Andy Weinstein writes from Efrat regarding one of the comments we posted from a reader on Sharon’s strategy:
I just saw the following quote from Carol Herman (no idea who that is) in a post on Powerline: “The 8,000 civilians in Gaza are not holding back the tides of terrorism. They’re just a costly interference. Using up taxpayer money, to sport small enclaves, where, surprise to no one, the settler’s HATE the IDF! (Settlers don’t join the army. Most get the “gift” of a religious pass. And, the real problem is that Israel has yet to figure out how to separate church from state, effectively.)”
Libel #1: The settlers in Gaza hate the IDF
…My colleague here at work just finished 3 weeks of reserve service there, and it’s not his first time – that’s his regular yearly posting with his reserve unit. The soldiers are warmly welcomed and loved, particularly by the religious settlers. I myself live on a settlement next to Bethlehem, and let me tell you, soldiers are treated beautifully and appreciated deeply by everyone in my area (Gush Etzion). There are a very, very small number of places and people who have a bad relationship with the army. I don’t believe that any of those are anywhere in Gaza – I’ve never heard any incidents reported from there. The Gaza settlers have never been known for being part of the small radical fringe.
Libel #2 Settlers don’t join the army
…Settlers comprise a highly disproportional percentage of the soldiers not only in combat units, but in commando units. This population is (for obvious reasons) the most highly motivated group when it comes to military service. This has been mentioned over and over again in recent years in the Israeli press, where it is a noticeable and important phenomenon (and a cause for concern to some). The author is confusing settlers with charedim (“Ultra-Orthodox”), most of whom use an exception for full-time religious studies and do not do regular army service (though some serve later in life in the reserves). While the majority of settlers are indeed Orthodox (“National-Religious”), their worldview and lifestyle are quite distinct from the charedim, and have been since the inception of Zionism. It is extremely easy to tell them apart, and it’s easy to see the knitted yarmulkes of the National Religious on the heads of soldiers wherever you go. The two groups are conflated by ignorant anti-religious people who hate both of them.
I will not bother commenting on the more general topic of the settlements and Sharon’s plan. That’s a reasonable subject for thoughtful debate….Please correct this post-haste. It’s bad enough being compared to Al-Sadr by Tom Friedman. We don’t need Powerline contributing to this too.
We also received a message to the same effect from Dr. Steven Ohsie. Thanks to all who have written on the subject of Sharon’s strategy. It’s an important subject to which we will obviously have occasion to return.
UPDATE: Another Israeli correspondent writes:
Ok…now that the Sabbath is over and I’ve had a chance to read through some of your posts from the last couple days, I must say I’m frankly shocked…The National Relgious community (which comprises a good percentage of the settlers, myself included) serve, with distinction, in the IDF.
It takes only a limited amount of research to see that over 30 percent of the junior officers in the army (especially combat and commando units) are the product of National Religous seminaries (Hesder, Yeshivot and Pre-Army Prepratory programs), this, even though they are maybe 15% of the overall population. [Carol Herman's] statement also fails to take into consideration that almost half of the Jewish population of Gaza is not even religious. So, putting aside the fact that the vast majority of men living in the settlements serve in the army, you only need to go ask those soldiers serving about the local Jewish inhabitants relationship with them.
Everyday you see people driving by delivering hot coffee to men standing out in the cold guarding checkpoints. Dropping of bags of homemade cookies or just giving a wave and smile and quickly mouthed thank you. I personally live in Judea/Samaria, so we’re not driving around in the bulletproof vehicles that they need in Gush Katif, so it’s easier for us to show our appreciation of the local soldiers. But the small contingent of men and women stationed at a lookout post near our yishuv are fought over when it comes time to invite them of Shabbat meals.
If there is any anger amongst the settlement community for the actions or occasional inactions of the IDF, we know it’s not the regular soldier or junior commander who is to blame. It’s the politicians who give the orders. So they are to blame and most people know that very well.