The Israeli Government Is Failing to Defend Civilian Lives

It could have been foreseen that an enormous defense budget such as ours would perhaps create social issues, but at least provide a reasonable solution to defense problems.

When the cannons roar, the muses are silent, and so are social protests, at least with us. One gets the impression that there are two distinct, almost contradictory arenas: civilian and defense. And so activity on the security front results in silence and paralysis in the civilian area. But the truth is that this dichotomy, which serves the government, is completely baseless. Furthermore, the behavior of the government and its major failures in both civilian and defense arenas are entwined with one another and inseparable, like Siamese twins.

One front deals with the quality of life and the welfare of citizens, while the second revolves around the need to defend life and minimize danger to citizens. In both areas the government and its many branches demonstrate contempt and irresponsibility bordering on literal abandonment. The most recent events in the south provide hair-raising examples of this. Despite a specific advance warning from the Shin Bet security service about a terror cell operating in the area with the goal of carrying out an attack and perhaps a kidnapping, Route 12 to Eilat was not closed to civilian traffic, even though it lies close to the Egyptian border, which is completely open and undefended.

The decision in principle to erect a security fence in the Negev is not being carried out with the speed and decisiveness demanded in light of the dangers posed by the geopolitical changes in Egypt and Gaza. The decision to develop the Iron Dome defense system, which can reduce the danger of rocket fire, was taken with outrageous slowness, after endless rounds of peculiar opposition by the military system and the air force, and was afterward deployed at a pathetic pace that prevented the effective defense of many areas.

It could have been foreseen that an enormous defense budget such as ours would perhaps create social issues, but at least provide a reasonable solution to defense problems.

However, the failures in defense also cry out to heaven, since the main problem is not with the budget but is, instead, a conceptual one.

The defense system invests huge amounts of money in equipment and exercises in the event of large scale attacks - some megalomaniac (like one by Iran ) - and ignores its original, much more basic role: the defense of civilian lives. The dominant ethos here, counterattacking at any price and contempt for means of defense (such as fences, shelters, the protection of schools and a range of equipment to fend off rockets ), is the factor that leads to destructive results again and again.

There is no basis, therefore, for the prevailing opinion that the state ignores the welfare of its citizens out of concern for and investment in their security. On the contrary, it may be said that the government has shrugged off responsibility for both the welfare of citizens and their very existence.

The citizens and their ever-increasing crises are considered as a sort of bother, in the best case, or as a group of servants laden with debts and denied their rights. An idea that is taken for granted - that the role of the government is to serve its citizens - is perceived as dangerous and revolutionary.

What is needed now is a broadening of the field of struggle, and not a silencing or a withdrawal in the wake of security needs. The opposite is the case; this summer's civilian uprising must also express itself in a new concept of security, one that is more civil and more responsible: A concept that does not abandon the citizens, as has been done until now, but defends them with all the technical and diplomatic means possible; a concept that does not view defense as a word to be ashamed of, and which is not controlled by an aggressive and undermining instinct for a total knockout win (that is unattainable in any case ).

In his novel "Whatever" (aka "Broadening the Field of Struggle" ), Michel Houellebecq depicts extreme capitalism and liberalism controlling not only the economic sector, but also sexuality and love lives. It may be said that our security discourse is also mainly a capitalistic one, based on competition, honor and the submission of the weak, and not on concern for the welfare of citizens. This discourse must change. The Israel Defense Forces must remember the meaning of its name. The field of struggle of civilian protest in the summer of 2011 must be broadened to apply to thinking about defense as well.