Soldiers' Mothers Are Their Own Support Group

An awful sense of deja vu has suffused B.D.'s life over the past two weeks. In 1996, her eldest son was critically wounded in Lebanon. Thanks to the combat medic and doctors at Rambam Medical Center, his life was saved. Now her younger son, who chose to become a combat medic like the one who saved his brother's life, is waiting on the Lebanese border for his turn to enter a place to which she believed we would never return.

B.D., a resident of a small northern community, requests anonymity not because she is afraid to express her opinion, but because she wants to protect her son. The conversation with her treads in circles of horrendous anxiety, anger, criticism and a feeling of ineluctability. This catch-22, in which many Israelis are ensnared, is a suffocating emotional and cerebral trap for mothers with sons at the front. They do not have a uniform opinion on this war. Only their paralyzing fear connects them in their frequent telephone calls among themselves and, in moments of grace, with their boys. They provide support for each other, sometimes more so than the fathers - the husbands.

"Maybe it's time for a Four Mothers of this war," said B.D., referring to the grassroots movement formed in 1997 to advocate Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon. "We need to explain and understand that we've entered a trap. But my husband thinks we weaken the fighting spirit. Men are something else. Their hormones operate differently."

This process repeats itself. When the cannons roar, mostly male voices are heard, explaining and analyzing. Only later do the voices of women and mothers emerge. That was the case in the 1982 Lebanon War, which spawned the protest movement Mothers Against Silence. Former Likud MK Meir Cohen-Avidov, speaking from the Knesset podium, termed them "cows of the Bashan." In those days, mothers still debated whether there was room for a female voice, specifically the voice of mothers. That debate is long over. After Four Mothers, the question is no longer whether it is allowed, but rather if and when it is necessary. That is the axis on which the mothers of soldiers in Lebanon are now situated. Women's voices are always belated, but they are more stubborn and persistent than ever.

"I think this war is compelled by reality," said Drora Dola, whose son is serving in Lebanon with the Maglan unit. "This is also the thinking of other mothers of soldiers that I'm in touch with regularly. There is almost total justification of the operation. On the other hand, look what they're putting these kids through. They are kids in my eyes, but only they can be instilled with the requisite motivation, the essential adrenaline. When they're 25 years old, they're a lot more level-headed and they think more. I'm helped a bit by the fact that we know and greatly esteem his commander."

Dola's eldest son served in the territories. In contrast to her attitude to the current war, she thought then that Israel had no reason to be in the territories. However, she said, her position had no impact on her attitude toward her son's serving there, just as the consensus now is of little comfort. Just as she did not question at the time what her eldest son was doing in a place where she thought it wrong to be, so now she does not want her younger son to be someplace she thinks it right to be. She thinks like a mother: "The worry is the same worry," Dola said. "I wound up with two fighters without meaning to at all. I failed in their education."

There is so much confusing Israeliness in that statement, which combines complaint with unconcealed pride. In the course of our conversation, the son calls and exchanges a few words with his father, head of the Kfar Tavor local council. The entire conversation concerns the soldiers killed in Lebanon. It is over in less than a minute. The son disappears into the black hole of Lebanon; the parents into the black hole of worry.

B.D., by contrast, thinks the consensus on this war's goals affords some relief. "I'm not sure this is the time to take to the streets. Protest demonstrations on the home front do indeed weaken the soldiers," she said. "But it is certainly time to begin asking questions. I wish I also had answers. I was always for getting out of Gaza and Lebanon, and we did, we consolidated within our border, and they're still after us. Not only does the war not end, but it's getting closer. It seems to me unfair to voice only criticism without being able to offer an alternative. But it is certainly time to start talking about it. If the leaders keep handing out such good grades to the home front, the home front is also entitled to have its say. At first I was really glad to have a civilian defense minister and a government with fewer generals. But, ultimately, they're also men, who make the same decisions. A female voice is also needed."