Can Settlers Raise Numbers to Resist Evictions?

When is a crime not a crime? May a Holocaust symbol be used to promote any other cause? What is an illegal law? And what is an illegal military order?
These questions have been tossed back and forth since the mild-spoken Pinhas Wallerstein, a leading member of the Council of Jewish Communities in Judea, Samaria and Gaza (Yesha Council), switched on a national roller coaster on December 19 by calling on all Israelis to resist Ariel Sharon’s plan to dismantle 26 settlements non-violently “even if it means going to jail.”
He called the disengagement/compensation law to remove all 21 Gaza settlements and four in the West Bank immoral, argued that ordering Jews to be uprooted from their homes, to which they were sent by Labor and Likud governments alike, was a violation of their human rights. If the measure were passed, they were entitled to break the law and refuse to leave those homes.
A day later, the entire Yesha Council, accused until now of pussyfooting by the potential evacuees, stood up and endorsed Wallerstein’s call for passive resistance. In many democracies, unjust or inappropriate laws are amended or repealed, they said. Some members pointed to the constitutional amendment rushed through the Knesset this week to provide Labor leader Shimon Peres with the post of second acting prime minister – his sine qua non for joining the government – after the first acting PM Ehud Olmert refused to step aside in his honor.
Next morning, December 21, campaigners turned out sporting Orange-flag badges. This called forth outraged condemnations from the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial foundation and the Wiesenthal Center for daring to evoke the infamous Yellow-star badge forced on the Jews by the Nazis.
But there was no backing down. One Gazan settler contended that the evacuation would open the door to a new national catastrophe and must therefore be resisted.
The new justice minister Likud’s Tsipi Livneh took Wallerstein to task for telling people to break the law (which is still not promulgated). However, the attorney general declined to treat his words as criminal incitement without further study. Some legal experts opined that the application of criminal definitions and penalties to political protest was not healthy and could become a two-edged sword.
Wallerstein played his strongest card when he declared that if enough people were willing to follow his example and go to jail, there won’t be enough prisons in the country to hold them all. This struck a disturbing chord with police commissioner Moshe Karadi. On Monday, December 20, he warned that the evacuation of Gaza Strip’s Gush Katif could be aborted by massive resistance. “Our views on disengagement and evacuation do not matter,” he said. “However a government decision that is impossible to execute is a danger to any democracy.”
He promised that the 5,000 police officers assigned with evicting the settlers would come to their task unarmed. They would start training in March and are meanwhile being coached by behavioral psychologists. If shooting or forcible resistance occurred, the army would be called in.
In a move to defuse the suspense, the Knesset’s Law Committee chaired by Likud MK Michael Eytan voted Tuesday, December 21, to cut out the penalty clause from the controversial evacuation/compensation bill. The clause stated that participants in groups of three or more gathered to obstruct an order given by a security officer charged with implementing the disengagement plan would be subject to up to five years in prison.
When this clause was first presented to the cabinet last October, cabinet member Natan Sharanksy called it an exact copy of a law in force in Soviet Russia and under which hundreds of people were imprisoned.
Its removal from the bill was therefore not generally mourned.
In any case, as the police commissioner sensed, it would have proved impossible to implement.
According to debkafile‘s sources, the settlement leaders have drawn up a plan to pre-empt the evacuations by setting up around Gush Katif a tent city of 70,000 protesters, ten times its population and 14 times that of the police evacuation force. Already today, Palestinian mortar, shooting, bombing and missile attacks escalate daily – 14 on Tuesday alone. This mass of Israeli civilians in one place would present Palestinian terrorists with an irresistible target for massacre, forcing the army to fan out in Palestinian areas to quell any violence. The result would be havoc and the defeat of the prime minister’s pullback plan.
But Sharon, whose efforts to broaden his minority government keep on running into hurdles raised by squabbling Labor leaders, faces a further even more dangerous obstacle to his plans. Anti-disengagement members of the armed forces under the influence of Yesha leaders – and especially its rabbis – are collecting signatures from comrades willing to refuse “illegal” orders to evict settlers – even if they are punished with jail. They claim to have collected thousands of signatures. When the total reaches 10,000, the list will be posted to the IDF’s Manpower Branch, challenging the high command to find cells for that number of miscreants.
To make their resistance plans work, the settlers’ strategists must command large numbers of selfless protesters. Do they have them? And how far are they committed to passive, non-violent resistance?
A mass sit-in demonstration has been called for next week outside the prime minister’s office in Jerusalem. It is due to go on indefinitely. The number of demonstrators will be an indicator of the scale of their support.
Interesting pointers were also turned up by Maagar Mohot pollster Prof. Yizhak Katz who on December 19 surveyed a random sampling of 584 adult settlers in the West Bank and Gaza Strip (allowing for 4.5% margin of error).
He found that 45% support and 31% oppose Wallerstein’s call to disobey the “Jewish transfer” bill, that 40% are prepared to go to jail for passively resisting the dismantling of their homes, but 49% are not. A large segment of 76% is opposed to violent resistance to military and police eviction forces, while 14% would countenance force.
Only 17% believe that uprooting settlements could result in a political assassination. A majority of 56% do not.

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