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The Reservists' Protest

Fed Up with Whiners

by GIDEON LEVY

"The candle kids" grew up and became the "protest movement" of this war. The confused youth who sat crying with their guitars and candles in the city square in Tel Aviv after Rabin’s assassination are now sitting in the Rose Garden opposite the Prime Minister’s Office, no less confused, and seemingly protesting against the war – of course only after it ended.

Just as it was impossible to know what the candle kids wanted, it is difficult to understand what the reservists and the bereaved families want. Most of their complaints should be directed at themselves: Where were you until now? If it is only the demand that some officials go home, it’s a waste of their time and ours. Clones of those who are deposed will replace them very quickly and nothing will change. Olmert, Peretz and Halutz will go home, and Netanyahu, Mofaz and Barak will come to power.

For the first time after many terrible years in which we killed and were killed for no reason, there are question marks hanging over the public discourse. That change should be welcomed. But those who examine the content of the new protest should not hold out great hopes. The arguments of the protesters come down to two main issues, both of them as narrow as the world of the reservist: the IDF wasn’t prepared for the war, and the war was cut short.

On the first matter, many are responsible, and the second issue doesn’t warrant protest. Much weightier and deeper questions hover in the air about why we even went to this war, how it could have been avoided, why is war our only language, what are the limits of power that can be used and where are we going now. The new protest movement is not raising those questions.

Even if this wave of protests succeeds, a commission of inquiry is established and two or three people even pay with their seats, nothing will change. Just as the protests of 1973 did not bring about the desired change, except for a few people removed from office, the protests of 2006 won’t bring real change. Whining after the war is not a national agenda, and certainly not if it runs for its life from any of the main questions. If it is just the "orange" disengagement protesters in disguise, it even foretells new dangers.

Above all, the petition signers and sit-in protesters in the Rose Garden should ask themselves where they were until now. Except for the "oranges" among them, most voted Kadima, maybe Likud or Labor, many of them served in reserves in the occupied territories, dealt with their personal affairs and kept quiet. For years they took direct or indirect part in worthless national projects, from building the wall to the settlement enterprise and deepening the occupation. With their own eyes they saw how the IDF was turned into an occupying police force, bullying the weak but untrained to deal with the strong.

They protected settlers, saw the suffering caused by the occupation, were witness to or participated in abuse of Palestinians. The responsibility for the IDF’s lack of preparation, therefore, is theirs, partly because of what they did and partly because of their silence. They cannot claim now that they were surprised by the IDF’s failure to execute: they were there when the army changed its face. They knew all these years that checking IDs at roadblocks, invading bedrooms, chasing children in alleys and demolishing thousands of houses is no preparation for war.

They were supposed to understand that the occupation army’s activities in the territories inspires great hatred of us, that Israel’s rejectionists policies endanger it more than anything else and that the real test of the army is not in the casbahs. Even the home front’s lack of readiness should not have surprised them: a country that abuses its weak at times of quiet will do so in times of war, as well. What is so new and surprising about all this?

The other matter, the halt in the fighting, certainly does not warrant protest, but actually a compliment. Instead of asking why the war broke out, the protesters are asking why it ended. If there is anything that the war’s command deserves credit for it is its hesitation in the final stages of the war. It is a shame they did not hesitate sooner. And if we had continued the war, where exactly would we have ended up? It was the resolve, hubris and haste of the war’s leadership in the first stages that were the original sin against which the protest should be directed.

Above all, it is depressing to find out that none of the protesters are raising moral questions. A protest movement that says nothing about the terrible destruction we wreaked in Lebanon, how we killed hundreds of innocent civilians and turned tens of thousands into impoverished refugees is by definition not a moral movement. Even after it has been proved that the excessive force was not effective, no protest has been directed at it. How long will we only focus on ourselves and our distress?

Is it too much to ask for the protesters, who are supposedly the cadres of the avant garde, to look for a moment at what we did to another nation? Why is it that after Sabra and Chatilla massacres, which were not even directly our handiwork, masses of people took to the streets and now nobody peeps about the destruction we sowed in Lebanon with our own hands, and for nothing?

With such protest movements, Israel does not need the silent sheep that has so characterized it in recent years. We should be fed up with such whiners. Maybe they are brave soldiers on the battlefield, but on the fields of protest they are nothing more than cowardly soldiers.

GIDEON LEVY writes for Ha’aretz, where this essay originally appeared.