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Shades of Justice

By Paula Stern
12/26/2011, 4:12 PM

By now you have probably realized that I firmly believe that Israel and the army have enough detractors around the world to make me decide not to be one. For the most part, we've been very blessed in our "relationship" with the army (and if you are hearing a "but" in there, you are correct). Elie went in and from the beginning, they recognized in him the many facets I knew were buried inside. They found his love of order, his need and ability to command. They encouraged him to think - in the box, over the box, out of the box. They watched his ability to analyze situations and encouraged him; they found his love of fixing things and knowing how they work, and fed that too. All that he was ready and able to give, they took...and gave back so much more

And then came Shmulik - who is so different. He's more social than Elie; he needs that connection. He's quieter and yet more outgoing as well. So similar and yet so different than his older brother. And in this difference, the army too found peace. Shmulik wanted to be in combat. He pushed himself to succeed. What came so easy for Elie, was harder for Shmulik. In some ways, he is physically stronger than Elie, but the discipline was harder, the routine, the "do it because I said so" was tougher for him. It wasn't his desire to lead and when he realized that training for combat was causing him migraines that were more than he could stand, they gave him what he loved doing most. He asked to drive some commander - and they gave him the very commander of the base he was on - still with his friends, and even better...the commander lives in our city so he was home more. Shmulik gained incredible role model as an officer and a person. S. is a man who was severely injured by terrorists - and doctors wondered if he would walk again - today he runs - faster than Shmulik, farther, stronger. Shmulik learned that where the mind wills something, the body listens. They spent hours together driving around and seeing Israel and S. helped Shmulik discovered corners of himself and of the land he had never seen.

There were a few times over the past almost five years that I've been writing that the army faltered. There was the time they wanted to assign Elie to a unit to command female soldiers; and still they handled it well. There was the lone soldier from California who came here to give his all, was injured, and ultimately, the army did not handle it well.

That and other failures prove the Israeli army is, like all institutions of man, subject to the whims and weaknesses of human beings. 

Today, I guess, is another failure to an extent. Shmulik serves in a program called Hesder. It is meant to combine learning Torah and Jewish studies with serving in the army. Before and after the active service, he is still considered within the army and, as such, the army calls these boys for a day or more a few times a year. As religious soldiers, they are often called upon to be in the army for Jewish holidays. In Shmulik's case, he was called for Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the calendar, and a fast day.

He and two friends really wanted to be home; they with their parents, Shmulik with his wife. One of the boys, named Chaim (not our Chaim), had a friend who was an officer in the office that handles these boys and assigns them to bases.  The officer told his friend when to come, what to do. The idea was that if Shmulik, this Chaim, and another friend waited while others went in, the army would run out of places to send the boys - they regularly get more than they need; and the boys would get the credit for having shown up and been willing to serve, while still spending the holiday at home.

And this is what happened. At around 3:00 p.m. - after hours of waiting, the officer sent Chaim an SMS text message on his phone telling him he could go - all the places were full. That was more than 2 months ago. Suddenly, about 2 weeks later, Shmulik and his other friend (not Chaim), got a message from the army that they were in trouble for not coming when they were called.

They thought it was all a mistake. They went down to explain - the officer denied everything and they were called to a judgement (mishpat). What Shmulik should have done at that point was call his commanding officer, for whom he drove for so many months. But he thought it was not serious, he was truly innocent, after all. So he went back for the judgement, only to find that the "judge" was the officer who was Chaim's friend. Only he was home sick, so Shmulik and his other friend decided it was better to wait and speak to him the following Tuesday and remind him, rather than go with someone new.

On Tuesday, he went...and the officer denied everything and sentenced Shmulik and his friend to 21 days on base. This is a harsh sentence for a soldier who didn't come for one day of service - so said Shmulik, Elie, and every officer who was told. Shmulik's commanding officer asked him why he waited but still tried to help. 

Shmulik immediately appealed on the grounds that he was not offered an opportunity to tell his side, was not given an opportunity to call witnesses, etc. The officer (a different one), called up the sentencing officer - and he lied again - saying that he had offered Shmulik every opportunity to speak - had even checked off these options in his report.

In short - a set up.

Shmulik reported to base yesterday - wondering if he would not be home with his wife for three weeks. He was sent to a base near Hebron where he found a wonderful commanding officer. His sentence was immediately reduced to 14 days and he was allowed home last night. He went back today, and was told they would try to send him home each day, if possible. He will come home again tonight.

As to the officer that lied, there are still shades of this story. There were three boys in that car - only two were accused, tried and sentenced to any sort of punishment. Perhaps the boys will yet be able to retrieve the SMS message that was sent to Chaim. Even if this happens, if Shmulik decides to pursue this rather than just accept the 14 days and move on, justice will come too late to undo the harsh sentence.

This is where I explain that I believe with complete faith in justice. There is always justice, always a reckoning. Sometimes, it is immediate. I have seen this many times. Sometimes, it is later and one wonders if the years in between are part of the punishment. And sometimes, justice comes in the world I believe lives on beyond this one.

So, for the next two weeks or so, Shmulik is back in uniform and I am again the mother of a soldier on duty. I don't even know yet what he is doing - I guess I'll find out tonight. But it is a sign of maturity in Shmulik that he accepts this punishment - if not as justice, than as something he must do. 

He knows now that he made mistakes - in not calling S. as soon as he got the accusation, in not going in to register as he was supposed to, in not taking a witness with him to the Mishpat, as is his right. These are lessons he learns and really, at 21 years of age, it is a good time to learn them.

Justice has many shades and comes in many forms...but it does come. Perhaps somewhere, there is an officer who will read this and investigate an officer that lied. Perhaps somewhere, there is a young man who will be wiser for having read this. As for Shmulik - it is a very small mountain over which he must climb and with all things, he will be stronger for the climb.