Sunday, December 18, 2005

 

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בס"ד December 15, 2005

Judging the Soldiers
by Rachel Bar Yosef

One of the moral quandaries that grips us as we muddle through our existential struggle here in Israel has to do with soldiers. In the run-up to the expulsion, we agonizingly debated the morality, or lack thereof, of ordering soldiers to evacuate their fellow Jews (officers, the government), or ordering soldiers not to obey (rabbis), or, between loyalty to Tsahal and conscience, deciding on priorities (the soldiers themselves).
The expulsion, to our great misfortune, is behind us, but the moral dilemma has metastasized. Many of the friends of the akurim routinely pick up hitchhikers, especially in Yesha, where bus service is spotty, but they report that if the hitchhiker is a soldier, they first ask him or her what he/she was doing at the time of the expulsion, and they refuse to give a ride to anyone who had a hand in the great crime. In the impotence we all feel, this is one of the few protests drivers feel they can make.
I understand the pain and the impotence, but I’m uncomfortable with the stand these people are taking. Every single Israeli whose feelings and conscience haven’t been numbed by the good life (that means, actually, not very many people) has had to deal with the soldiers’ quandary in his own heart: What would I do in the same circumstances? Shimon would listen to his rabbi and his conscience. Levi would conclude, despite the pain involved, that such conscientious objection could weaken Tsahal, G-d forbid, which is the defense arm of ראשית צמיחת גאולתנו, and pose an equally existential threat. Neither Shimon nor Levi’s decision would be made lightly. No soldier’s ultimate decision was made lightly, and who can forget that this is children we’re talking about, these 18- and 19-year-olds thrust into this position requiring the wisdom of Solomon.
Something else: there are other soldiers whose decisions and behavior have not been unimpeachable, whom the driver-boycotters-of-undesirable-trampistim might also consider punishing. These are fewer in number, but for someone who’s judging, they shouldn’t be let off the hook. I’m referring to the sons of the Mothers in Black and their followers. I don’t remember reports of any of these boys saying, “Mom, please don’t interfere. You’re embarrassing the hell out of me.” Where were the soldiers who felt their government’s and their commanding officers’ directives were the product of a sovereign state implementing its decisions, which were duly arrived at after weighing strategic as well as political and values-based considerations most of us are not privy to? Did they forget, in the admittedly perilous position defenders of the settlements and settlers were often in, that the reason a sovereign state trains and arms its young people is that for a state to stay sovereign, some people are going to have to put their lives on the line to defend civilians and territory? Might the path chosen by all those made uncomfortable by confrontation and “militarism” not have been the easy way out? How portentous were the outcomes of the interference of those photogenic women, together with their sons’ complicity! For someone who’s judging, I think those soldiers should also be held to an accounting.
(In college in the 60s, I had a job one summer working for Headstart. My pre-kindergarten was in the Chicago neighborhood of Wicker Park, where all of the children were Hispanics. At some point during the summer, we aides helped administer a standardized test. We had answer keys to guide us in the assignment of points to the children. One section of the test asked the children to define certain words and concepts, and I remember one delightful child who responded to the item asking what a soldier is, “He stands up straight and kisses his mother good-bye.” His answer was worth zero points, according to the answer key. Where on earth is the one who will give the writer of the answer key a failing grade?)
In the pain and turmoil we all feel, sticking it to a soldier of whose actions during the expulsion we don’t approve gives us the illusion of having the upper hand. For a fleeting moment, we’re in control of a situation. If Ariel Sharon were thumbing a ride and we could leave him behind in the dust, that might be a meaningful act of protest. If Ariel Sharon were thumbing a ride. But turning a soldier-hitchhiker of whom we disapprove down is unseemly. It’s the wrong time, and the wrong place, and the wrong face. It’s also unfair to the poor soldier. And like a valve to let off some steam, it weakens pressure that could be better harnessed to truly be a moving force.

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