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Unconditional Beliefs and the Virtue of the IDF

By Paula Stern
8/17/2009, 12:00 AM
Sometimes all it takes to make a post is a comment - so here's one. SK writes:
What I find so cringe-inducing in this blog is your unconditional belief in the virtue of your son serving in the IDF. There are things worth dying for, but I posit that maintaining the status quo in Israel is not one of them. I would take no pride in having a son of mine be a pawn in a political game.
Cringe-inducing? I have to remember that one, but let's move on to the main points:

1. I don't know that I like the phrase "unconditional belief in the virtue" of my son "serving in the IDF." To be honest, I'm not sure I even have unconditional belief in the virtue of my son, though I will deny I wrote that, suggest some horrible mother hijacked my blog and anyway, it was a mistake. I have unconditional belief in God and in the virtue of His actions, decrees, rules and promises. I believe, with complete faith, in the coming of the Messiah...hey, someone should make that into a song! I also believe, with complete faith, that God rules this planet, all who inhabit it, all that happens here, and all that will happen. I also believe that we are all God's children - Arab, Jew, and Christian...no matter what order Obama uses. And finally, I do believe, long ago, that God took a special liking to Abraham and to Isaac and to Jacob. And, for that matter, to Moses as well. I believe He promised to them and to their descendents, a beautiful, holy land and that our living here is the embodiment of that promise, the fulfillment not only of our dream, but of God's plan.

To live here, we must be honest with ourselves and with our neighbors. Honestly, they don't like us living here. They really want us to leave, preferably by way of the sea, and without boats or ships or submarines. Certainly, were we to agree and ask to use planes, I am relatively sure they would provide them...with enough fuel to get us to the middle of the ocean. So, given the realities of the Middle East, I believe unconditionally, that we need an army, a strong one. The IDF serves as a deterrent more than any other role.

Today, war did not break out in the Middle East - that was because of the IDF and only because of the IDF. Yesterday, there was no war, and hopefully tomorrow there will be no war - these too I will credit to the IDF. And so yes, I believe unconditionally, that our sons must serve, all our sons, in some way or another. I believe they should serve in the army, but if they can't - they should serve some other way. That might be as ambulance drivers, even as street cleaners - it doesn't really matter to me. The streets need to be clean, light bulbs need to be changed, children need to be safely crossed across major intersections - do any of these things, but serve your people.

So you know what, you are right in the end, I do have the "unconditional belief in the virtue of your son serving in the IDF." That doesn't mean I will agree with everything the IDF does, or everything my son will do in the IDF, but the virtue of the service he gives, yes, unconditionally, completely, irrevocably. So, let's not quibble because I believe your main points are ahead.

2. You wrote, "There are things worth dying for, but I posit that maintaining the status quo in Israel is not one of them." Now, this is a particularly sensitive phrase "worth dying for" and I'm glad you agree that there are things worth dying for...the only thing is, we Jews focus less on dying and more on living. There are so many things worth living for, that sometimes, in order to have that life, others risk their lives and sometimes die. For those who believe in freedom, democracy, justice, there are more positive things in life than negative; more to live for than to die for. But, since we agree that there are "things" (though it is likely we disagree on what those things are), let's move on to the main point of your words. And here it comes, "I posit that maintaining the status quo in Israel is not one of them."

Well, I guess that about says it all. Our army isn't fighting, Elie isn't serving - to "maintain the status quo in Israel." Sixty-one years into our re-existence here in Israel, we are still fighting for the basic right to be here without being terrorized, attacked, bombed, pummeled with rockets and stones and firebombs. You've posit-ed, so allow me.

I posit that were it not for Israel, we Jews would likely be facing another Holocaust any day now. Hell, we're facing one even with Israel, if you take Iran's threat to "wipe Israel off the face of the map."

I posit that what our army is doing is preventing wars more than anything else. Maybe I'm misunderstanding - perhaps you are suggesting that the Israeli army should be fighting an all-out war of aggression; that we should reconquer Sinai, areas of Syria and Lebanon and march towards Amman. Is that what you mean by canceling the status quo? Somehow, I doubt it. Our critics usually blame us for defending ourselves, for not falling in weakness before our enemies.

