Settlement issue takes a new turn

THE BALTIMORE SUN

SAVYON, Israel - Mili Osheroff is trying to persuade Israeli soldiers, including her children, to disobey orders to serve in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Datya Yitzhaki is urging those same soldiers to disobey orders to evacuate Jewish settlers.

The women belong to newly energized activist groups - one arguing that Israel illegally occupies Palestinian land, the other that ceding any of it jeopardizes Israel's future - urging civil disobedience. It is a new turn in the debate over the government's plan to dismantle all Jewish settlements in Gaza by next summer.

Israeli soldiers are being pressured as never before by parents, commanders, rabbis and politicians about which orders they should follow for the good of their conscience, their God and their country.

Army officers stress that there is only one person a soldier should obey - his or her commander.

"Protest is a legitimate tool," Gen. Yiftah Ron Tal, who leads the army's ground forces, told a parliamentary committee last month. "But to incite soldiers to mutiny is not legitimate in our state."

Settlers clashed yesterday with troops who came to tear down two structures at an unauthorized West Bank outpost, and a soldier was arrested for encouraging comrades to refuse to evacuate the settlement, the army said, in the first case of its kind.

One soldier was hurt and several settlers arrested in the clashes at the West Bank outpost Mitzpe Yizhar. The arrested soldier, a resident of the settlement outpost, was from the unit that carried out the demolition but was on leave at the time, wire services reported.

Six Palestinians were killed and eight wounded in the northern Gaza Strip today by what Palestinian hospital officials said was Israeli tank fire.

The Israeli fire came in response to Palestinian mortar attacks on an industrial zone near the Erez crossing between Israel and Gaza. The Israeli military said an Israeli was lightly hurt by the mortar fire, but had no immediate comment on the Israeli tank fire.

Osheroff, who lives in this well-to-do suburb of Tel Aviv, and Yitzhaki, a longtime settler in Gaza, represent two extremes in a society polarized by a debate about territory but also touching on ethics and religion.

Osheroff, who describes herself as a pacifist, has a son who just completed mandatory military service, a daughter who is in the middle of hers and a younger son scheduled to be inducted in July. She believes the army is overseeing an immoral occupation.

Yitzhaki, who has lived in the settlement area known as Gush Katif for 20 years, believes a withdrawal from Gaza will eventually lead to Israel's demise.

Along with 96 other parents of active-duty soldiers, Osheroff and her husband, David, signed a letter urging their sons and daughters to reject assignments to the West Bank and Gaza.

"I'm convinced that the occupation of the Palestinians is bad," says Mili Osheroff. "We are harming another population, and we must do what we can to stop it. If not, my grandchildren will one day ask why I stayed silent, why Israel stayed silent."

She is 49, grew up in an Orthodox home and, 30 years ago, served in the army as a clerk in the intelligence branch. Her children chide her for her politics.

"They grew up in a house that was pacifist," Osheroff says. "But they also grew up in a country where bombs were going off in their streets and their friends were being killed, so I understand their mentality."

The letter, sponsored by the group Courage to Refuse, speaks bluntly of the pain of parents who feel they have failed.

"We have educated you to love Israel and to contribute anything to the country, including three years of army service," the letter says. "Now we say to you, listen to your conscience. During your service in the occupied territories, you will be ordered to carry out orders that contradict the values that we have endowed - mutual respect, human dignity, freedom, justice, equality and pursuing peace."

Yitzhaki and her husband, Aryeh, are members of the settlement's committee in charge of organizing protests against an Israeli withdrawal.

"Retreating from here would be a disaster to the state of Israel," says Datya Yitzhaki. "It is bad for security, bad for our values and bad for us as individuals."

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's political tactics justify civil disobedience, she says; his firing of Cabinet ministers who oppose leaving Gaza and his ignoring of Likud Party votes that did not go his way amount to undemocratic means.

"We cannot use democratic tools anymore," Yitzhaki says. "We hope that if we sound frightening enough that we won't have to do anything. But if not, we are going for complete anarchy. Jews should not be fighting to evict Jews from their homes."

Yitzhaki, 44, works as a tour guide. Her husband is a military historian. Together, they write a diary for the Jerusalem Post about life for them and their young children - ages 1, 4 and 6 - in Gush Katif.

In their committee work, the most recent discussion revolved around how to feed and house what Gush Katif settlers hope will be thousands of supporters.

"We have tens of thousands of people who will come and stand with us," Yitzhaki says. "Today, there are 7,000 residents they have to drag out. If we have 70,000, it changes everything."

She sees a big difference between the civil disobedience she advocates and that backed by Courage to Refuse.

"The decision about where to go and fight is the army's decision and no one else's," she says. "But when there is a black flag, such as ordering soldiers to fight their own people, then we have a moral obligation to do whatever we can to object to what is an immoral act."

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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