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Israel during wartime: Loving our soldiers to death

War brings out the best in Israel, and the worst. But it’s the worst qualities that allowed this war to happen in the first place, and that are preparing the ground for the next one.

I’ve always thought, and still think, that if I were in real trouble somewhere, if I were being mugged in Miami, say, and I could choose the nationality of the nearest bystander, I would choose Israeli. They are brave, and they don’t hesitate to help someone in danger, even at risk to themselves. It’s a worn-out cliché, and I’ve found it to be very true.

And the war going on now, from an Israeli Jewish vantage point, is sort of that quality played out on a national scale. First of all, of course, there are the ground troops going into Gaza. As wrong as this war is, the young combat soldiers going in to fight are risking their lives, and some of them are dying or getting very badly wounded. They are brave. And they are ready to die to save their fellow soldiers. (And I don’t blame them for this war; they were born and bred for it.) I don’t think there can be many Israeli Jews today, no matter their political opinions, who, if they think about these soldiers, can help being moved by them and caring for them.

Funeral of Israeli soldier Banaya Rubel, Holon, Israel.  Rubel was killed during clashes in Gaza. (photo: Activestills.org)

Funeral of Israeli soldier Banaya Rubel, Holon, Israel. Rubel was killed during clashes in Gaza. (photo: Activestills.org)

And Israelis’ instinctive readiness to help in a time of need is coming out abundantly across the home front, across Israeli society at large. One tiny example: This morning I went to the neighborhood grocery store and they’ve got a box for people to donate sanitary wipes, underwear and other items for the soldiers stuck for days and nights in the field. They have another box to donate nuts and cookies and stuff for the shiva, the seven-day Jewish mourning period, for a soldier in Modi’in who was just killed.

This is a very emotional experience. Most Israeli Jews have family members or friends in Gaza; I do, too. But even for those who don’t, everyone is just surrounded by this story of young guys going in to risk their lives, and not a few of them dying, and seemingly the whole country truly, to one degree or another, everyone in his or her own rhythm, worrying for the living and mourning for the dead. You see 30,000 people going to each of the funerals of these two “lone soldiers” from America who had no family in this country, Max Steinberg and Sean Carmeli – it is stunning. This society is glowing with tears. Hearts are bursting.

And this is sort of the problem: It’s like the agony of love – it’s the worst but it’s also the best. This is Israel at its best – brave, sacrificing, caring, loving. The tears. It’s so warm. We are a great big family. We are.

And when do we know it best? In war. And because we have so many wars, we have so many of these great national lovefests, these tragic/heroic communal sagas. We’re good at it, very good, great. And it’s not a show – the media may kitsch it up, but they don’t have to – this is real. The soldiers are real, the deaths are real, the reactions of people are real. For an Israeli Jew, it’s extremely hard to resist being part of it. And at the emotional level, why should one try?

But there are at least a couple of conditions attached to this communal experience: One, there can be no reminders of what we are doing to the people in Gaza. The media have to give it a little bit of time or space, tucked away, for appearance’s sake; they seem clearly apologetic about this. Nobody, but nobody, in the communal embrace wants to see or hear about the Palestinians in Gaza.

Soldiers and relatives mourn at the grave of Israeli Sergeant Banaya Rubel during his funeral on July 20, 2014 in Holon, Israel. Sergeant Rubel was killed along with another Israeli army soldier on the twelfth day of operation 'Protective Edge,' when Hamas militants infiltrated Israel from a tunnel dug from Gaza and engaged Israeli soldiers. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Soldiers and relatives mourn at the grave of Israeli Sergeant Banaya Rubel during his funeral on July 20, 2014 in Holon, Israel. Sergeant Rubel was killed along with another Israeli army soldier on the 12th day of operation ‘Protective Edge,’ when Hamas militants infiltrated Israel from a tunnel dug from Gaza and engaged Israeli soldiers. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

The other condition is that no one may ask whether the cause these soldiers are fighting for – this war – is right or not. Whether we, Israel, could have prevented the deaths. Whether we, especially we parents, are even just partly responsible for getting more than a few of our soldiers killed.

Nobody can ask that question, not in public; he will be shouted down angrily. He will be silenced.

And so this display of what’s best in Israel goes hand-in-hand with the demonstration of what’s worst in it: The conformism, the robotic thinking, the blind obedience, this fucking lemming-like quality. You hear people repeating it in the media like an oath – we believe in our soldiers, we believe in the mission, we believe in our leaders.

We believe in the mission. We believe in our leaders.

War brings out the best in Israel, and the worst. But it’s the worst qualities that allowed this war to happen in the first place, and that are preparing the ground for the next one. Wouldn’t it be nice if Israelis could devote a little of their courage to the contemplation of breaking ranks, and give a little of their compassion to the Palestinians? Maybe then they could find a better arena for their awesome bravery and generosity than one war after another after another.

Related:
‘Finish the job’
This was a war of choice. Netanyahu’s choice
How can you possibly oppose this war?

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    COMMENTS

    1. CigarButNoNice

      “…and give a little of their compassion to the Palestinians?”

