I met Gil about a year into my studies at Tel-Aviv. He was a loyal Likudnik. Sharon was Prime Minister. This was a man Gil had looked up to for many years. I’d participated in mass demonstrations calling on Sharon to strengthen his resolve to continue fighting terrorism and not give in to the Palestinians’ demands. He was already beginning to falter but many like Gil continued believing Sharon could do no wrong.
It’s been some years since then. I gave up on Sharon’s “experiment” a lot later than others. I, too, looked up to this man growing up. I interviewed Gil after the disengagement from Gush Katif. Olmert was leading the country. Here is the interview:
It was my first year at Tel-Aviv University. I had by now breathed the stale, oppressive breath of campus politics: empty slogans calling for peace and friendship, rallies praising young Israelis refusing to serve in the West Bank and Gaza for fear of hurting Palestinians.
Me: Please tell me some details about yourself. Where did you serve in the army? What kind of activity were you involved in during your university tenure? What is your political background?
Gil: I served in for 3 years, just like any Israeli draftee. I was assigned to field intelligence, where my job was to operate detection equipment that alerted the army of cross-border infiltrations. At times I was called on to deter the infiltrators.
In the university I studied physics. Now I am completing a degree in Management of Logistics. I used to be an activist in a student cell associated with the Likud. Though I hoped for greater involvement within the party, I soon discovered how childish and short-sighted my ambitions were.
During my involvement with the Likud, I got a heart-wrenching glimpse of the inner workings of the party. My experience was a mixture of shame and desperation. I realized how limited my contribution was and how little impact the ideals I was brought up with had on the party. I felt helpless.
I’ve since quit working with the Likud, and spend more time and energy on studies and holding a job. I have not forgotten my dreams or lost any of the zeal for the cause I believe in. But I’ve postponed my activity until a better opportunity presents itself. I hope this time comes with a new generation of Likud leadership.
I am a member of a long line of Ze’ev Zhabotinsky followers. My late grandfather even heard one of Zhabotinsky’s legendary speeches in Romania.
I believe the Jewish people are a nation equal to other nations in rights and responsibilities. I was brought up to believe in human rights, and that Zionism’s cause is to pursue and ensure human rights for the Jewish people. Among these rights are self determination, sovereignty and the right to self defense.
These rights are natural for us, Jews, as a nation. The bitter lesson of the Holocaust taught us that these natural rights must be achieved and secured or else we, Jews, perish.
The current political drifts in Israel seem to contradict much of what I believe in. I feel Zionism is currently very low on the priority list of most Israelis. We take so many things for granted while mistaking unrealistic hopes for facts. Lack of knowledge causes vacuums in the souls of modern Israelis. They are filled with twisted morality and foreign values.
The result is a feeling of confusion and helplessness with regards to all major issues in our lives, especially those demanding moral clarity and swift determination. I hope that this is just a phase we are going through. The high ideals of Zionism are coming down from their pedestal and settling down amidst the dust.
Zionism must become a natural, healthy attitude for the masses of Israelis, as nationalism should amongst any other nation that wishes to live safely. Yet, I cannot avoid the ominous feeling that something has gone terribly wrong. Many Jews have forgotten their own rights or even their natural motivation for self preservation. Sometimes I wonder whether we, Jews, wish to exist at all.
Me: What are your opinions concerning the recent actions of the Olmert government?
Gil: All recent events are symptoms of the crisis which lies at the root of all this. They are the result of lost values, ignorance, and the downgrading of Zionism’s legitimacy. We have been left with few role models, after postmodernist “unbiased” research has systematically murdered their character, or placed their motives and actions completely out of context.
It seems that our society and the government which leads it have “unlearned” all the crises and dangers which propelled so many Jews to flee Europe. Again we throw the responsibility for our defense on others, blaming our inaction on the strategic need to maintain healthy relations with the U.S. Suddenly, our very right to exist is taken for granted by our society. Suddenly, we blame ourselves for things we are not responsible for and deny ourselves rights we deserve.
Me: What mistakes has the Israeli government made since the elections?
Gil: In the war against terrorism, Olmert’s government showed forbearance where determined action was demanded. This signals weakness and results in casualties amongst Jewish civilians. The public’s security is the first responsibility of any government. During the many years of the escalation of terrorism against our civilians, our government has failed to provide either security or plan for victory. Who needs leaders who can’t do their job?
Though security is our priority, there is still much to do in liberalizing the economy, improving government supervision of the great monopolies, and expanding and modernizing infrastructure. The education system in Israel has been deteriorating because of a host of problems. The dreaded red tape is growing and prohibiting development while providing the perfect environment for corruption. Israeli civilians must fear rampaging crime rates alongside with terrorism.
Bad management and too little political backing shrank the police’s ability to combat crime effectively. The legal system functions as an isolated kingdom of its own, resisting any input or attempt towards reform. All this results in bottleneck, an overburdened system, lengthy procedures, waiting lists and rather strange, tragic-comic sentencing in courts.