The bottom line is that the IDF answers to our government, which, unfortunately, answers to much of the world and so what we do is hold the line, defend what is ours, and wait until the Arabs push so far that we have no choice but to respond. We push back...and as soon as the world sees that we have regained the upper hand, we hear cries of "massacres" and the "poor Palestinians" and all sorts of claims which soon prove to be false, but by then, Israel has already reigned in its army, having taught the Palestinians yet another lesson.

So, today, there were no rockets, and perhaps tomorrow we will be as lucky. Last week, we were hit by mortars and rockets, but thankfully, no one was killed. Is that the status quo you object to? If so, I agree - I don't believe it is right that any nation should suffer rocket attacks without having the right to respond.

And finally, your last point.

3. You wrote, "I would take no pride in having a son of mine be a pawn in a political game." I can agree with you there. I too would take no pride in having my son forced to be a pawn in a political game. So let me assure you, Elie is not playing any political games and he is certainly no pawn. After more than two years in the army, he's risen enough to be considered...well, perhaps not a player, but certainly not a pawn. One of the things I love about the IDF is that the soldiers cease being pawns about three months after they enter the army.

For three months, they are pawns (though not in any political game). They are commanded to do pretty much everything except go to the bathroom...and I'm not even sure about that. They are commanded to drink, to sleep, to dress, to walk, to run, to eat. And then, three months after they enter the army, having been taught what it is to be a soldier, they are taught more. They are taught responsibility and morality, if they didn't already know it.

As happened to Elie, his commanding officer stood before his now-trained recruits and introduced himself for the first time. "My name is Or, and I live in Netanya." What Or was really saying was that you are no longer a pawn, no longer someone I will order around without regard to who you are. Tell me your name and use my name and together, we will do what we must. That is the army of Israel.

If a commanding officer orders you to do something you believe to be immoral, something that goes against the laws and rules that you have been taught is proper for a soldier, you must not follow that order. That's why Israel punishes its soldiers who violate the law. There was a soldier who stole from a Palestinian family during the Gaza War. That soldier has returned what he stole and is sitting in a military jail - can you imagine? He was at war...but Israeli soldiers don't behave that way.

So they sweep the houses they temporarily occupy, roll up rugs, avoid damaging what doesn't have to be damaged. They have been known to clean the houses - in Gaza, in Lebanon, in Jenin...before they leave - no, I'm not kidding you. Doesn't that sound absurd and amazing? But it's true. They do it because they understand that circumstances have forced them to seek shelter in the midst of a war, but those circumstances haven't turned them into animals.

In the north, there is a kibbutz that has beautiful fields - and each time Syria or Lebanon goes to war against Israel (or yes, if Israel goes to war against Syria or Lebanon), this poor kibbutz gets its fields destroyed by tanks and armored personnel carriers. So first, the army compensates the farmers for destroyed fields - and it does something else.

The army sends its soldiers for recreational breaks on a regular basis - little things that help them cope, be strong, unit as a team. They go to PaintBall, as Elie has gone twice; and they go kayaking, as Elie's unit has done as well. And of all the possible places they go, they go to this kibbutz, whose people run a kayaking business. The army uses this kibbutz to repay them again for having to obliterate their fields in times of war.

And here's another. There are many farmers up in the Golan Heights - and many ranchers who raise cows to provide for Israel's milk and dairy requirements. Cows need space and they roam. The army needs training space and every once in a while, the cows roam into their firing ranges. The army will cancel training if the cows come into the field. The army will call the ranchers, who come right away. The soldiers know that if they have to open a gate to drive tanks through, they have to stop and close the gates so the cows don't get out. This is the virtue of the IDF.

And, there are times, when the army ends up killing a cow - not on purpose, but it happens...and the army pays the rancher for the cow. This too is the virtue of the IDF. So, going back to your first point - no, I don't have to believe unconditionally in the virtue of the IDF or my son's serving in this army because each day the army proves itself in its actions to our own people, our neighbors and enemies, and even to the cows.

I take tremendous pride in our army - not all the time, not for all that it does, but for the fundamentals of our survival, for how it has treated my son, helped mature him into the man he has become and likely for the man he will yet be.

No government is perfect, no land, no army. No son is perfect, no implementation of plans or law. We are not God, nor, I think, do we aspire to be. But I will put the actions of the IDF and its soldiers against EVERY army in the Middle East, against all our neighbors and even those beyond their borders.