Cracks Beginning to Emerge in Reservists' Protest

In recent weeks, the classic question 'what will be?' has been replaced with another query: What happened to us?

For decades, the question "what will be?" was the most typical of Israeli expressions. It was a question that needed no response, but expressed a vague concern for an uncertain future. In recent weeks, however, "what will be?" has been replaced with another query: What happened to us? What happened to the army, to the government, to the home front, to an entire country?

When mental health associations air public service announcements on how to identify post-traumatic stress symptoms, they are warning of a difficult experience that has not been worked through and given closure. In fact, they are describing the collective experience of a war that petered out not only without victory, but without closure for the suffering and loss. Residents of the north see themselves as victims of hostile action by the government, which abandoned them. Soldiers on the right, who went to war suffering from the insult of the disengagement, and soldiers on the left, who after years of intifada went into battle with a feeling of justification, all came back feeling cheated and humiliated.

But this bond, too, unraveled when the uniforms came off. Not much is left of the solidarity, except agreement with the words written by Staff Sergeant Refanael Moskal before he fell in Lebanon: "The nation's leadership does not deserve the people."

People quickly returned to their previous positions: Some feel that too much force was used, and led nowhere; others feel that had more force been used, it could have led to victory. And at the very moment when the myth of the invincible army and mutual responsibility is caving in, we long for a unifying ethos, but find it only in the past.

Yesterday, old soldiers from the brigade that liberated Jerusalem in the Six-Day War marched with activists from the Movement for Quality Government to call for a state commission of inquiry into the Lebanon war. But then the question of whether the march should end at the movement's protest tent or at the reservists' protest tent - located a few dozen meters from each other, the distance between Agranat Square and the Knesset Rose Garden - became a critical one.

That is the main problem with the protest: an inability to agree on the character of the state in which they want to live after the healing that may - or may not - follow the commission and the resignations.

There is little to bind Shlomi Peretz of Gush Etzion, who was demobilized from the reserves and came to sign the reservists' petition because he longs to replace the present government with a right-wing one, and Rom Harel of Haifa, who scolded the Movement for Quality Government activists for not having material in Arabic.

There is something tragic about the situation in which the protest at the Rose Garden finds itself: It is as if it has been swallowed in an Israeli Bermuda Triangle whose top is the Prime Minister's Residence and whose bases are the Knesset and the government ministries - all three of which are hemming in the protesters. After the Yom Kippur War, there was a governmental alternative that had not previously been tried. Today, it is different. The protest against the second Lebanon war is turning orange - the color of the protest against the disengagement.

A one-month-old consensus is not strong enough to bridge ideological suspicions that developed over 38 years. "We are not interested in replacing the government or even investigating the past," said Yariv Oppenheimer, director of Peace Now. "Our goal is to force negotiations on the government at the very moment of its weakness." And in the end, it may be the left that ensures this government's survival.