Page last updated at 14:39 GMT, Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Israeli protest soldiers punished

Israel, occupied territories map

Four Israeli soldiers have been disciplined for protesting against the evacuation of Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank.

The men received sentences ranging from three weeks in jail to confinement to their base for hanging an anti-eviction banner at their barracks near Hebron.

It is the latest in a series of anti-evacuation protests by some soldiers.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said armed personnel refusing orders put the country at risk.

'Fundamentally wrong'

Of the four disciplined, the squad commander was sentenced to 20 days in military prison and barred from any command position in the defence forces, while another soldier received a 14-day jail sentence. The other two will be confined to their base for 28 days.

If you promote disobedience, you will bring about the downfall of the state
Benjamin Netanyahu

They displayed the banner after two of their colleagues returned to the barracks after refusing an order to evacuate a settlement that had been built without an Israeli government permit.

Mr Netanyahu said that Israel's security and existence depended its soldiers carrying out instructions.

"If you promote disobedience, you will bring about the downfall of the state. There is no place for disobedience," he said.

A military statement described the protest as "fundamentally wrong".

The BBC's Middle East correspondent Katya Adler says some high-ranking officials in Israel's army are concerned at the increasing number of religious Jewish soldiers who have refused to take part in the planned evacuation of some Jewish settlements in the West Bank.

Our correspondent says religious Jews see the West Bank as part of the Holy Land, given to them by God.

Last week 25 Israeli reservists signed a petition requesting exemption from Jewish settlement evacuations.

In October a group of soldiers disrupted their swearing-in ceremony in Jerusalem, calling for continued Jewish settlement in the West Bank.

Land grab

All settlements built on land occupied by Israel since 1967 are illegal under international law.

Settlers at destroyed outpost
Some West Bank outposts do not have Israeli government permits

Close to 500,000 Jews live in more than 100 settlements built on occupied territory since 1967.

Israel does not recognise international rulings in this regard, but does deem those settlements built without Israeli government permits as illegal and instructs it soldiers and military police to evacuate them.

The settlement whose evacuation the four soldiers protested against did not have a government permit.

Palestinians see the ongoing building of settlements on occupied territory as a land grab that would reduce the size of a future Palestinian state.

The impasse in recent American-brokered negotiations between the two sides centres on Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas' insistence, and Israeli refusal, that Jewish settlement construction be halted immediately.

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