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The Purpose of the Army

By Paula Stern
12/19/2009, 12:00 AM
WARNING: Politics ahead

Anyone who knows me, knows my political stand. I have tried, over the last almost three years, to focus not on my politics, but on the journey I and thousands of other mothers (and fathers) take when their son (and daughter) begins serving in the Israeli (or other) army. I have tried, throughout all this time, to show my son, Elie, in real and human terms - for the good and the bad.

When he is good, I show what he has accomplished, what he has become. And when he (or the situation) is bad, I try to look at things realistically and balance the sides so none are embarrassed or hurt. I have written of politics sometimes, because it is impossible to live in Israel and in the Middle East without acknowledging that we are at war for political gains...no, not Israel's, but the Palestinians.

That already is a statement, a political one. But I have read the history of this land; lived it. I know it and am not blind to the faults of my government and my land. I know what we are guilty of...and what we are not. I know what we do and why we do it and still believe in the morality of Israel and its people.

You cannot stop history and re-start it at a convenient time. All that comes before, impacts on all there is now. This is something the Arabs refuse to accept and the world caters to this misconception. The Arabs do not want to speak of 1929, when they massacred the Jews in Hebron and ran them out of their homes. If a Jew dares to want to enter Hebron today, dares to want to live there, it is, in the Arabs mind, an act of incitement, a call to war. They are not interested in 1929, and they fail to understand that what happens in 2009 is related, not just to 2008 and 1968 and 1948, but yes, even back to 1929 and even further back.

And the fact is, despite the massacres of 1929 and other years and places, the Arabs were offered a land, a state, long ago (in 1947) to be carved out of space that we (and they) occupied. They chose war. Within hours of the establishment of the State of Israel - they called for in the United Nations vote that would have given them half the land - they chose war. Five neighboring Arab nations invaded our land, seeking, in their own words, to push the Jews into the sea.

They lost that war...and have spent the last 61 plus years bellyaching and whining about it, always a step behind in their ability to grasp an opportunity. They are now, in 2009, up to accepting Israel's pre-1967 borders.

Those borders were suicidal then, completely impossible now. If we have 15 seconds to run to safety in Sderot when a rocket is launched, how much time would Jerusalem have from a rocket launched mere meters away? The answer is none...and the Arabs are counting on that. They have never talked of a real peace. At best, they talk of a hudna...a term used to mean a ceasefire of sorts. One of the earliest hudnas took place between Mohammed and some enemies. They negotiated a long hudna, which Mohammed quickly broke; the explanation being that you are entitled to lie and break a hudna if made with infidels (by the way, according to the Muslims...everyone but a Muslim is an infidel).

Accepting borders that stood for all of 19 years (from 1948 to 1967), compared to new borders that have been in place for the last 40+ makes no sense and yet much of the world, including Barack Hussein Obama, has fallen into this absurdity. You can't erase time or put the clock back...no matter how often we all wish it were true. We can't...and they can't.

But I digress....

The purpose of the army is the subject of this post and one that I have avoided, for the sake of politics, writing about. Today, I will.

"The army was meant to protect the country," so says Lt. Col. Res. Erez Eshel, head of the Ein Prat Leadership School. This is such an obvious statement and yet needs to be said. For years now, the State of Israel, or I should say the government of Israel, has been using and abusing the army for its own political agenda.

Once it was the job of the army to protect the country from those who seek to destroy her. Now, the army is too often being used to "protect the country" from those who don't agree with the government's political actions. The army allowed itself to be used to expel Jews from their homes in Gaza. Almost 10,000 people were physically taken, the homes and communities, synagogues and schools they had built, were destroyed in exchange for....ah, that is the question. In exchange for what?

There was no peace agreement, no real peace negotiations going on. The concept, as a friend explained to me, was to gain the "moral advantage." That was an incredibly expensive and painful exercise, I always thought, for something we already had. It was termed a unilateral agreement - that means, we do what we think they might want in the hope of pacifying them but with absolutely no obligation on their part.

We already had the moral high ground, my friend and others said we needed. We do not target civilians. Our young are not sent into Gaza and Palestinian cities to blow themselves seeking a glorious death to the infidels. We don't even believe in infidels!

