June 14: Impressions from a One-Day Training

This Word from the Editor is a few days late, for personal reasons, and also because I wanted to expose as much as possible the story of the Jenin massacre, as told by one of the participants – that appeared in last week’s column. The dear people of Gush Shalom have translated the full “7 Days” article to English; I am all hope, that this story will reverberate, and will help improve the situation somehow.

 This week I had a reserve service one-day training. It was my first time on uniform since the “combatants letter” went public, and I was quite tense. A few signatories who arrived for training in their units, had experienced verbal lynching and intense emotional pressure from their comrades. I was also somewhat afraid that I would be tricked into a court-martial, and my one-day would turn into a 35-day in military prison. All my fears were without basis. It was a normal, calm one-day – a multitude of profoundly boring lectures, given by lovely 19-year-old girls, with ample breaks in between to replenish our supply of jokes and gossip.

Everyone was nice to me. The vast majority doesn’t even know that they have a “refusenik”, an “enemy of the people” in their company. Actually, the vast majority is able to be unaware of a strange world right underneath their noses, a world of Occupation, siege, killing, mass starvation, and of people crazy enough to devote their personal time, effort and money, even to go into prison to fight against all this. The people in my company have enough of their familiar troubles: the terror attacks and the deteriorating economic situation, and the fears and hardships they cause them. This population, who carries the entire country on its back, is like the veteran donkey; when, in a month and a half, they will go to 33 days in Gaza (33 days! How many years we’ve waited for the reserve service to be shortened to 24 days, and now at an instant, they extend it again with interest) – they just lower their backs and there you go, they’re ready to carry some extra weight. After all, there’s no choice…

I had a few lightweight political arguments. Apart from the amazing ignorance of what’s really going on in our country, I noticed a very interesting general theme: on one hand, almost everyone knows – in their own words, not in mine! – that we must leave all the Territories and dismantle all Settlements. They are also sure this is inevitable (regrettably, I’m not so sure anymore). But - …. But. What can we do until this happens? After all, we’ve tried everything, and we (that is, our government) are trying everything – and if nothing’s going in the right direction yet, it probably means that there’s no option. We must grit our teeth and go on – at what? At whatever it is we’ll be told to do. When I challenged the assumption that “we’ve tried everything”, one of my friends answered that “I would rather go on believing in this people’s innocence, in our desire for peace.”

BINGO. I, too, believe in the innocence of my company comrades. They really want peace. But much more than that – they want to believe. They’ve got to believe. Believe in the image brought to them by our TV, radio and newspapers, of a noble peace-loving people, defending itself against a mob of drooling ruffians with insatiable demands, who possess mysterious powers. Believe that the generals who command them when they report for duty stay away from the government’s politics, regard peace, retreat and compromise as plausible options, and do not practice violence against civilians unless there’s no choice. Believe that the ex-generals and politicians in the government truly put the nation’s interests above everything else.

This need for believing is so strong, that it neutralizes all the warning signs, signs that show how far this image is from our sad reality. After all, you don’t have to be a genius to see that peace and compromise are at our fingertips – but unfortunately, we are being ruled and manipulated by an utterly corrupt bunch of politicians, ex-generals and generals, who treat people’s blood as if it were a bargaining chip in their endless power games; to see that our mass media is eagerly collaborating with this bunch, and is brainwashing us on purpose; to see that the generals of our Army of the People meddle incessantly in national politics, always blocking any compromise or withdrawal for “security reasons”, and that they have a deplorable tendency to abandon the army for years on end in foreign lands, getting in trouble with the local civilian population. My company comrades can see all this, when they are looking. But most of the time they prefer not to look, and to go on believing.

Because whoever stops believing the image portrayed above, runs the risk of going mad with rage, frustration and horror – until he joins the struggle. I know this full well, because there is no difference between my company comrades and myself – except the fact that I stopped believing and joined the struggle. My struggle is motivated by the same source that drives my comrades’ obedience – the urge to preserve one’s sanity.

I brought to the training a leaflet I prepared, in order to explain myself in case of verbal assault. As written above, there was no need for it. However, for the struggle’s sake I should have distributed it at the end of the training, to at least increase my comrades’ awareness. I did not give the leaflet to anyone. I didn’t have the heart to do it. I felt like a grown-up elder brother, who returns to visit his younger brothers and watches their juvenile games. I didn’t have the heart to shatter their innocence, the sheltered mental space – so fragile – that they’ve constructed around themselves. Reality will take care of this sooner or later. Maybe even the reality they’ll experience at Gaza in a month and a half – without me.

Happy Weekend,

assaf