Mommy and Daddy's "Little Soldiers"

There is a sense the army had become a sort of radio call-in show, a summer camp, whose participants are not soldiers but "children," whose parents dictate conditions.

On the face of it, there was no connection between two incidents that occurred a month apart, but they actually were two sides of the same coin. The first was the August 6 eviction of two Jewish families from Hebron. The parents of soldiers serving in the Duchifat Battalion went to its base to express vocal support for their sons' refusal to take part in the evacuation. "My son trained to be a sharpshooter, not to evict Jews!", one shouted into a microphone.

The second incident, last Tuesday, followed a Qassam rocket hit on the Zikim training base. Parents of new recruits massed at its gates, demanding that their children be removed from the site. "If you don't let us in within five minutes, we'll break in!" one father warned. "My son won't return to the army," a second called, while a third shouted, "We didn't send our children to be cannon fodder!" One group of parents even plans to petition the High Court of Justice for the immediate evacuation of their children from the unprotected base.

Anyone raised on the historic ethos of the Israel Defense Forces who witnessed these two scenes could only stand aghast at the chutzpa of it all. There was a sense the army had become a sort of radio call-in show, a summer camp, whose participants are not soldiers but "children," whose parents dictate conditions.

In the Duchifat case, the parental interference was particularly problematic: The parents attempted to dictate to the IDF the ideological conditions for launching an operational mission. With Zikim, the intervention was more understandable; after all, the issue here was protecting soldiers' lives, not their political beliefs. But here, too, there was the sense that some boundary had been crossed. Using threats, the parents tried to force the IDF to remove the soldiers from the base. From their perspective, the army had failed in its real purpose - protecting their children's welfare. This is yet another illustration of the inverted thinking that has taken root in Israeli society: The sensitivity to the lives of soldiers is many times greater than sensitivity for the lives of civilians. A Qassam injuring a fresh recruit at Zikim is perceived as a much greater tragedy than a Qassam injuring an old woman in Sderot.

Before launching into a jeremiad for the loss of values and purpose, it is worth recalling that the change in the balance of power between the IDF and civil society did not occur in a vacuum; it is the consequence of social, political and cultural processes that have gradually eroded the traditional status of the army and steadily reduced its authority and freedom of action. Years of malignant occupation, aid to settlers and political helplessness resulted in one part of society asking what we are fighting for and dying for; in another part of society, solidarity was damaged and an alienation born of the Gush Katif evacuation. Political interests gave rise to a wholesale draft waiver for the ultra-?Orthodox and created a feeling of ongoing discrimination. Free-market culture distanced the children of the country?s elites from the values of the collective and of a military career, not to mention the far-reaching technological developments that have exposed the inner workings of the IDF for all to see - usually in a less than flattering light.

In a world like this, it is much easier to understand the civilian who asks, what is my duty as a responsible parent of a soldier; will I blindly accept their commanders' decisions, as my parents did, or do I have an obligation to ascertain for myself that the commanders are acting within the bounds of reason, or else regret it for the rest of my life? This societal process is irreversible, and no media manipulation (such as the 'anti-draft-doging campaign') can turn back time.

The IDF has no choice but to adapt to the situation and to enter negotiations. The intervention of soldiers' parents in its actions is inevitable. The army needs their cooperation, because of the legitimacy that it affords. It must not see the parents as enemies, even if the challenge they present makes life more difficult it must now convince them that it knows what it's doing, prove it is open to criticism and also make it clear to them that not everything is open to discussion, that there are certain red lines. In the case of Duchifat, this was relatively easy. In the case of Zikim, this was more complicated: The IDF cannot permit itself to rely on low statistical probabilities to explain why it is housing new recruits in tents that offer no protection. The army must either come up with a more convincing explanation, or reinforce the tents.