What we got...as a result of the Gaza withdrawal that broke the heart of the nation...was rockets on Ashdod and Ashkelon, and 15 second warnings of impending doom. What we got was the Second Lebanon War...and the Gaza War which, in all likelihood, will soon be followed by the Second Gaza War.

And still we haven't learned. Still the government seeks to use the army against its own people. But this time, the army is fighting back. Not the Defense Minister who is part of the government, and not really part of the army he once served as a general. Ehud Barak has long since lost his sense of army, replaced by his sense of serving himself and his future political ambitions.

He knows how to fight...and how to fight right. He did it in Gaza and he would do it again...but he is also playing politics with the army. Putting our soldiers in a position that forces them to chose between defending the government's politics and defending the people; between serving the country they love and the doing what is best for that country. He has put the Hesder movement and tens of thousands of young men in an impossible situation. Follow orders...do as I command, or be cut off, cut out, canceled, isolated. Follow orders, immoral though they may be; follow orders even if it does against what you believe to be the best interests of your country, or go to jail, lose the rank you have worked so hard to attain.

What Barak has forgotten is that we are a nation partially born out of the Holocaust. No, it is not what the Arabs claim - that Israel is Europe's payback or some-such nonsense. But in a very real sense, a portion of our founders were Jews who had come from Europe, survived the Holocaust, and were determined never to be at the mercy of others again. Here, in our land, we would (and do) determine our own destiny.

We are a people who learn from time, experience, mistakes. That is why we won the Gaza War after losing the Second Lebanon War. Hamas was emboldened, thinking that if Hezbollah won in the north, they could use the same tactics in Gaza and achieve victory as well. But unlike those nations of history who fell because they failed to adapt, to learn...we do, we have, we will.

We saw what we had done wrong, and fixed it - decisively, completely, quickly. We did not fight in Gaza as we fought in Lebanon, and should there be another Lebanon War, we will fight with the lessons we have learned. It is all there, in the training that Elie's group and others have been undergoing - all the lessons, already put to practical use to better the army.

We as an army learn, but we as a people learn too. So we learned from Germany that a soldier cannot just follow orders. He must, at all times, know that those orders are just and moral because for these things, he will be held accountable. If a commanding officer orders a soldier to shoot an innocent man, the soldier will be put on trial...with the commanding officer. It has happened; it will happen. You cannot stand in an Israeli court and say, "I was just following orders."

This is the strength of the Israeli army. This is what Ehud Barak has forgotten. We who suffered at the hands of those who followed orders, will never "just" follow orders when the orders are wrong, when the orders are for political reasons against the security and safety of our people and land.

And so, soldiers in Israel are standing up and saying they will not follow orders that involve their destroying the homes and lives and belongings of the people they are charged with defending. My sons won't do it. My neighbors' sons and daughters won't do it. Don't ask them. They will go to jail if they must. Jail is nothing compared to selling out on your country, your beliefs.

Friday night, last week, one soldier came back to our neighborhood, home to his family, after spending weeks in jail because he and his fellow soldiers held up a sign that said they would not expel Jews from their home He was welcomed back to the neighborhood with signs and cake and friends who told him that they were proud. He has made it clear - he has learned; he will not "just" follow orders - not those orders that would twist and betray the real purpose of the army.

And our defense minister has now announced that a hesder yeshiva, similar to the one where my second son learns, will no longer be honored as a place in which young men can serve and learn. Choose Har Bracha, says the defense minister, and you will not be fulfilling your obligation to the nation.

This is politics and doesn't belong in our army and so a Lt. Colonel in our army has chosen, correctly, to remind the defense minister and the government that "the army was meant to protect the country," and not serve the political needs of the government currently in office.

I can only pray that the government will listen so that our sons and daughters can continue to serve in pride a nation they love and want to defend. In March, my second son's hesder will send their latest group to hesder, including my son. If Har Bracha's students cannot go, are not welcomed into the army of Israel, I hope all hesder yeshivot will not send their sons either.

We are one country, one people, one land. If Barak will seek to divide, we cannot let him. The purpose of the government is to lead all; the purpose of the army is to defend all. If Barak can't remember that, he truly doesn't belong anywhere near the defense ministry. Let all our sons serve to protect us against our enemies...or we have lost all.

Our strength is that we do not follow orders blindly; our soldiers think and react. This is what has won war after war; let our sons think, let our army defend.