Photo: Uri Mermelstein
Their anti-pullout stance is very clear. Bnei Akiva members
Photo: Uri Mermelstein
Youth group 'actively opposes pullout'
Bnei Akiva's line is clear: ‘We oppose the disengagement plan and will do our best to prevent it.’ Summer camps rescheduled for July as ‘one can't sing when people are uprooted.’ What will the thousands of youngsters be doing in August? Block roads or sign petitions?

The Bnei Akiva Youth Organization, the largest and most influential group in the national-religious community, actively resists the disengagement. During a special conference held three months ago in the Gaza settlement of Neve Dekalim, leaders decided to call for the strengthening of the Gush Katif settlements where 11 Bnei Akiva Snifim (chapters) are functioning.


Bnei Akiva's line is clear. "Ideologically, we believe the land of Israel belongs to us and practically – we will actively oppose the disengagement," says Eren Unger, head of the group’s educational department.


"We will distribute a guidebook that instructs counselors how to deal with the disengagement on the moral, halachic and social levels. Counselors are expected to relay these messages. We oppose the plan on an organizational level, not personal. We do not oppose (Prime Minister Ariel) Sharon personally, and when his name is mentioned, it's only to say we respect him even though we disagree with his decision."


Bnei Akiva Director Eitan Mor Yosef says he feels "we must deal with the issue, the youth must be involved. We believe Bnei Akiva must take a stand on all issues.”


'This summer will not ordinary'


“Throughout the years, we've dealt with social issues, immigrant absorption and poverty, now we must deal with this. It is a burning issue. Bnei Akiva must take a stand and have a say. As a part of the effort, the movement's summer camps were rescheduled for July,” he says.


"It's unheard of that in one spot people will be uprooted and in another - business as usual. This summer will not be an ordinary summer."


However, it is evident that it was not just a sense of solidarity that caused decision-makers to reschedule the summer camps in which about 70,000 youths participate. The desire to play a part in the opposition's activities had its place as well.


Tzvika Tzefadia, head of Mifa'alim Department says, "Personally, I do not wish to see our members in Gush Katif cutting fences and going through road blocs during the disengagement. I do want to see them sign petitions against this bad move, not in favor of insubordination."


"Today's youth is very militant, and that is exactly the reason why I want to be involved. I want non-violent protest, one where participants do not curse but say 'this is a mistake; this is destroying homes and families’."


'If you are a leftist, you do not count'


This message is shared on both sides of the ocean. World Bnei Akiva's Secretary General, Gal Greenwald says, "We oppose this bad plan. I explain to members this is a bad idea that will not bring peace, but will uproot Jews. Our envoys are trying to get this message across. Most of Bnei Akiva's alumni move to Israel. Our members in New York and London are very concerned with everything that goes on here. It is crucial to facilitate an open discussion."


But does Bnei Akiva facilitate open discussion? Leaders insist they welcome even those who do not agree with the movement's stance against the disengagement.


Dr. Ruth Halperin-Keidar, mother to two members, is not convinced. "The move to the right on all issues is accompanied by growing rigidness on political and religious matters," she complains. "This is a troubling process because of the target audience – moldable youngsters. The role of the movement is to open the youngsters’ minds, provide them with tools, not answers and instructions."


Her 17-year-old son Bnaya left the organization because he felt out of place.


“The feeling is that if you are a leftist, you do not count. They talk about accepting the differences but in practice, it is clear that you must follow the official line,” he says.


“Organized rides carrying members went to the join the human chain in Gush Katif. I am not sure they'll organize rides to Rabin Square."


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