in democratic states.

It is widely accepted in democratic states that each citizen's faith and conscience must be respected, and that no one should be forced to act against his / her values. In this spirit, Israel has rightly recognised both Jews and Arabs as equal citizens, but at the same time, exempted the Arabs from the duty of military service. Otherwise, Israel might have forced them to fight against their Arab and Muslim brothers. This would have constituted a violation of the profound meaning of our Torah's command: "Thou shalt not seethe a kid in its mother's milk." (Exodus 23:19). When you kill the offspring, don't hurt its mother's feelings by forcing her to participate in the act, not even passively. This rule against hurting animals' feelings is repeated in the Torah several times, stressing its supreme importance. Surely, this should apply even more to human feelings and principles.

The United States and other democracies refrain from violating the freedom of religion and conscience. Even during wars against external enemies, they respect the right of those who refuse to fight and allow them to serve in life-saving missions, some of which are no less dangerous. This should apply even more when the action serves internal policies that deeply divide both civilians and soldiers. This principle is even more important in a Jewish State, since our nation has a long legacy of willingness to die rather than commit an act against its faith, even if the act is only symbolic.

Danger to democracy.

In my article 'Virtue', I discussed the danger to democracy. According to Montesquieu, the founder of modern political science, rulers who disregard norms of fairness and honesty harm the very source of democracy's strength. Since this publication, new alarming facts have been exposed:

1) Another lie was exposed. Sharon claimed that he reached an understanding with President Bush, where the evacuation of Gaza would guarantee Israeli control of the West Bank settlements in the final status agreement. This was exposed as a lie when the press published the statements of US Ambassador. Sharon himself confirmed these facts: "Sharon said that the major settlement blocks will remain in Israeli hands, surrounded by fences, and we made this position clear to the Americans. This is our position even if they express reservations about it" (Haaretz, 28th March 2005). In other words, the unilateral withdrawal from Gaza will be carried out in return for a unilateral understanding, between Sharon and himself. This lie to the nation is clear after Sharon's meetings with Bush and is particularly grave since it is the only basis for his peculiar claim, that the unilateral concession in Gaza will ensure the future Israeli sovereignty over the settlement blocks in Judea and Samaria.

2) Those who think that a military coup is only possible in third world countries and not in Israel should take a look in the following headline from Haaretz (16th November, 2004): "IDF Research: Sharon spoke to Rabin in 1967 about overthrowing the government and starting military action." This case follows well known cases, although some try to silence them, where IDF officers organised rebellions and disobedience in the early days of statehood.

It seems that Sharon was aware of such a possibility when he fired the Chief of Staff, who was suspected for having doubts about the disengagement.

Will the disengagement go through?

Those who base their positions on the opinion polls that show a majority support for the disengagement, are divided into two groups: the misled and the misleading. Even in majoritarian democracies like ours, the decisive factor is not only the quantity, but also the interest that various sectors show in the issue at hand. That interest determines the active participation in the polling stations. A reliable indication for that interest is the numbers participating in both sides' demonstrations. Over 100,000 participated in repeated protests against the disengagement, while the square was almost empty in the only demonstration of its supporters. A similar division, or even more extreme, exists in the army and police forces.

Such a big public that opposes the government should not use any form of violence, or even lack of respect to soldiers and policemen, some of whom carry out orders against their will. Similar historical situations resulted in either shooting the masses, with disastrous results that dwarfed the 'Altallena' drama, or in the armed forces joining the protesters.

Sharon surprised again when he declared in an interview on NBC: "The atmosphere in Israel looks like the eve of a civil war". Mr. Sharon is wrong. Indeed his conduct caused a deep rift in the nation, his party and the army, but there is no atmosphere of a civil war yet. His opponents offered him a peaceful solution: a referendum.

The evacuation of Yamit did not cause such a resistance, nor endangered our democracy, since everything was done fairly and honestly. Mr. Begin did not agree in Camp David to evacuate the Sinai and so refrained from making international commitments before they were discussed and agreed in Israel. The cabinet did not decide on the evacuation before the Knesset's decision, and thus the free vote of all Members of Knesset, including ministers, was assured. No pressure was applied, none of the opponents was fired, none of the supporters was rewarded and no public commitment was breached.

Dr. Noah Nissani, 28/April/2005

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