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On Monday, at the funeral for former Mossad espionage agency chief Meir Amit, an 85-year-old man went over to a bench in the Ramat Hasharon cemetery. Sitting on the bench was a young soldier who would shortly join the honor guard in the funeral ceremony. The old man, who wore a denim shirt and a black cap, launched into a conversation, but the soldier seemed to have no idea what he was talking about. You're lucky, the elderly gentleman with the cap told him, sizing up the soldier with narrow eyes; if you were part of a tank crew, I would've tested you by now. The soldier mumbled something and walked away. The 85-year-old, Major General Israel Tal, leaned back and looked for real members of tank crews to exchange a few words with.

There were many former members of tank crews and former generals of tank crews at the funeral. They wore comfortable sports shoes and collarless shirts, held bottles of mineral water, and had mobile phones hanging from around their necks. They wore black skullcaps from the department for the commemoration of soldiers and showed great interest in the state of their buddies' backs and other ailments. Some Filipino caregivers whispered together in a corner. Wives sat on a different bench and with squinting eyes scanned those arriving through the cemetery gates. There's Chich and there's Ephraim and there's Yaakov. The wives sported broad pants and dark sunglasses. Once they were fiery beauties; now they meet at funerals. Reunions of placid pensioners.

The eulogies for the period Meir Amit helped shape were delivered some years ago, next to other graves. By the graveside of Yigal Allon their youth was eulogized; by the graveside of Naomi Shemer their culture was commemorated; and by the graveside of Eli Mohar, the Tel Aviv they lived in was evoked. The funeral attendees lamented themselves - the new world in which they are condemned to live and the old world from which they were compelled to part. They miss a world in which there were no Mizrahim, no Haredim and also no Russians - someone who is known as a "social activist" once told me.

Amit's world was one which his friends ruled by virtue of a mission they took on themselves. On its behalf they were appointed to safeguard the white, do battle against the black and reject the existence of any shades in between. We meet them at the end of the road. At the funeral, I hear people asking about many of the participants: What, he's still alive? They wouldn't get me one seat in the Knesset these days, image consultants with gel-slicked hair say about the old people, politely requesting that they not attend party gatherings.

Occasionally the camera catches them in the back rows of a meeting of the Central Committee at the Jabotinsky Institute or at a convention in Beit Berl. The lighting sharpens their facial features. Programs on television expose what we read about them in the papers: they're tough, uncompromising, pious believers in the rightness of the way, and the way was always that of the fist pounding the table or the enemy's face. Their moral qualms, if any, were few, and if they came up were mulled in backrooms.

They abhorred soldiers who cried at funerals, loathed "the media" which photographed them and complained about the wimpiness that has overtaken everyone. Now, they say, it is eroding the mailed fist. Say the word "tolerance" and their eyes narrow to slits, their mouths become a thin line and their fists tighten. They spit out the word "pluralism" like a sour grape. They themselves are modest in their ways.

Meir Amit lived in a simple apartment in Ramat Gan. He and his buddies did not spend much time looking after their own interests. They were not - like their successors - tainted by greed. They never trod on ground that wasn't part of the state or the public: from military service to security service, and from there to public service. They probably wouldn't know how to get someone on the phone without the help of a secretary.

Their forebears turned work into a religion; they chose to worship force. They viewed force as a proper substitute for Jewish kowtowing and as a trump card in the eternal war with the Palestinians. They stripped the term "security" of its meaning and transformed it from a means into an end. They knew the only way they'd succeed in making security the purpose of our existence was if they prepared us for a life without hope for a better future, a life of 'this is how it is and there is nothing we can do about it.' They knew that a nation without hope would more easily enlist in the service of security, because what else did it have? They knew that without hope the country's soldiers would be more desperate and therefore more efficient.

The "fraternity of fighters," or "reut" - comradeship - as their generational peer, the poet Haim Gouri wrote, was, from their viewpoint, second only to the state's security. Far above "justice," certainly above "compassion." "Drawn, blinded, to the imaginary / Gambling on the sublime / Astray in a parched land of pursuits." Few of them expressed regret. "The regrets come later / Slow on the uptake," Gouri wrote. But he wields a pen, not a tank.

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