Israeli Parents Fight for the Right to Sacrifice Their Own Kids

Ashkelon parents sought to block the appointment of a school principal because she voiced support for soldiers who refused to serve in the occupied territories. This isn't your run-of-the-mill political persecution.

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IDF officer addresses soldiers.
IDF officer addresses soldiers. Credit: IDF Spokesperson Unit

It was the parents of the children in Ashkelon’s School of the Arts who went to the mayor and demanded to revoke the appointment of Avital Benshalom as principal, after finding out that 13 years ago she signed a petition supporting soldiers who refused to serve in the army in the occupied territories.

The parents, not the authorities. We’re not dealing with a classic case of snitches typical in a totalitarian regime. Benshalom’s political persecution was not led by the education minister from the far right, or the prime minister. Nor was it the “secret police” that were onto her.

The parents in Ashkelon acted on their own accord and from the bottom of their hearts to protect their right to continue sacrificing their sons to the state. “In the School of Arts there are children of bereaved families, some of whom lost their children after they fell during their military service in the territories. How can the parents and students themselves face a principal, who thinks that these sons’ blood was spilt in vain?” the mayor said in explanation of the parents’ position.

In Israel, human instincts have been turned topsy-turvy. Not only are parents not struggling with all their strength against the sacrifice of their children and the obligation to recruit them and send them on any mission – they’re fighting anyone who speaks with a different voice, weak as it might be. The support for disobedience in that petition Benshalom signed was so feeble and reserved, after all. The petitioners didn’t call to refuse to serve in the military, they merely expressed solidarity. The disobedience called for is circumscribed (in the “territories”) and explained in patriotic terms (“the mission doesn’t serve Israel’s protection”).

One can understand the state’s interest in repressing signs of disobedience in the population. But how did it happen that parents of children yet to enlist to the army are horrified by the possibility of being exposed to a voice objecting to the sacrifice of their children to a cause it deems unworthy?

Today’s Israel is torn to political, ethnic and social shreds and there is a consensus on almost no issue. Yet the readiness to sacrifice one’s children for the state has not been impaired. How is it possible that the readiness to sacrifice children remains intact, while adults are in an ongoing process of moving away from the political and converging in the illusion of sector, or of a home, one that is detached from the body of the state? How is it possible that while solidarity among Israelis is crumbling and adults are unwilling to mobilize for political activity or organize resistance or economic action to change their surroundings, the willingness to sacrifice their children is undiminished?

Perhaps this is comparable to the devotion Jews feel to the circumcision ceremony even as they become more secular. After all, among all the possible covenants between a people and a tradition, this, the cruelest of them all, is still going strong. This act, neither spiritual nor symbolic, marking and wounding the bodies of helpless infants, survives as an unquestioned meta-religious ceremony; not even as a response to God’s “demand,” but only as a masochistic covenant, a self-marking ritual between the Jew and himself.

Perhaps in the same way, the willingness to sacrifice children for the state symbolizes the covenant between Israel and its citizens. Almost like a civilian “binding of Isaac.” How tragic that during the crumbling of the State of Israel, of all possible covenants between citizens and their state, this one, the cruelest of all, is still going strong.

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