Israeli settlers call for civil disobedience against evacuation
SPECIAL TO WORLD TRIBUNE.COM
Thursday, December 23, 2004
JERUSALEM – Israel faces the prospect of massive resistance to the government's plan to expel about 10,000 Jews from the Gaza Strip and northern West Bank in 2005.
Leaders of the estimated 250,000 Jews in the West Bank and Gaza Strip have called for a campaign of civil disobedience to resist the evacuation of the areas. The Council of Jewish Communities in Judea, Samaria and Gaza, citing U.S. civil rights leader Martin Luther King and India's Mahatma Ghandi, has urged Israelis to risk imprisonment rather than cooperate with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's plan for a military withdrawal from and expulsion of Israeli residents of the Gaza Strip and northern West Bank.
Over the last few months, Jewish residents of the West Bank and Gaza Strip have been meeting Israelis in Tel Aviv and surrounding cities to explain their opposition to Sharon's plan, Middle East Newsline reported. They have also been recruiting volunteers to resist the evacuation of the Gaza Strip and northern West Bank when the army begins to seal these areas in July 2004.
"In the current situation, we expect that thousands of people will be willing to go to prison as a way of stopping the dangerous process promoted by the two leftist leaders, Sharon and [Labor Party chairman Shimon] Peres," Ron Breiman, a member of the nationalist group Professors for a Strong Israel, said.
The decision by the settlement council marked the greatest threat yet to the Sharon plan for a withdrawal in September 2005. Officials said the council's decision could spark confrontations between Israeli authorities and Jewish settlers and their supporters over the next 10 months.
"The year 2005 is not likely to be an easy year for the people of Israel," Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom said. "It is likely to create rifts. The biggest challenge is to maintain unity of the people. There is no room for a split. Every Israeli citizen must preserve the rules of democracy."
Officials said the campaign against Sharon's expulsion plan could harm Israel's strategic interests. They said among the non-lethal options that could be taken by withdrawal opponents include the refusal by tens of thousands of reservists to serve in the army, resignation by combatants of elite forces, sabotage of military facilities in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and the intimidation of government employees responsible for the withdrawal plan.
A large portion of elite combat units contains youngsters who either live or study in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. These areas also contain Orthodox Jewish academies that prepare young men for service in special operations forces and leading army units.
"It'll [withdrawal] be a difficult and painful process," Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz said. "I think that the council members who have led the residents of Judea, Samaria and Gaza are intelligent and I hope that they will act according to the law and observe the democratic decisions of the government and Knesset."
Israeli police commander Inspector-General Moshe Karadi said his forces, together with the army, were receiving physical and psychological training to remove Israelis from their homes in the Gaza Strip and northern West Bank. Karadi said the expulsion would not involve the use of weapons or any other lethal methods – "only hands."
"We're working on operational doctrine of both the police and [army] soldiers, regarding both psychological and physical preparations," Karadi said. "We have conducted workshops and are in the advanced stage. As the date for evacuation approaches, we will continue to train the police to carry out their operation because we can't allow an incomplete mission because of any resistance."
The council decision was part of a new policy by withdrawal opponents to warn of the consequences of the expulsion of Israelis. Council members said their decision reflected Sharon's refusal to hold a referendum regarding a withdrawal from the territories Israel captured in 1967.
In May 2004, Sharon dismissed a referendum by his Likud Party that opposed the withdrawal plan. About a month later, Sharon fired two ministers opposed to his plan and replaced them with those who supported the prime minister.
"Sharon's dictatorship has left us no choice," Yehoshua Mor-Yosef, the secretary of the settlement council, said.
In a letter that led to the council decision, Pinchas Wallerstein, head of the Binyamin Council in the West Bank, said the only option for opponents of withdrawal was to resist the thousands of police and army troops sent to expel the Israelis. Wallerstein, citing the U.S. civil rights campaign in 1960s, said the withdrawal could be halted if enough people were willing to undergo arrest as part of the resistance.
In his letter, Wallerstein urged opponents of withdrawal to smash military roadblocks, enter closed military zones and barricade homes in the Gaza Strip and northern West Bank in an effort to block the expulsion.
Wallerstein did not rule out that Israeli authorities would respond with lethal measures.
"I understand that people who act in the spirit of this letter will pay a heavy price, but I, personally, am prepared to be killed to prevent the evacuation," Wallerstein said in a letter to his constituents.
Jewish settlement leaders pointed out that Sharon himself called on Israeli soldiers to refuse any order to expel Jews from the West Bank and Gaza Strip. In a 1995 interview, Sharon recommended that 50,000 people surround the office of the prime minister until the government fell.
"If we could have 50,000 people around the Prime Minister's office for 10 days, the government would fall," Sharon told the weekly Kfar Habad newspaper. "This is a permitted method in democratic regimes."
But today Sharon has expressed opposition to civil disobedience, and officials said authorities were examining the feasibility of arresting Wallerstein and others who advocate resistance of Israel's withdrawal plan.
He condemned the calls by Jewish settlement leaders to resist the withdrawal and reiterated his refusal to hold any referendum.
"The disengagement will be carried out according to the timetable that has been determined by the government and approved by the Knesset," Sharon said.
Settlement leaders said Wallerstein's letter was far more benign than the calls for active resistance by Israelis in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
They cited the government's failure to dismantle any Jewish community established without official approval over the last three years in the West Bank, a major demand by the United States.
"If what Pinchas is calling for is the only thing that takes place, that would be wonderful," Knesset member Nissim Slomiansky, a member of the opposition National Religious Party, said. "It could be 1,000 times worse."
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