By DONNIEL HARTMAN
I am a father. As parents of children in combat units in the Israeli army, we live at a particularly difficult time. It’s not that the dangers facing our children now are greater than in the past. Unfortunately, war and fighting for our survival has been a permanent feature of Israeli life.
What makes it difficult is that we are functioning under a new Israeli ethos. While parental love for and loyalty towards our children was always primary, the early years of Israel’s fight for survival were founded on an ethos of "tov lamut b’ad artzeinu
" ("It is good to die for our country." – Joseph Trumpeldor
). While death was always mourned, the nobility of death in actively pursuing and shaping one’s destiny as distinct from the death of passivity imposed upon us by our anti-Semitic enemies was perceived as redemptive. The choice was between death and death – a death at Auschwitz or a willingness to die for independence. In that environment the choice was easy: It is good to die for one’s country.
In recent decades, the ethos in Israel has changed to one of, "It is good to live for one’s country." We, like our parents and grandparents, are willing to pay the utmost price for the viability and survival of our country. And we know that survival is dependent on the strength of our will. Yet, at the same time, we can taste something else. We don’t believe that war and death are inevitable. We have begun to lay foundations in which mere survival is not the ultimate end, but rather the content and quality of our lives.
We no longer raise our children to be soldiers. We raise them to be citizens of a beautiful and vibrant country that will enable them to achieve their individual dreams, and whose collective strength and greatness is constructed from the tapestry and sum total of these dreams.
IDF soldiers ceremony at Western Wall (Kotel), Jerusalem
Chris Yunker, from Flickr with Creative Commons License
War is no longer deemed to be inevitable, but a necessary evil imposed upon us from time to time by our enemies. When war knocks at our door, and our children are placed in harm’s way, we feel proud at the bravery and loyalty of our children, but deeply disturbed and fearful at the same time. We are fearful that our children’s primary contributions to the country – their ideas, dreams and energy – are in danger of not being fulfilled.
It is difficult – very difficult – for parents today to send our children to war. Some might see this as a great weakness; they believe that the future of Israel in this neighborhood requires that we return to the old ethos. I see the new ethos as the source of strength and a worthy and powerful foundation for the future of Israel. It gives expression to the new and larger vision and expectation that we Israelis now have for our country – to contribute through living. As a result, as we begin the operation in Gaza, as a father I am disturbed and pained.
I am a citizen. As a citizen of this beautiful country I know and believe that at the foundation of our and indeed every society lies an unquestionable loyalty that each citizen must have toward each other. We will survive and indeed achieve our ultimate aspirations only to the extent that every citizen knows that their individual difficulties are the country’s difficulties. Their pain is the country’s pain. Loyalty is not simply a gift that citizens bestow upon each other, but rather it is the building block of society itself.
One of the great dangers of the "It is good to live for one’s country" ethos is that one can become completely absorbed by one’s individual dreams and feel that the fulfillment of them alone is one’s contribution to the greater good.
This, however, is false. The greater good also requires each and every one of us sometimes to sacrifice our individual dreams, and indeed our individual welfare, for the sake of our people and our country.
For too long the pain and suffering of the citizens who live on the outskirts of Gaza has been borne by them alone. The Kassam rockets were seen for too long as a problem for the citizens of Sderot and not as a problem for the country as a whole. Let the truth be told. We the citizens of central Israel having been sleeping well at night. Our collective loyalty, and indeed responsibility for each other, has been put in question. Are we as citizens outside the range of Kassam and Grad rockets willing to endanger our lives by attempting to change the status quo that has made so many Israeli lives into nightmares?
As a citizen of Israel, as we begin the operation in Gaza, I am deeply proud. After far too long we are finally standing up together as one and saying collectively, "Your pain is my pain. Your suffering is my suffering, and together we must bring it to an end."
Now, I am not certain what will effectuate a change in the status quo – Air Force bombing, limited ground strikes, or a more massive invasion in Gaza. On the one hand I know that a casualty-free war, engaged totally from the air, is a fantasy and will not achieve its goals. At the same time I also know that we will not be able to bring about the downfall of Hamas through military means. At best, we can re-create a new balance of fear, and possibly create some schism between Gaza Palestinians and their leadership. We might also be able to destroy some of our enemies’ more potent weapons for now. At the end we are going to have to return to some form of cease-fire, one that the other side will not approach on its deathbed, but rather still very much alive and a danger to us.
Despite this, I know that we must do everything in our power to change the current unjust and impossible status quo that allows terrorists in Gaza to lob mortars and missiles at will upon our fellow citizens. It is our responsibility to each other as fellow citizens to try military means, as well, so long as we remember the limitations inherent within the use of these means.
As a citizen I not only support but feel that a military response in Gaza is the deepest representation of our loyalty and responsibility to each other.
Herein lays my dilemma and my pain. I am a father and a citizen. At one moment one identity prevails and at other times, the other prevails. I pray for the safety of my child, and the children of my family and my friends, and I pray for the well-being of all our citizens.
I cannot give up either identity; I cannot, nor would I want to. In the tension which so many of us feel lies the future growth and greatness of our country. I, and other fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, spouses and grandparents – all citizens and lovers of Israel, find ourselves in an impossible dilemma. We are fearful yet proud. Fearful yet proud.