Saturday, November 21, 2009

Fanatics and the army

There was a time when citizens of Israel took seriously the name of the Israeli Defense Forces. There was a time when this army was seriously considered as the people's army. It was a long, long time ago.

The State of Israel is holding under occupation rule millions of Palestinians for 42 years, more than two-thirds of its entire history. Decades have passed since the army for the last time fought a real war of army against army.

The great majority of soldiers and officers serving in this army today - conscripts, reservists and career personnel - know only the type of service known as "ongoing security" and "maintenance of order" and "guarding settlements" and "struggling against terrorism" and other terms expressing: forcible control over a rebellious civilian population which does not want to live under Israeli occupation. An army of occupation and oppression, an army of which occupation and oppression are the main mission.

Who wants to serve in this kind of army? Many do not. Many feel disgusted by the very idea. Some state it clearly and openly, and enter into a head-on confrontation with the military authorities, and go to prison, sometimes for long terms. (For example, Or Ben David, girl refuser of the Shministim protest letter, who entered on her second prison term a few days ago.)

Then, there are those who manage to avoid service in one way or another, for example by the psychiatric discharge. (There are more and more of these, as there are less and less who feel that the army is really important and that serving in it is a moral duty which it would be a shame to shirk.)

And there are those who do go to the army, spend three years of service with little motivation and much disgust, and when finally free throw away their uniforms and set off to refresh themselves in Thailand or South America.

But who, then, does go with a high motivation to today's army? Who would volunteer for exhausting duty and take up officers' training and consider devoting their whole life to the army? In principle, two types of people: those who failed in civilian life and for whom the army is the last refuge from a life of utter failure, and those who are actually fond of the missions and activities entrusted to an army of occupation.

In particular, there is one section of the public who are perfectly fitted and attuned to occupation duty - the Religious Nationalists. Those who feel a strong urge to settle on every hill and dale, who regard the entire Land of Israel as ours and ours only, because of our Fathers, because God promised it, etc. etc.

These are the people who embrace military service with a great desire and motivation, serve in all units, go up on the chain of command and increasingly become the backbone of the IDF. With great enthusiasm do they guard the bulldozers building more houses for their settler brethren, highly motivated they keep Palestinians waiting at roadblocks roads and break into village homes in the small of the night to carry out arrests and charge into the heart of Gaza to shoot and wound and kill. And their rabbis bless the guns of the warriors of the Holy War and exhort them to kill without mercy, to kill even children.

But what happens if the government of Israel is trying to carry out even a tiny bit of its international commitments, and entrusts the mission to the soldiers of the IDF? Not, of course, the full dismantling of all the hundred illegal outposts which have been created since 2001 and which the State of Israel has promised again and again to remove - promised to the Americans and Europeans and the rest of the world. (Ehud Barak also promised it to such voters as were still willing to vote for him and his party, at the elections exactly eight months ago.)

No, it is much less than that, small actions, tiny token acts, removal of a house or two in one or two settlement outpost. And that is enough to throw the National Religious soldiers into a firestorm of protests, with soldiers shouting and raising provocative signs in front of the waiting TV cameras.

What is this? It is not for this that they joined up. They have come to fight the Arabs and kill them. This is what they want, this is what they really like to do. What is this nonsense of suddenly demanding of them to strike at their beloved settler comrades?

In truth, it is not these young people who are really to blame. They are but the poisonous growth which sprung from the ground that successive governments of Israel plowed, sowed and manured since 1967, more than two-thirds of Israel's entire history.