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Lost in the service of the IDF

The TV interview several weeks ago on N12 with five of Israel’s former Chiefs of Staff, Ehud Barak, Moshe (Bogie) Yaalon, Gabi Ashkenazi, Benny Gantz and Gadi Eisenkot, shocking as it was to me, clarified much more than the sad fact that former military luminaries appear to have rather limited added value as politicians, if any. The fact that none of them chose to identify what is and clearly has been for most of the period since 1948 the most critical challenge or threat to Israel’s existence, possibly not physical but certainly spiritual, makes one wonder what happened to them during their education and along their career paths. All of them are old enough to have passed through Israel’s educational system during times it still was functioning reasonably well. All of them appear to have their origins presumably in secure backgrounds were humanistic values were cherished and all of them, throughout their long careers, were exposed for lengthy periods, at one time or another, to other democratic countries and their value systems. As human beings they appear pleasant and balanced enough.

How is it then that these five together or each and every one of them individually are apparently so comfortable with the status-quo under which Israel runs a belligerent occupation of 4.5 million Palestinians, which they have helped maintain vigorously and successfully for the last 55 years to the extent that it has become completely natural and agreeable to them? So completely, indeed, that in the interview it just slipped their collective mind (except for Barak who made an off the cuff comment that we need to continue to look for a solution to the conflict).

Each and every one of them has been exposed as a soldier or commanding officer, to the manifold ills of this occupation of a huge civilian population in Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip and has participated in countless military operations, some of them exceedingly violent, also among civilians, in the course of one or more tours of duty. How come they have not felt any need to relate to this untenable situation? Mention it? Express concern, empathy for civilians, worry, fear? Humanity? And that despite the fact that likely all of them have buried friends and/or soldiers under their command who died maintaining that occupation or even family members who were murdered in terrorist attacks.

What does the IDF put in the food of these valiant officers that completely dulls their senses and holds them captive to total ignorance even after they finished their service? How can it be that these high-caliber officers, some of whom went into public service after retirement (Barak, Yaalon, Ashkenazy), one who is in government now (Gantz) and one who is embarking on a political career (Eisenkot, afer serving two Prime Ministers as military secretary), didn’t pick up a cue or a clue about what’s really happening? Nobody briefed them? Nobody leaked the message to them? How can they be so oblivious to the implications of a bloody war fought every day between Jews/Israelis and Palestinians over the Land of Israel? Did they collude to shut up about it, did someone ask them not to talk, or did the N12 editor choose to cut-censor those comments out (which would be mind-boggling by itself)? If the latter is the case, why didn’t they speak up about it afterwards?

Lucky that we have Yair Golan to show that not all general officers have been dulled down completely. When he was Deputy Chief of Staff he lost his promotion to the top job when, in a speech on holocaust day in front of a civilian audience, he expressed concern and worry, not about the occupation g-d forbid, no, but about other ills in our society, not any less concerning.

Possibly, officers that express too much (or any) concern, suffer consequences particularly in the higher ranks. Possibly officers who are changing their command positions frequently, lose track of the ball or learn to be in denial. It’s easier after all. It’s not particularly pleasant to walk around 24/7 bearing partial responsibility for an occupation that kills people, too many of them innocent bystanders, almost on a daily basis. But if that is the situation, why should we expect from officers who have not shown any concern during their service, have never spoken up against the occupation, that they should make a particular effort to rally against it after they retire?

Groupthink is always a concerning phenomenon, particularly in organizations that are supposed to protect the country and its citizens. The thought that the IDF can handle the occupation on a daily basis has been proven right in 55 years of practice. Those 55 years of practice have helped us completely normalize the occupation among soldiers and officers as our politicians and our education system have done among civilians. If we don’t relate to it, it doesn’t exist. If the green line is not on the map, it doesn’t exist.

The implications of this behavior are grave, disconcerting and scary. Let’s find the wisdom and particularly the courage to deal with them in the new year. Shana Tova to all.

About the Author
The author served in the Prime Minister’s Office as a member of the intelligence community, is Vice Chairman of the Israel-Indonesia Chamber of Commerce, Vice-Chairman of the Israeli-German Society (IDG), Co-Chair of the Federation Movement (www.federation.org.il), member of the council at israelimovement.co.il and author of "Identity: The Quest for Israel's Future".