The recent debate over disobedience in the army is surprising. To recap, in several incidents IDF soldiers displayed banners vowing to refuse their orders to evict Jews from the settlements. All of them were severely punished with jail terms and demoted from combat units.

Far removed from its glorious days of fighting Arab armies, IDF has deteriorated into anti-guerrilla police, and has now become a crack force to be used against Israel’s own citizens. The army conducts more operations daily against Jews than against Palestinian Arabs. Often the army is petty enough to demolish Jewish prefab houses on private Jewish land just because they are technically unauthorized—even though Arabs have built tens of thousands of unauthorized houses in the vicinity. Just as often, the army engages in very controversial demolitions of unauthorized houses designated as synagogues or kindergartens, or even grave-sites, such as Dr. Goldstein’s. Sometimes evictions take place in a manner aptly described by a leading rabbi as Nazi-like: at night, the army threw Jewish children from the windows and bulldozed the families’ shacks along with their meager possessions. The army’s third-largest operation in terms of budget and the largest in terms of the number of personnel involved in the last five years was not a war, but the eviction of 8,000 Jews from Gaza. The evictions left a deep scar on the Jewish national conscience. If soldiers are expected to act humanely toward their enemies, it is all the more important that they act humanely toward their own people. It is surprising that the same people who would rip soldiers apart for evicting an Arab family or destroying their illegal house demand that soldiers unflinchingly evict their fellow Jews.

Disobedience in Israeli army

Other civilized countries use their the armies against fellow citizens only in times of martial law, and even then only against rioting crowds that create an immediate danger to other citizens. A typical scenario in which an army is used against private communities is when a religious sect threatens mass suicide—which, importantly, involves non-consenting children.

Israeli soldiers are not the praetorian guard of the Judenrat. They cannot be expected to fall on their compatriots when ordered to do so. Those who suggest that military disobedience demoralizes an army must consider that acting against its own people demoralizes an army even more. Murder and oppression are highly immoral. They are only made tolerable by the higher aim of defending one’s people. When your family is in danger it is better to kill than be killed; the logic is simple. Evictions destroy this moral basis of a healthy army. Acting in a clearly immoral fashion against its own people alienates the army from society, and lays the ground for a putsch, or at least for gross immorality toward enemies. If it is permissible—indeed obligatory—to throw fellow Jews out of their homes, then much uglier things become permissible toward our Arab enemies. On other hand, dissident settlers are often kind to Jews and Arabs alike; recall Dr. Baruch Goldstein, who risked his life to evacuate wounded Palestinian terrorists for medical treatment.

The conflict is not really over the refusal. The refusals have gone on for years, handled quietly between soldiers and their commanders. As leftists dodge conscription or join home-front units, combat forces are composed largely of settlers. Naturally, they are not going to evict their neighbors or relatives. This is well understood in the army, and these soldiers are exempted from eviction operations. The problem arises when they disobey publicly, for political rather than personal reasons—especially for conservative political reasons; the leftists who disobey by dodging the draft are chastised in the most lenient manner.

Disobedience would be even more widespread in the kind of army we advocate, an army into which middle-aged men, rather than children, are conscripted. In the modern army, strength of character is more important than physical strength. Sending children to fight before sending their parents is shockingly immoral, especially since the children have not yet had the chance to vote for a change. A middle-aged army would have stronger opinions, which is exactly the reason why all governments conscript gullible youngsters.

Obedience is not always good; sometimes, it equals dangerous complacency. When the government and the commanders act against their country, it is a soldier’s duty to protect basic values rather than discipline. This debate raged quietly in the German army from 1933 to 1938; commanders, a traditionally aristocratic and independent bunch, wondered whether their loyalty to their country or to their führer came first. The doubters soon went down in a purge. Obedience creates a great danger in militarized countries, such as Israel. The Nazi leadership only needed to replace a few dozen top commanders in the army and several hundred in the police to gain unquestioned control over all security forces. In 1938, within a matter of days, the army was transformed, just as the police had been in 1932. Where once they had been society’s conservative pillars, highly skeptical of the Nazis, they now had become the regime’s enforcers. A similar process took place in Austria: months before annexation, just a few dozen top-level police commanders appointed by Austria’s Nazi Minister of the Interior ensured complete freedom for the Nazi riots. The police, who had once broken up Nazi riots with ease, now stood by. It is a blessing that Israeli soldiers are not automatons in their commanders’ hands, but thinking, responsible Jews.

The disobedience is not really an issue of military discipline. It is preposterous to assert that soldiers who refuse to evict Jews might also refuse battlefield orders. The soldiers who come from among the settlers, the ones who generally try to avoid eviction roles, are the best, most highly motivated combat personnel. If anything, their refusal to evict Jews shows devotion to the Zionist cause. Soldiers who endure jail and dishonor for their love of Jews will certainly endure battlefield dangers as well.

It might be actually good for the army for soldiers to think about their orders rather than executing them blindly. This is especially true on today’s fogless digital battlefield, where a regiment’s commander sees exactly the same picture as the Chief of Staff. Israeli history knows many instances when commanders essentially murdered their obedient soldiers: Rabin’s Jerusalem operations, Sharon’s break through Mitla, and Olmert’s surge in Lebanon, to name a few. Looking at the fact that none of Israel’s generals has a proper military education, and quite a few of them are glaringly unprofessional, soldiersmay indeed need the right to veto decisions which might prove suicidal for them. There is no reason to believe that honest, brave, highly motivated Jewish soldiers would use their veto power to excuse themselves from fighting. If the state is democratic, it would be reasonable for soldiers to be allowed to elect their commanders and control them. If the general staff believes that the appointed commanders are professional and authoritative, then they should have no trouble winning the troops’ support—and indeed, IDF commanders up to the mid-level are generally highly professional and popular among their troops.

Military jurists, including the Israeli Supreme Court, have upheld the right to disobedience. Specifically, after the Kfar Qassem massacre, the court ruled that soldiers have a duty to disobey orders that fly in the face of their consciences. It is a great fault of Zionist education that for some soldiers evicting other Jews does not raise the red banner, “Prohibited!” The army whose stated aim is defending Jews cannot repress them; Zionism means settling Zion rather than uprooting our settlements. Besides the nationalistic reasons, there are strong religious prohibitions against evicting other Jews, destroying our settlements, and abandoning our land. A society which expects its soldiers not to rebel against morality must not be surprised by their refusal to rebel against that morality’s source, God.