This hierarchy, beyond its fascinating cultural implication that the lives of soldiers are more precious than the lives of Israeli civilians, also serves to explain the failures of the Lebanon pullout, the Gaza Strip disengagement, and the weakness of Gaza-region communities today. It also foretells the abandonment of border communities in the future.
Back in the Second Lebanon War it became clear that the war stared, and will end, only when the bodies of our dead soldiers will return in coffins draped with our national flag. It is sad to say this, but in Israel wars start when soldiers are hurt and they end when society is no longer able to bear the military bereavement required in order to protect the home front. Nobody counts the civilian casualties, as was the case in the discourse on the Lebanon withdrawal and on the Gush Katif disengagement. The same is true today, as a ground operation in the Gaza Strip is being weighed (for seven years now!)
In the discourse on the eve of the withdrawal from southern Lebanon, one justification alone was prominent in explaining the need to pull back the forces: The number of soldiers being killed every year while maintaining the security zone. And it worked. Every mother who accompanied her son to the IDF induction center would mutter “just not Lebanon.” Yet nobody counted the number of northern residents who were spared Hizbullah’s rocket fire. We only remembered them following the withdrawal, after the Second Lebanon War broke out. They were remembered too late.
On the eve of the Gaza disengagement, security experts constantly repeated how absurd it was to “maintain a whole division” in order to protect a few communities. Back then too we saw ads counting the “Gaza victims” and the parents of soldiers made it clear that they would back their sons’ decision to refuse to serve there. Nobody dealt with the fact that the wellbeing of Sderot residents was made possible thanks to our control of the Strip.
Ever since the days where military casualties were being counted under the window of Prime Minister Menachem Begin in Jerusalem (back then too they also somehow forgot the bombarded Kiryat Shmona,) an unprecedented Israeli phenomenon emerged that completely turns upside down the basic logic of the military-society relationship.
Don’t expect major Gaza op
Imagine someone around here starting a camping for “removing lifeguards from the beaches” because they face the risk of drowning; imagine a social movement promoting the message that “firefighters should be kept away from fires” for fear they would be hurt.
Somebody simply forgot that the job of soldiers is to defend citizens and allow them to live their lives. In any country, the leader knows to show restraint, if needed, when soldiers are hurt, while being aware that the “red line” is harm done to civilians. This is also the dominant reason for embarking on wars and military operations. The civilian is the objective. The military is the tool. And yes, the army is willing to make sacrifices, as painful as this may sound, in order to provide security to residents. This is the basic public good that the army supplies and this is the price of it.
If the “people’s army” is unwilling to pay this price, than we should be shifting to a professional army. There, just like any company specializing in rescuing lost backpackers in South America, the soldiers will sign a release form expressing their willingness to face risk, while being granted significant life insurance.
The paradoxical situation whereby civilians are the permanent front, which lives under terror offensives, while the army is the one that withdraws for fear of terror doesn’t exist in any normal country. This situation also makes it clear why there will be no major ground operation in Gaza: The lives of soldiers are more precious than the lives of residents in Gaza-region communities. The civilians can continue to be targeted indiscriminately, but when it comes to our soldiers we shall remove them from the line of fire.
Dr. Udi Label is a senior political psychology lecturer at Sapir College and the Ariel University Center of Samaria. He specializes in politics of bereavement