Five Years After Lebanon War, IDF Reservists Wonder if Their Protests Made a Difference

Gili Cohen
Gili Cohen
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Gili Cohen
Gili Cohen

Five years after the Second Lebanon War, the leaders of the reservists' protest are watching as those who ran the country in the summer of 2006 slowly make their way back into politics, and they feel that their main achievement is evaporating. Then-Defense Minister Amir Peretz is now running for the chairmanship of Labor, and then-Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Dan Halutz has joined Kadima and launched a political career.

"What a story, huh?" said Yakir Segev, one of the leaders of the reservists' protest following the war.

Reservists and the supporters demonstrating in Tel Aviv in 2006.Credit: Alon Ron

Asaf Davidof, a soldier in the Alexandroni Brigade, termed it "the biggest absurdity in the country. People who failed are making a comeback in a big way."

Davidof, along with another colleague from the brigade, Roni Zweigenbaum, organized a march by reservists after they returned from the fighting in Lebanon in 2006. Later they set up a protest tent in the Knesset Rose Garden in Jerusalem and urged passersby to sign a petition headlined, "Olmert, Peretz, Halutz - Go Home!"

Later, they were joined by many more: reserve officers and soldiers, and also politicians who tried, some successfully and others less so, to ride the wave.

Segev, formerly a company commander in the Egoz Battalion and now a major in the reserves, thinks that despite the return of the failed leaders of 2006, the reservists' struggle succeeded.

"I made the protest because I thought you can't have such an incident, such a war, without the public saying anything," he said. "There was a terrible failure of the leadership: irresponsible, unserious, failed, mistaken behavior. And the public had things to say for itself. Even if it was from the gut, it was authentic."

But Dr. Baruch Eitam, a paratrooper who was also one of the leaders of the protest, thinks differently.

"My reason for engaging in this was mostly a matter of values, to hold a discussion on the gap between the values according to which the Israeli leadership operates and those of the citizenry," he said. "And I can say that in this, we failed entirely.

"My purpose was not to remove these people but to establish a norm. Today, leadership contests are like standing in line for the bus or at the supermarket: If you can screw the other guy, then great, wonderful."

Moral statement

Ever since the reservists' protest, it seems the Israeli public has been trying to stir up other protests, for almost any reason, even if only for a day or two. Once it was over the reform in public transportation, another time over the radical increase in the price of cottage cheese at the supermarket.

"It could be we overdid it, and it [protest] has moved into other realms," Segev said. He mocked the latest protest: "'The price of cottage cheese went up? We want the finance minister to resign!'

"But at the end of the day," he added, "the public had to make a moral statement, unequivocally and uncompromisingly, about the war: Go home. This correction had to be made, and sometimes it happens in a radical way. It's true that afterward, people may do it [protest] more easily."

Eitam, a research psychologist by profession, said that he sees what is happening in Israel as extraordinary. "We are being dragged into the abyss, but no one is wearing sackcloth and ashes or going up to Jerusalem," he said. "There is a great lack of agreement about values among the public, but it doesn't manifest itself in dramatic ways.

"During the war, there were large demonstrations, because people need a narrative," he added. "It can't be something abstract."

Half a decade later, Davidof's battalion will commemorate the day the war began by doing reserve duty.

"Our struggle? It's already over," he said. "Today we mainly recall memories of the war, memories of the guys."

Yet the protest's impact has been noticeable. No military or political leader wants a repeat of the Winograd Committee's scathing report on the war, and some say the result has been an overreaction bordering on paranoia when it comes to countering threats. One example is the authorities' handling of the recent attempt by pro-Palestinian activists to fly en masse into Israel.

"At this time, it's not possible to judge the hesitation and fear that took over during the war," Davidof said. "I assume that now, brigade commanders think about every move 10 times [before acting]. They do not want a monkey like [the Winograd report] on their back, which would prevent them from advancing in the army or getting a job when they retire."

Nonetheless, the protest leaders said, the IDF has changed for the better since 2006. In contrast to the confused orders, missing equipment and mistakes of that war, they are now more or less satisfied with the army's functioning.