Saturday, January 30, 2010

The Soldier who called for Refusal: I would do it again

Translation of article appearing in Maariv about a soldier, Aryeh Arbus, who called for refusal of order to uproot Jews from the Land of Israel and does not regret it.

The Soldier who called for Refusal: I would do it again.

“The banner was a provocation in order to send a message. We need to remove people who change the Army’s mission” - Private Arbus, who waved the banner at the Western Wall, does not regret his actions.

Ro’i Sharon

After Private Aryeh Arbus, who waved a banner against evacuating settlements during an army swearing-in ceremony at the Western Wall, was released from prison, he arrived for a conversation with the commander of the Kfir Brigade, Colonel Oran Avman. At the end of the two hour long conversation, Arbus pointed at the commander’s head.

“Do you know why that is there, and the ranks are placed on your shoulders?” he asked, “because it is important that the head should be above the rank. If your rank is above your head, you are a robot.” Avman informed Arbus that he is dismissed from the brigade, and that he will recommend his dismissal from the IDF.

The outward appearance of Arbus can be deceiving. He has the classic ultra-orthodox black yarmulke, the beard of a young kollel student, tzitzit hanging out of his clothing, and an extremely modest build. But the instant he opens his mouth, it because clear that he is not a robot in reserve duty. During basic training, he was a candidate to be selected as an outstanding soldier for his base. In his unit, he achieved the prestigious position of signal operator for the platoon commander, and in the professional opinion that his commander sent after the banner waving, it is written that he is a leading professional soldier. He is fluent, focused, and adopts clear statements.

“There are senior officers in the army with a problem in their outlook, therefore a soldier like me confuses them”, Arbus said to his family. “An outstanding soldier who challenges them with thinking out of the boundaries represents for them a problem. Soldiers with values are good soldiers, but they have values. The mixture between excellence and waving the banner drove the brigade commander crazy.”

“Waving the banner was a provocation”, he admits in conversations with his friends. “Waving the banner was meant to send a message. It hurts me that I would need to make a provocation instead of sending a message in a direct way, but they have pushed us to a corner, and it is better that a person commits a minor transgression and not commit a severe transgression. From that perspective, I am not sorry. I am sorry that we would not to break the laws of military discipline in order to say something which is so logical, human, and Jewish.”

He left the Chassidic Yeshiva to help the Samarian Hills

After he was dismissed from Kfir Brigade, Arbus was summoned to an incompatibility committee, made up of senior officers in the manpower system of the IDF. “They asked me there hypothetical questions”, he said to his friends. “’What would you do tomorrow if they would say to you were assigned to distribute snacks to forces which are evacuating Jews?’ I said to them that it would be hard for me to answer hypothetical questions and that I would need to think. They got mad at me. I said to them that a Jewish soldier is a thinking soldier. They said to me ‘No, a Jewish soldier is a soldier that carries out orders’, and they informed me that they would recommend releasing me from the army.”

It is the norm in the IDF that they judge a soldier after he committed a crime. But the very fact that they ask a soldier in the IDF if he would refuse an order, that is a precedent which says that the army has changed its role from defending Jews to something else. Perhaps now they will ask all IDF soldiers this question? We need to remove the people that change the role of the army, not those that preserve its role.

“There are a range of orders that fit the army. They cannot take soldiers to disperse a student demonstration or Flotilla 13 to gather illegal workers, because that is not their role. I know from the fact that the government decides for the army, but the army has a role which has boundaries, and evacuation of Jews is outside of this boundary. Any act of the army against citizens is that of a third world country. Against Israeli Arabs, the Border Patrol acts, against Jewish citizens they don’t know to do that?”

Private Aryeh Arbus, #6105973, grew up in an ultra-orthodox household in Jerusalem, tenth generation of a Gur Chassidic family. His mother is a psychologist, and his father is a businessman. Eleven siblings, all still in the ultra-orthodox world. A bit before age 18, he left the Chassidic Yeshiva, and began to hand out in the Samarian hills.

“The Army doesn’t suit you”

Today, he lives in Giv’at Skali in Elon Moreh, married to Ruhama, and father to the three month old Reishit. He has foregone the woolen yarmulke of the hilltop youth. “I have never been too excited about external symbols, this yarmulke or another,” he said to his friends. “Exactly the opposite. When I was a boy with a suit and hat, I went around in sandals. People were confused. I love showing people conflicting things, that they will think you are “gross” or you are “evil”, and after two minutes, they will think something else altogether.”

Like many of his hilltop friends, Arbus felt frustrated by the IDF’s implementation of the Disengagement Plan. He said to the soldier at the Draft Office “I want to enlist, but I will not take a part in political assignments”. A year ago, he thought about his military service again. “Because the values situation of the army, I was
uncertain about enlisting”, he said to his associates.

“I decided to enlist for two reasons. The first and decisive one was due to the declaration of Chief of Staff Ashkenazi who announced upon assuming his office that the army would not take part in political assignments. The second reason was Operation ‘Cast Lead’. At that time, I had a rising of spirit, a desire to protect the lives of soldiers. I arrived at the conclusion that the army doesn’t belong to generals, but to the nation.”