      On this site, any idea of giving compassion to the Jewish inhabitants of Judea and Samaria, and often even to those of pre-1967 Israel, is right away nixed on the grounds that “settler-colonial land-thieves don’t deserve compassion.” So I advice physicians like you to heal yourselves first.

      No, sorry, there are not many Israeli Jews ready to give compassion to those who wish them dhimmi, deported or dead. May I also remind readers that turning the other cheek is not a Jewish value, in case someone claims “holding Israel to a higher standard.”

      As for conformism, you ought to ponder your own conformism to the left-wing dogma that Strong automatically means Wrong. For my part, I know, for instance, that in 2005 Russia was strong and the Chechen rebels were the weak party, but the massacre at Beslan made those rebels wrong and worthy of eradication. So it would be with Hamas even if you could show they are the weak party: The cement they could have used to build housing, they used for tunnels with the intent of a Beslan-like massacre.

      Israel is right, Islamic imperialism is wrong.

      Reply to Comment
    2. Mike Panzone

      Honestly, most of the Israelis I have encountered seem to have been self-absorbed and obsessed with their Israeli-ness. Cold, indifferent, rude would be better adjectives than what are used in this article. (Maybe it’s a middle eastern thing. Those from Saudi States seem the same way…insulated, self-centered, closed to people in other places.) At least you guys support your soldiers…that’s admirable. Americans as well are fanatical about supporting their troops. But I agree with what this author hints at in the end. Another Jew said it better, though…
      “You have heard that it was said, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR and hate your enemy. But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous”

      Reply to Comment
      • Shelly

        Really? “Americans are fanatical about supporting their troops”
        Is that why they hold
        “MEMORIAL DAY SALES”
        Most Americans I’ve met couldn’t care less about their troops. If I am not mistaken, during the Iraq war there was not one U.S. Senator who had a child that served.

        Reply to Comment
        • There were congresspeople who had offspring in the military who served in Iraq. As usual, ignorance reigns supreme among the anti-Israel/antiUS crowd.

          Reply to Comment
          • Shelly

            Really? Name one Senator who had a child that served.
            Better yet, name one year when there wasn’t a MEMORIAL DAY SALE. That’s how “fanatical” the US about “supporting its troops and honoring its fallen.”
            And more. Did “Dubya” ever go to even one funeral of a fallen soldier?

            Reply to Comment
    3. Whiplash

      Larry Derfner does his readers a great disservice by misrepresenting Israeli media’s debate and coverage of Gaza. Israeli media has covered the conflict from all angles. They have shown the pain and suffering in both Gaza and Israel. Israeli news media in Hebrew, English, French and Arabic have tackled questions of what Israel’s options were and if the response is right.

      For example, i24news which broadcasts on the net in English, Arabic and French, has examined with Israeli pundits, both Arab and Jewish, with Palestinian Arabs from both the West Bank and Gaza, and foreign sources issues touching on the overall conflict and operation in Gaza. It does not hesitate to show scenes of massive destruction of civilian areas or civilians made homeless and fleeing. It does not deny the suffering of Gazans, but allows it viewers to hear from them directly.

      The head anchor of the English portion of i24 news is an Arab woman. She has asked guests on the air if Israel caused or contributed to the war by its refusal to work with the Unity government. The Israeli blockade of Gaza has been fully discussed in all its dimensions.

      What Mr. Derfner objects to is that Israelis have reached an informed consensus that war is a necessary evil for the better good of Israelis as a whole and that they are prepared to pay the price of waging war with the lives of their husbands, wives, sons, daughters, and grandchildren. Likewise the Palestinians must pay the price of their choice of war.

      Reply to Comment
    4. Sholom

      Another wonderful but depressing article.

      Reply to Comment
    5. Goldmarx

      Larry, please don’t call Steve Plaut a whore. He doesn’t deserve the compliment.

      Reply to Comment
    6. This nonsense that someone is “occupied” therefore justified to kill people is for marginal idiots. The bulk of Israel’s land was legally bought by the JNF. According to Derfner’s chain of thought, if black people who live in New York wanted to reside in LA but the LA denizens considered new blacks in their community as occupiers, they’d be justified to terrorize and kill them.The Arab claim Jews have no rights to Israel. Derfner is an apologist for this state of mind.

      Reply to Comment
    7. Sonnenuhr

      Larry said:

      “But there are at least a couple of conditions attached to this communal experience: One, there can be no reminders of what we are doing to the people in Gaza.”

      False. For example see:

      http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-4549627,00.html

      What Larry wants is for Israelis to feel more compassion for Gazans than Israelis whom the Gazans’ armies are trying to kill.

      Reply to Comment
    8. Rida

      Nope Larry, you are so wrong. I feel sorry for these soldiers because they are young and deluded; but I do not ‘care for them’ in the sense that I would wish all evil away from them. I would not. They are not blameless like you make them out to be. They are not innocent. There are soldiers who have decided not to go into Gaza because they do not believe in this war. These soldiers are the soldiers to be commended and celebrated for their bravery, not the brainwashed, deluded soldiers not thinking twice about killing people because ‘my country’. You’re so wrong if you think this is something reserved exclusively for Israel and Israelis. All countries do this at wartime. Wars, mercenary and unjustified, are embraced as something to be glorified, soldiers, killers, are celebrated.

      Reply to Comment