- Upon my return, You, the land of my birth, You asked me to serve.
Willingly I volunteered and I was accepted into a brotherhood of front-line warriors, Golani Brigade.
The conversations were always interesting.
Why would you give up life in Canada to eat dust and grease and gun oil?
My Golani brothers questioned me, how anyone could live in a community without owning anything save the clothes on their back. Until the packages came, filled with cookies and snacks and other delicacies.
We read each other’s letters, aloud, sharing everything.
It mattered not one bit that Zvika wore a knitted kipah. And so did Dudi. It mattered not that Azaria came from Kiryat Gat, or that Amir was from Tel Aviv. It mattered not that Bitterman was the only child of Holocaust Survivors. We were ready to lay our lives down. And some did. But we were brothers. We had each others’ backs.
Like them, I willingly put my life on the line, all the while believing that I was making a difference, holding back thousands upon thousands of Syrians. My brothers-in-arms and I. Willing to die, hoping to live.
More than six months later You again asked me.
Please, try to understand, so many of our brave Armored Corps warriors perished. Please, you said, become a tank commander, and serve me again.
When I arrived that first day for re-training, thousands of troops sat in protest, refusing to become Armored Corps warriors. And why should they? After all, was it not the Government’s fault? Had the Government not disregarded countless warning signs?
It would lead to the Agranat Commission, and its conclusions would be devastating.
High ranking officers pleaded with those who refused that day.
I did not. I loved you too much, I could not even imagine saying no to you, beautiful land of my birth.
Willingly I learned everything that there was to learn about my new tank. Driving it. Maintaining it. Learning how to operate its many guns. Loading the 105mm shells. Commanding it.
After learning the basics many of us were sent to a hell-hole alive with snakes and scorpions to “get the feel” of real conditions. An insane superior told us that the cease-fire agreements had been broken and that we were about to be deployed. That turned out to be nothing but a lie, and I was still willing to lay my life down for You.
2) For each and every deployment thereafter I was part of the Southern Command. We withdrew from the Sinai, step by step, in keeping with the Egyptian Peace Agreement.
I was a liberal who lived on a communal farm, a Kibbutz just north of the Gaza Strip.
My brothers-in-arms were city folks. Supporters of Menachem Begin.
Willingly I answered every call, every deployment. Willingly I put the uniform on, laced the boots, filled my duffel bag and left family, children and work behind.
And although I did not agree in principle with the idea of being “The Occupier”, I served You.
Year after year, a steady routine of maneuvers and deployments to the Gaza Strip. Those deployments left me feeling unclean, and uneasy. You asked me to create a military presence among an impoverished and unhappy Palestinian population, and I did as you asked. I tried to be as humane as possible, as unobtrusive as possible, but there were others who despite orders to the contrary, took it upon themselves to do harm without provocation.
You, beloved land of my birth, asked me to stand guard next to Sheikh Ahmad Yassin. It took every ounce of my moral fiber to remain stoic. Calm. Yassin, a founder of Hamas, a militant Islamist, responsible for the deaths of countless Jews, Israelis young and old. You asked me to behave in the true moral code of the IDF and I did.
3) Our tank unit disbanded and I was again privileged and honored to serve You, this time as a Liaison Officer. My facility with languages, German, French, English, Hebrew and even some Arabic opened that door. I did my very best to show those officers of the MFO (Multinational Force and Observers) the very best of our tiny nation. I conducted a tour for an officer from New Zealand who wanted to see the Anzac Memorial. Another MFO officer, a General, wanted a tour of the museum at Yad Mordechai. Look! See what our people have done! How we have risen from literal ashes, like the Phoenix, to create all this!
It was during my last deployment, April 1991, that I glimpsed into the future. Hebron. Kiryat Arba. A tiny tot, a baby no more than three or four wearing a large knitted kipah, sidelocks, running out of a doorway into the street. The old Arab, bent and walking slowly with a cane, came from the other direction. The infant spat at the old man. Kicked at him. Apologizing to the elder, I turned to the child, asking why? “He’s not a human” came the answer of the innocent, speaking with the voice of his parents.
On the Egged bus driving Jews through Hebron, You asked me to protect their lives. A man, clad in black, black hat, black coat, black pants, pulled the cord to request a stop. As I exited the bus first, and as I stopped the traffic to allow him to alight, he suddenly lunged at a vehicle driven by a Palestinian. He then smacked his hand on the hood of the car, reminiscent of Dustin Hoffman’s famous “I’m walking here” from Midnight Cowboy. “Did you see! He tried to kill me!” he yelled at me. I told him to just get going home, because the vehicle had obviously stopped completely and I was standing directly in front of it. “You are nothing but a leftist”, his parting words.
And as night fell, the young of Kiryat Arba, restless and bored, went out into Hebron and vandalized Palestinian property. It was the next day, and the day after that, when we, tasked with patrolling the narrow streets of Hebron, would pay the price.
4) My glimpse into the future has now become a reality.
Minority groups of Messianic Jews, extremists and racists, deniers of basic human rights, women’s rights, LGBTQ rights, Arab Israeli rights, have entered a ruling government coalition with the dire and heartbreaking consequences we see before us every day. Now, while I truly believe in democracy, and while I can (and often do) live with those who disagree with my points of view, I find it very difficult to see You, dear land of my birth, succumb to the tyranny of these fringe minorities.
I can fully understand why reservists from all different units do not want to volunteer any more. It is unimaginable to see them carry out orders that are not in keeping with the highest moral standards of our IDF. A scenario of an amoral order is quite conceivable should these extremist fringes in the Knesset have their way: We have all heard them say exactly that. More than once.
Is the Prime Minister of Israel in charge, as he claims? Is he held hostage by the likes of Ben Gvir and Smotrich, Orit Strook and others? Did he put this coalition of the Ultra-Orthodox, the extremists and the Messianic minorities together just to stay clear of his indictment?
And, yes, Israel does not have a Constitution, and yes, that is a discussion that should have been held and resolved more than fifty years ago. We need a system of checks and balances. We need separate branches of government, each independent of the other, each accountable to the other. We most certainly need a strong and moral IDF, completely independent of any and all politics.
You deserve better, land of my birth. Your people, all of your people, citizens alike, Jew, Arab, Druze; Christian and Muslim; atheist, agnostic, devout and skeptic, all deserve better. We did not put our lives on the line to see it all go to hell.