Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

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22 Av 5759 - August 4, 1999 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Opinion & Comment
Militarism Leads To Juvenile Aggressiveness
by Rabbi Nosson Zev Grossman

Part I

Recent incidents of adolescent violence and murder in Israel have prompted concern within the Israeli society. Suddenly many secular Israeli parents are waking up to a terrifying reality, one in which they cannot be sure that their child on his way to school will not be a victim of some young murderer or alternatively be the murderer himself.

Israel's educational system is shocked to the core by these occurrences. Fathers and mothers, teachers and principals, community representatives and psychologists, are trying to deal with this new reality. They want to find an answer to the big question: What element in their social infrastructure induces teenagers to take the lives of others?

In the last few weeks many answers to this troubling question have been offered. One straightforward columnist, Yaron London of Yediot Achronot, offered an explanation that many secular Jews hide in their hearts and are afraid to express publicly. He said frankly: "Our youth are so violent because of the conditions in which we are forced to live." Yaron London believes one of these conditions is the fact "that Israel is a fighting society, one that cultivates institutional violence as a way of assuring its existence. The `justified' violence is eventually expressed in their interrelationships."

Anyone privy to the feelings of young Israeli boys prior to their being drafted into the IDF, or to have overheard conversations of secular teenagers, is fully appraised of the problem.

The young Israeli boy's dream, who from childhood has been fed with persistent messages from close to home, is his becoming a "good soldier." He waits impatiently for the day he will be able to carry weapons, shoot and to show his military prowess. He knows that in his society the summit of aspirations is to become a "combat soldier," to shoot with an Uzi submachine gun and brandish a "commando knife." In addition, politicians, the television, radio, and newspapers constantly sneer at those who have "never even learned how to hold a gun in their hands." The boy reaches the obvious conclusions.

With being a fighter and wielding lethal weapons turned into sort of an "ideology," it is not surprising that such values are also felt in improper places. There are those who use their "combat skills," guns, and knives during a skirmish against an enemy for means other than self-defense. The results are, as the secular writer sketches: "Israel is a fighting society, one that cultivates institutional violence as a way of ensuring its existence. The `justified' violence is eventually expressed in the character of their inter relationships."

Seven years ago Anita Shapira, researcher and historian, printed an interesting research study on the question of "Zionism and Power." Shapira searched for the roots of aggressiveness and militarism in the Zionist Movement. Her research study (The Sword of the Dove, published by the Am Oveid Publishers) points to Zionist leaders' aspirations for power.

She writes that Theodore Herzl (d. 1904), the founder of the organized Zionist movement, dreamed about a "new Jew." To promote this aim he enlisted ideas borrowed from the German Nationalist Movement: patriotic songs emphasizing the concept of "honor" and depicting images of "past heroes" and tales of their bravery. From that same train of thought was fashioned the plan of Max Nordau (a German physician and author who was a Zionist leader in Europe, d. 1923) summarized in the title of his essay, "Judaism of Muscles."

The spiritual talents of Jews, Nordau argued, are regarded by antisemites as Jewish traits and denounced as being a Jewish stigma. Consequently, the Zionist Movement encouraged worshiping power and force. "The Zionist journal De Welt announced with pleasure that young Zionists in Vienna fought with their fists and sticks against those who had humiliated them. Herzl saw in a duel a means of fighting intended for `honorable people,' an expression of cultural refinement, and a way of educating `real officers,' and therefore decided it should be permitted in the new country which was to be established."

In short, Anita Shapira points out, their aspiration was to see a generation rise who "would entirely shed its spiritual characteristics and distinguish itself by its desires, its might, and its fighting capability."

These aspirations were put into practice during the Second Aliya (1903-1914, an immigration made up of young secular Zionists and socialists from Europe who called themselves chalutzim -- pioneers). Gradually militancy began to spread among the Eretz Yisroel settlers.

At that time (1907) a quasi-military organization called Bar Giyora was founded. This group had far-reaching plans and was inspired by the Russian revolutionary atmosphere. Those of the Hashomer group (the Ben Giyora group in 1909 changed its name to Hashomer) also wanted to promote a heroic image of a Jewish fighter. Many who lived on the moshavim copied the Bedouin way of dressing, rode majestic horses, and carried guns and cases full of bullets the way their Arab neighbors did.

Hashomer members saw in the Bedouin an individual to be idolized, a superior person. Anita Shapira writes: "They even saw in the Bedouin attitude to reality a model to be duplicated. He symbolized the free man, a man who accounts for his acts to no one. The Bedouin was the brave nomad, a sort of Israeli cowboy.

