The Myth of Battlefield Camaraderie That Hides the Ugly Truth

Iris Leal
Iris Leal
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IDF soldiers in  front of the Western Wall in Jerusalem in 2018
IDF soldiers in front of the Western Wall in Jerusalem in 2018Credit: Jose Hernandez
Iris Leal
Iris Leal

Without overgeneralizing, it’s fair to say that the top priority of voters in the Western world is their own welfare. They wish to know what services the state will provide in exchange for their taxes, and they seek proper administration and transparency.

Dealing with changes in the labor market, immigration, border security and law and order are attendant to the economic issue, and dictate the oscillation between conservative governments and social-democratic ones.

“It never occurred to me to boycott Israel. Until Arkansas told me I couldn’t”

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Yet here, in “a land beset by enemies,” everyone gripes about the cost of living, the labor market, wage gaps and the housing market, yet time and time again vote on one solitary issue: Security.

Existential dread drives most of Israel’s citizenry and the people’s army is the apple of their eye. I won’t discuss here how warped that is and how much the sanctified status of the military enables the perpetuation of the broken structures of Israeli society – but the surprising increase to soldiers’ pay, effective January 2022, reveals some of the problems, and perhaps presents an opportunity for change.

The overwhelming rage at Defense Minister Benny Gantz’s decision to raise the budgetary pension of already retired standing army servicemen and women surprised even him. Gantz is still living in times when every word uttered by the Israel Defense Forces is accepted as true by definition, every demand met, and every hint of resistance quelled through emotional blackmail and unsubtle warnings of the military catastrophe on the horizon.

Now he is astonished to discover that he has gone too far, and that the public has had enough of this porcine greed. In return for putting their lives on hold for 33 months and risking their lives, soldiers in compulsory service receive a salary insufficient for their needs.

It falls on parents to supplement it and exacerbates inequality between soldiers. One fighter gets the keys to the family jeep from his parents, his brother in arms doesn’t even ask his parents for bus fare out of consideration for their financial straits.

So to help us swallow the chief of staff’s raise for standing army members, they realized they needed to reverse the order: First raise the salary of the poor compulsory soldiers and only then inflate pensions that will cost us all a lot more. But why, pray tell, must a young man or woman risk their lives for 1,600 shekels, now amended to 2,500?

The frightening question, “why not make the military professional?” has several answers. On one hand, if they pay a combat soldier 7,000 shekels – won’t the military draw the lower-middle class while the children of the rich will prefer to launch a startup or get a degree in that time? As it is, the sons of the well-to-do are shunning combat units and preferring the intelligence and cyber corps, while the lower class serves in the Border Police or the territories-designated Kfir Brigade.

Yet the true danger in turning the IDF into a professional military is to the heroic ethos, the worship of sacrifice, and the nationalization of grief. Without the entire nation involved in it, how can we continue to nurture the myth of battlefield camaraderie and hide the fact that after the battle, some of the comrades turn to politics, some become millionaires, and some go back to the development town?

And so, because we love the soldiers so much, because we must continue to uphold this endeavor of love, the IDF continues to draft masses of young men and women it doesn’t actually need, paying them all a pittance.

At the foundation of Israeli society is the IDF and security. If the military becomes professional, how will we be able to treat the Haredim and the Arabs as parasites? And how can we live at the foot of a volcano without a security threat?

As long as military service is compulsory and security is the top priority, most of the people will vote for right-wing parties and the occupation and settlement endeavor will continue. Damn the economy and quality of life. Who needs quality when life itself is under constant threat?

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