His family recommended not enlisting. His friends joined them. “The Army doesn’t suit you”, they tried to convince him. Today, they say to him “see, we were right”, but Arbus doesn’t have regrets. “I still think that they are wrong. I don’t go with the herd. They are mad that I enlisted, but I decided to be a simple Jew, what is good - we assist, and what is bad ­ we distance ourselves. The problem is that there are people that are pulling the army to the wrong place, to a place of disagreement.”

Damage to Mutual Responsibility

After the committee’s recommendation, Arbus sent a letter to the commander of the Absorption and Classification Base, Colonel Gadi Agmon, in which he objected to the recommendation to release him from the army. “It pains me that we have been forced, my friends and I, to act in a few instances in this manner, which is in conflict with army principles and harms IDF discipline”, he wrote. “This action came from a feeling of being pushed toa corner and from a lack of choice, and a fear from an order which would obligate me to expel my wife and daughter and friends and family from their homes. Is there not a place for everyone, my hurting friends and I, a place in the nation’s army whose job is the security of the nation of Israel in its land?”

Arbus wrote further: “Is it possible that the IDF will act as it did with me in the incompatibility commission and require soldiers to answer how they would act in a hypothetical situation, like an order that has yet to be given and stands on the thin line between conscious and his obligations as a soldier? If so, why doesn’t the IDF go out with a questionnaire of all soldiers, or at least the soldiers which come from frameworks which don’t outright reject refusal of orders which are against their religion and faith, and disqualify ahead of time from their obligation to defend Israel and its land?”

For the conclusion of his objection letter, he wrote that “a process such as that of my release from the IDF, will harm the integration and the mutual responsibility between the different parts of the nation of Israel, who meet in the IDF and see it as the nation’s army, which gives every Jew the opportunity to protect and defend and to help continue the existence of the nation of Israel in the Land of Israel.

“Even Leftists have joined our protest”

Arbus was sent to serve in the adjutancy department of the Bik’ah Brigade, and on Wednesday, the deputy brigade commander informed him that the final decision had been made to release him from army service. On Sunday he will go to the induction center, where he will return his equipment and be released.

This week, Arbus reconstructed, in conversations with his friends, the decision to wave the banner at the Western Wall, the decision which sent him for 20 days incarceration in Prison Six, and his removal from army service. “Preceding it were developments and small protests within the company, which were silenced by the officers”, he said to them. “The idea for the banner was born in a brainstorm discussion with friends in the company, and we came to the conclusion that this is the right thing to do. We tried, but there was no other choice. It pains me, but I do not regret it. If I could pass on the message in a way that would follow army laws, I would be happy, but there was no possibility.”

“We had a feeling that this disciplinary crime was dwarfed by the human crime being committed here. If it was possible to turn back the clock, I would do it again just the same. I am confident that in the long run, I brought a great benefit to the IDF, and everyone will understand that. Not in waving the banner, but in the message. I didn’t know that in the IDF document it is written that the role of the army is to evict Jews. If this were the task of the army, then we would politely part ways.”

“I want to remain in the army in order to defend the nation of Israel and its land. If they would not bring me to the situation of a political assignment, then I don’t have a problem. I, after all, did not refuse any order, but in the moment that the army takes my assigned battalion on an evacuation assignment, that is called bringing me to an impossible situation. It pains me.”

The protest act, he says to his associates, won the support from all sides of the political map. “Even Leftists joined our protest, because from their perspective this is an individual within the army, and also other people expressed their support with reservations. I don’t have a problem that they condemned it from the Right.That is great. That is how the Arab Israelis work. One breaks to the right, and then afterwards the rest line up behind. I am ahead of everyone else. If they want that I will have the role of the extremist, I will be in the role of the extremist. We need to challenge the public.”

Making Honor

Arbus paved the way for placard scenes in Kfir Brigade, but according to him, it is time to update the protest methods. The banners have been exhausted, he believes. “Another banner won’t do anything. The Brigade Commander asked me during the interview after jail which other ideas I had in my head. I responded ‘I compartmentalize you.’”

Arbus remembers his army service from the moment of the protest at the Western Wall as a positive experience. “They honor me every place in the army”, he tells his friends, “in jail they called me ‘armed’, they would let me go first in to the cafeteria. They made me a hero. Even on other bases where I was it was the same. You do not know how wide the consensus is in the army on this matter.

Unlike Achiya Ovadya, from the same platoon, who was dismissed from the brigade and from the Hesder track, but remained in the army, Arbus understood already from the beginning of the week that he was on the way out. “They made me a non-commissioned adjutancy officer in the Bik’ah Brigade, and I have no problem with that. Even an adjutant contributes to the defense of the nation of Israel. I am not prepared to see them punish a soldier because he informs them that he will not act against his conscious. But to punish a soldier twice on the same crime, that is already illegal.”

“I have no idea why they kicked me out of the army, and other soldiers with much more serious disciplinary problems went back to their units after their incarceration. I feel hurt. My enlistment to the army, in spite of my background, helped bring unify the rifts between the different sectors in the nation of Israel and the IDF. And today when they throw me out, I can’t look my family in the eyes after I said ‘they want us to help, to defend, to protect ­ we need to enlist together with everyone else’. And see today they kick me like a dog.”

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