"[Hashomer members] were also overwhelmingly charmed with wielding weapons. After all, what could further illustrate the change in the Jew's status than the holding of such an instrument of destruction?

"The symbols of a secret organization, with oaths of allegiance until death, a hierarchy and membership ceremonies, and weapons filling a major capacity, added a personal touch of importance and halo to the prosaic task of a guard. The Shomrim intentionally acquired unrefined mannerisms, in a way duplicated partially from the Arabs around them and from how they thought the Cossacks (another prototype that they adopted for imitation) behaved."

The culture of worshiping power and military force as an ideology infiltrated into Israeli consciousness. "The image of a fighter was converted into an educational model and cultivated among all segments of Israeli society. It created a common denominator around which both the Left and the Right could unite. The vast prestige of those belonging to the branches of the national security system freed them from accepted public criticism and awarded its members partial immunity from the law, unlike run-of-the-mill people. `Security' was the sacred cow of the young state."

Military service is not required only because it is necessary due to security considerations forced upon Israel because of its surrounding enemies. No; serving in the IDF is a moral value in itself for secular Israeli society. Serving in the IDF molds a person's soul in the way they want it to be, and creates the New Israeli.

"Ben Gurion, already in his days, referred to the Israeli Army as a `melting pot,' and saw it as a means of educating the people."

This view of the military forces as an ideological object stems from fascist theories that turned militarism into a value to be aspired towards. Such tenets as these laid the foundation for normative behavior in Israeli society. Army service is a badge of honor, and only thanks to it can a citizen be considered a cultured person. This Zionist outlook cultivated serving in the army as a principle test in evaluating a person's character (and for that reason this topic is always used as the main criticism against yeshiva students). It is as if the ability to kill and to use weapons is the most important way of measuring a person's personality. Competence in the arts of warfare is valued far above a person's intellectual ability or his moral level.

This is also reflected in the special treatment that retired high-ranking army officers receive. These people become sought-after characters in the political sphere and in economic and social forums. If you are a soldier, you are a human being. If you are a one star general, then you are really worth something. If you have more stars than one on your shoulder, then you are the "crown" of creation.

One newspaper columnist wrote a fearless article a week after Yitzchak Rabin's assassination, in which he dared to openly admit that the root of Yigal Amir's murderous act should be searched for first where he studied his beloved murderous profession, and not in his religious background. This was written by a Golani alumnus called Avichai Boker, who, in an article published in Ma'ariv, pungently wrote the following:

"Until the end of the shiva, at least, I do not belong to the Golani Brigade. I am hiding my brown beret in the closet. Only a month ago, after the events in Lebanon in which nine Golani soldiers were killed, we were described as being one family. That is what the newspapers wrote. I too come from that village; I am an old comrade. I too was proud of the brigade's spirit, that praised courage and valor, that talked about unity. Everything is true. That is what we were. However, it now becomes clear that while improving our prowess in warfare something else was also growing within us.

"It didn't grow in the backyard but in the heart. It has proven to be a character whose presence we cannot ignore, even if we wish to. We will never be able to revoke his club membership. The title `Golani Family' fits him too. He does not have fewer privileges than we in it. The murderer I can immediately identify as being an exceptional fighter, the sort that our officers are proud of. His exact performance of the murder in Malchei Yisrael Square near the steps shows that the hothouse in which he gained his skill and his daring is, as we always knew, the most professional of them all. It was among us that he learned to be deadly and efficient. This shows that we have succeeded in training him. The fact that he pointed his weapon in a direction that we did not point him does not free us of responsibility. It is woeful that he grew among us. This thought will not leave me, even though generations separate me from him. I remove my brigade pin until my soul calms down. The solitary cedar tree, the symbol of the Golani Brigade, has dried up this week."

Indeed Yigal Amir is "a club member," a child of the "Golani family," as Avichai Boker described it. He did not grow up in the backyard of the IDF "but in its heart"; he was "the type that officers are proud of." He learned there to be "deadly and efficient." If he eventually pointed his weapon in a different direction, Boker admits that this does not free his military educators from responsibility. After all, "he learned among us to be deadly," and his precise execution of the assassination in the Malchei Yisrael Square shows that "we succeeded in training him." We cannot, therefore, ignore the fact that "he grew up among us."

End of Part I -- Next week: modern violence

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