IDF:Troops' Mental Prep Was a Great Success

"The mental dimension" of the evacuation was an overwhelming success story, according to the Southern Command's chief psychologist, Major Hagai Braude, due to the extensive preparation done by the Israel Defense Forces.

"Our people approached the mission with a very correct scheme of thought," he said from his temporary office in Ein Hashlosha. "We were able to put it into practice in the field in a precise manner. From talks we have had with soldiers and commanders, we have learned that they did not feel threatened.

"It is also perfectly clear that they found it easier to deal with the calls of `Nazi' than with the less expressed pain of the settlers. In any event, in light of the reactions that are coming in from the field, we believe that the forces are not traumatized."

To support these assessments, Braude cites the lack of requests for sick-day passes or appointments with military psychologists.

"These are not sufficiently scientific tools to assess the result now, but they do nevertheless facilitate an evaluation of the situation. We were somewhat concerned before the soldiers went home for the weekend. There was concern that some wouldn't return. It didn't materialize."

At the height of the intifada, a cynical joke was told of how every soldier required a lawyer when going out on a mission. For the pullout operation, in contrast, the soldiers and police were accompanied by psychologists and experts in behavioral sciences.

Braude said that the moment the command was entrusted with carrying out the evacuation of Gush Katif, his staff began reviewing military history in search of a precedent pertaining to missions of the kind that had been imposed on the IDF.

They didn't find a thing - there simply was no precedent.

The closest they came was the evacuation of Yamit in Sinai, and the dismantling of outposts; and beginning already a year ago, through the repeated viewing of old film and personal interviews with the evacuees then, they began to draw conclusions about similarities and differences - the differences in particular.

"Indeed, what was required here, first and foremost, was a profound change in awareness," Braude says. "In this story, there is no enemy and no decisive win. We embarked on a military mission, under military procedures, while being internally aware that this was a non-combat mission in which we were facing civilians.

"True," Braude admits, "what we have here is a Gordian knot within another Gordian knot. Some of those soldiers who were called on to evacuate the settlers had defended them for years. There was a need, therefore, to construct a different reality by means of simulations, some of which were carried out using dolls and toys. I have spoken with many of the soldiers over the past few days, and they told me that they had faced a situation that wasn't foreign to them, and therefore did not fall apart. All was in the repertoire of the virtual reality that we prepared for them in advance."

Braude is unable to provide a good answer to one question: Will the soldiers carry over the same sensitivity and empathy that they learned to show toward the settlers to their future encounters with the Palestinian civilians? Will the evacuation from their homes of Fatima and Mohammed also be accompanied by a warm embrace? Or is this type of approach reserved only for Jews?

"I can't comment on this question," Braude says. "The question entails the assumption that there is contrary behavior. I beg to differ. I think all our soldiers are humane. Nevertheless, the work scheme with the Palestinians in the field is different in terms of the threat potential."