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Strife in the Gaza and Lessons from Little Rock

By Michael Nolan  Posted by Rob Kall (about the submitter)     Permalink
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In September 1957, Little Rock, Arkansas was an open sore on the face of a nation. Governor Orville Faubus, steadfastly opposed to federally ordered integration of the Little Rock public schools, dispatched the Arkansas National Guard to stand in the schoolhouse door to prevent nine Afro-American boys and girls from entering Central High School. Students and grownups alike massed threateningly about the black children, their white faces frozen by the cameras for eternity in the ugly contortions of mob hatred.

In response to Faubus' assault on federal law, President Dwight D.
Eisenhower addressed the American people on TV. "(I)t would be difficult to exaggerate the harm that is being done to the prestige and influence and indeed to the safety of our nation and the world. Our enemies are gloating over this incident and using it everywhere to misrepresent our whole nation."

Then Ike, not one to let it go with an eloquent phrase or two, called in the U. S. army's 101st Airborne Division, led by the controversial General Edwin Walker. Now Walker happened to be a right wing zealot and member of the far-right John Birch society. In later civilian life he organized demonstrations against school integration. But in Little Rock, in 1957, he did his job as a soldier. He put aside personal belief, and obeyed the lawful orders of his government. Given those unenlightened times, it's safe to assume that some of Walker's privates and corporals and young officers were equally opposed to integration. But the troops stood fast , bayonets fixed, in obedience to the lawful orders of their superiors.

As a result, nine brave black kids took their rightful place as students at Central High and what Eisenhower characterized as a threat to the "safety of our nation" was defused.

There's a crisis in Israel today that carries an equal or greater threat for the safety of that nation. Elements of civilian and military society have pledged non-cooperation and even violence in response to government plans to disengage from the Gaza strip and West Bank. Ultra-religious and secular resistance, fueled, in part, by an unbending belief in Jewish occupation as a manifestation of God's covenant, could be so fierce that observers don't rule out the possibility of civil war. In March, Rabbi Avraham Shapira, former chief rabbi of Israel, publicly called for soldiers of the Israeli Defense Forces to refuse to obey disengagement orders in the Gaza.

And now an American-born IDF soldier, one Avi Bieber, has openly refused to obey orders in the demolition of abandoned buildings in the Gaza. Worse, he has encouraged fellow soldiers to resist lawful orders. Corporal Bieber, for his troubles, has been sentenced to fifty-six days in prison. His parents, according to Haaretz newspaper, consider it a "very harsh sentence" and plan to appeal the verdict. Another soldier, Yossi Pilant, got twenty-eight days last January for exhorting his comrades to refuse disengagement orders in the West Bank. An American paratrooper who even sneezed such mutiny in 1957 Little Rock could have faced the death penalty.
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The prospect of IDF soldiers using force against Jewish settlers, even lawless ones, is an agony for Israel. But promises have been made to return the occupied territories to the Palestinians and any chance for Middle East peace demands it. Authorities are horrified by the thought that the young right-wing refuseniks might presage a military trend. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, no strong proponent of disengagement himself, as manifested in his aggressive West Bank expansionism, strongly condemns the encouragement of IDF disobedience. "We all have to remember," Sharon told a conference of the Jewish Agency, "that the calls to refuse and to disrupt life in Israel endanger the existence of Israel as a Jewish, democratic state."

The world, especially the United States, should watch all of this carefully.

Why? Because America's strong military and financial support of Israel has always been justified by the new nation's claim to be a democratic, stabilizing force in an otherwise unstable corner of the world. With so much at stake for the peace process, America has the right to expect Israel to live up to its reputation and enforce its own laws - the way Ike enforced the law against a recalcitrant, redneck governor half a century ago. Any widespread failure of Israel to act as a nation of laws, should be viewed with alarm by the American people.

Michael Nolan, nolanmj@msn.com a Taunton, MA freelance writer, has appeared recently in Common Dreams. A short story appears in Issue 15 of the Dublin Writers Workshop's "Electric Acorn."
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