Sensitivity to Losses - a Weakness or an Advantage?

Were it up to MK Shlomo Breznitz (Kadima), he would encourage as many people as possible who are under Katyusha rocket attack to evacuate their homes. In his opinion, this would only reinforce the nation's strength and would also spare many victims. If it were up to him, he would also evacuate as many children as possible from the danger areas. Breznitz, a member of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee who does not appear much in the media, has a special interest in this matter. Ultimately, he is not just a professor of psychology; he is also considered the number-one expert in Israel on situations of stress, and has advised, among other entities, the Israel Defense Forces and the U.S. Army.

According to Breznitz, for several decades now, researchers have been examining "whether the more an individual is exposed to stress, the stronger and more immune he becomes, or whether he is weakened until he reaches breaking point. There is no simple answer to the question, but I wouldn't advise anyone to gamble on the premise that what doesn't kill us, strengthens us."

Therefore, he says, "One should be very careful when talking about how people shouldn't evacuate, or saying that they are running away. I don't see this as running away at all. If someone lives in an area that is under threat, and with a small effort, he can go with his family to a place that is behind the lines, this is one of the most rational things to do. There should be no social sanctions against this. This shouldn't be criticized. On the contrary, it should be encouraged. It diminishes the vulnerability of the place."

Breznitz, 70, a resident of Haifa and a former president of Haifa University, believes that people in Israel still view the act of leaving an area that is under attack as tantamount to abandoning a settlement to the enemy.

"When a locale that is a target for rockets is evacuated today, it is not abandoned and not placed into the hands of the enemy. It is simply less dangerous. I wish that the train shed in Haifa had been empty of people, like what happened a number of times when a Katyusha fell on a building in which by chance there were no people. If it is possible to contribute something to luck, why not do it?," he says.

If parents are unable to leave an area that is threatened by rockets, Breznitz suggests that they should at least send their children away.

"The main source of stress for the adults is concern about the children," he explains. "We know that adults' ability to cope is much higher when they know that their children are somewhere quiet. We learned that in World War II, when the British evacuated the children from London during the Blitz; and since then, this has proven itself many times in other places."

Breznitz's admiration for the fortitude that is being evinced by the home front is limited, even very limited. "The home front is displaying much strength, but it has yet to face very big tests," he says. "The harm to the home front has been relatively minor. I don't know what would have happened if on the day that the disaster occurred in Haifa, another 20 rockets had fallen with similar results. I hope we never know what would happen. I wouldn't suggest that anyone be blase. As they say - so far, so good."

So should people leave and reduce the danger as much as possible?

"Right. I can't think of any rational argument not to do this."

Don't fan emotions

Is the reason for the national consensus regarding the war Nasrallah's ceaseless provocation?

"I wouldn't overly credit his ability to influence the fortitude of the home front."

So how do you explain the consensus?

"The fact that we pulled out of Lebanon helps, just as the fact that we pulled out of the Gaza Strip very much helped the consensus with respect to that arena. There is a sense that we have done our bit and it isn't fair that this is being taken advantage of - and that an end has to be put to it all. In this regard, [Prime Minister] Ehud Olmert formulated the matter in a very simple and direct way. You reach a point where you have to say: 'Enough is enough.' The abduction of the soldiers was only the catalyst. The constant threat to the country was intolerable.

"Our enemies aren't hiding the fact that they know that Israel's weak spot is its sensitivity to losses."

Do you also think that this is a weakness and not an advantage?

"I am certain that this is a weakness and not an advantage. I know that we console ourselves that this is an advantage and try to convince ourselves that our real strength is concern for the individual, and there is a certain truth to this. But overall, I do not think that this is the case."

Breznitz repeatedly says that the media have a crucial influence on national fortitude and resilience - and not necessarily a positive one.

"The ability to cope," he says, "is something that is built up gradually through everyday life - namely, in the way the media deal with one sort of explosion or another. Ultimately, this seeps in and is more influential than what happens during a hundred hours of war."

As a result, he says, "it is extremely important for the media to be responsible and self-critical, and not to magnify or fan too much unnecessary emotion. For example, they show a hysterical woman near a house in Haifa and don't leave her. All these things have a tremendous influence on people's ability to cope, especially in the long term."

Breznitz also expects self-restraint from the country's leadership.

"We don't always have to go running to the media with everything, and we don't have to keep on issuing statements that are more like slogans than considered words and are therefore more extreme," he says.

What do you think of Public Security Minister Avi Dichter's statement that Israel should consider negotiations about the release of Lebanese prisoners?

"I'm sorry that he said that. I'm not just sorry about the fact that he made the statement; I also think that its content is wrong and does not convey the message that has to be conveyed right now. We have to take into account that [Hezbollah] knows everything that goes on here, and such statements boost their resolver - because they believe that in the end, we will fold, and we will return all of the prisoners. I think that the government is right in not showing signs that the abductions will pay off this time."

Breznitz believes that the fighting in Lebanon and in Gaza proves that the convergence, or realignment, should be carried out.

"This operation has to be seen as something that is paving the way to all kinds of options," he says. "The convergence is something that couldn't even have been thought about as long as it wasn't clear that once you have pulled out, the rules of the game have to be different. If these actions don't succeed, it will be very difficult, if not impossible, to convince the public to accept the gamble on another unilateral withdrawal in the West Bank."