The Army's Stomach

This week, as a matter of routine, it was reported that there will be no cuts in the defense budget, because it is difficult for commanders to bring a picnic basket from home.

"If commanders arouse trust, devotion and love in their soldiers, then every Hebrew mother will know that she has placed her sons' fate in the hands of commanders worthy of it" - David Ben-Gurion upon retiring to his kibbutz, Sde Boker, on July 2, 1963.

"In the hands of commanders worthy of it," who took a trip to Mount Carmel last Friday with their wives and children. So what is wrong with a trip? Nothing at all - or nothing would have been wrong, had they not seen fit to make two dozen soldiers serve them: combat soldiers from the paratroops, female instructors knowledgeable about the area, paramedics, cooks, NCOs and ordinary soldiers, all of them sons and daughters of Hebrew mothers.

All the soldiers arrived at the site a day before, in order to ensure the full enjoyment of the senior officers and their families, that not one moment of their valuable time should be wasted and that the cornucopia should not be found wanting. Those who had to do the work brought along a refrigeration truck and a transport truck, chairs, tables, a mobile clinic, awnings, a dairy kitchen and a meat kitchen, plus a huge quantity of provisions for the journey.

The mufti-clad officers, led by a major general in charge of a regional command, arrived at a well-prepared site. The compound had been cleaned and organized, the tents had been pitched, the omelets were frying in the pans, the salad had been finely chopped, and the fresh croissants perfumed the air. When breakfast was over, they wandered through the forest and waded in the streams while the servants in uniform cleaned the area and prepared lunch. Hiking in the mountain air merely whets one's appetite.

And at midday, everything was over. All the hard work on the Sabbath eve lasted a mere four hours. But it was the best party in the world. The officers and their families returned home well-fed and satisfied, and they had not even had time to get tired.

The servants were less satisfied. They remained behind to clean up after the gentlemen and ladies, to pack, to load everything onto the trucks, to return to base and then to unpack everything. And I once again opened my book of memories.

My first memory was Egyptian. Toward the end of the Yom Kippur War in 1973, I found myself, as a reservist, at Kilometer 101. For the first time, Israelis and Egyptians were becoming acquainted with one another, and it was exciting. We always preferred to be hosted by them, for the simple reason that they had servants. "Mohammed, bring the coffee," and the coffee was there immediately; "Ahmed, bring the backgammon," and we were immediately deep in a game. It was fun, doubly fun: We both enjoyed the Egyptians' fine service and counted our blessings that we, thank God and Allah, did not have this kind of arrangement - no Mohammed and no Ahmed, just our own Uri and Elik.

The second memory is Jordanian. My wife and I were once invited to the home of an important Jordanian minister, not far from the town of Karameh. That was a meal fit for a king. When we left, we saw soldiers on guard duty eating the leftovers from our table. They were eating from the floor, like dogs.

True, what happened last Friday was not as humiliating as that - but now the Israel Defense Forces are also getting close to the floor. And an army that marches on the rude stomachs of its commanders will not get very far.

And, lest you thought this was some kind of exceptional event, the military spokesman's response should set you straight: "This activity was defined as a military activity, even though family members participated. Activities of this kind are routine..."

And this week, also as a matter of routine, it was reported that there will be no cuts in the defense budget, because it is difficult for commanders to bring a picnic basket from home.