Olmert’s government has a lot on its hands. It’s too early, though, to consider whether a real solution is on the way. So far I don’t see one coming, and I doubt the ability of the government to deliver.
Me: What, in your opinion, should the government do to stop Palestinian terrorism?
Gil: I have always believed that the “Iron Wall” doctrine is our best path towards real peace. In a nutshell, it means that only the fear of greater violence may prevent current violence. As long as the enemy believes in violence as the best instrument to obtain their goals there will be either war or we will concede our rights, all the natural human rights Zionism tried ensuring in the first place.
While it is a paradox, war can bring peace. The enemy can be taught the errors of his tactics; forced to accept peace the moment he realizes the horrors of war; that violence against us will only serve to draw him away from his goals.
Germany and Japan were turned into pacifist societies only after they were both forced to reject war. They were defeated, humiliated and driven to poverty by the superior powers of the allied nations. Their defeat was burnt into their minds so hard it made them fear and hate militarization.
The spread of Islamist fundamentalism forces me to consider the possibility, in which there are no specific goals for the terrorist’s violence. It is more apparent that in the terrorists’ skewed interpretation of Jihad, war and violence are their only goals. They fight and die for the sake of death. Causing grief and despair is not only the means but the ends. All are results of freak interpretations of Jihad’s religious implications.
Me: Describe your thoughts concerning the kidnapping of Gilad Shalit.
Gil: The kidnapping of an Israeli soldier from our border is most troubling.
I dare say “kidnapped” and not “taken prisoner”, because his kidnappers were terrorists. Fighters who are dressed as civilians and hide among civilians, who ignore all articles of the Geneva Convention regarding the rules of engagement and handling of prisoners, are terrorists.
The kidnappers have denied the prisoner any rights. He cannot relate what his conditions are. We don’t even know if Gilad is dead or alive. If he’s alive, he has the rights to medical attention, food, the right to send letters or meet the Red Cross. All his rights are being denied.
Some people consider attacking soldiers “legitimate”. Whatever one may label it, attacking soldiers is a cause for war. Imagine a Mexican militia attacking American soldiers along the border. What do you think the reaction of the American government and its armed forces would be?
The kidnapping is troubling for more reasons as well: One would have thought the Arabs had satisfied their territorial demands in the region, but the kidnapping proved us wrong. A majority of Israelis always trusted the fences and barriers to provide them with security. The kidnapping proved them wrong. Israelis have trusted their government and army to take care of its citizens’ safety. In response for constant Kassam bombarding of Sderot and the Negev, we would expect the army to launch a punishing blow to deter our enemies from carrying out future attacks. We were proved wrong again.
The kidnapping of Gilad and the shelling of Sderot may be viewed as tests for Israelis’ instinct of self defense. Our reaction and subsequent lack of such instinct may be a serious symptom of a much more sinister condition. Are we, Israeli Jews, so disheartened we have lost our sense of self preservation? Is our survival conditional on others’ affirmation?
Me: What is your opinion concerning Jonathan Pollard’s imprisonment in the U.S.?
Gil: Jonathan Pollard’s tragedy is a stain on Israel’s government, on our peoples’ solidarity with, and compassion toward those who serve it. How can we ever ask somebody to spy or work for us, when we can’t offer them real backing?
I fear it seems as if Israel has abandoned Pollard. There is not enough compassion for him in Israel’s government.
From what I’ve been reading, Pollard is held in appalling conditions. Are they necessary? Can’t Israel do something to ease his jail time, if not to release him altogether?
Spying on friendly countries does look ugly, but in reality, this is life. Real friends like Israel and the U.S. do not withhold critical information from one anther. Had Israel the need to spy on the U.S, it could only mean Israel and the U.S. are not the good friends we would like to think they were.
Perhaps Israel should complain more of American submarines or spy planes flying into our territory. Maybe American spies have been caught in Israel as well, but the stories have been censored or dumped by the press. I’d love to see Pollard liberated and back in Israel.
Me: Do you see the current government as a “Jewish government”? Why or why not?
Gil: A Jewish government is a government motivated by Jewish vision, one that holds Zionist values and ideals. Zionism is designed to advance the natural rights of the Jewish people, our right for security and self determination, and sovereignty over our land.
Olmert’s government seems less and less equal to its tasks. It is bent on further concessions; on putting more efforts into ignoring our security issues and avoiding solving them.
A Jewish government is a government which adopts Jewish morality and justice. Jewish justice may be defined by the three elements: equality, reciprocity, and self responsibility.
Instead, Israel’s government and the society led by it seem to adopt foreign ideas of morality, which include “turning the other cheek”, forgiveness at all costs and “innocence or irresponsibility” as definitions for moral superiority. Lacking the sincerity needed to lead a real life with such values, the public is left unprotected, confused, and helpless.