For What it’s Worth by Gal Hacohen from Israel

tumblr_inline_nc1fd5zbc31sag8l3As a soldier I had my life put on the scale. There was a cost benefit calculus based on personal and political interests and on whether or not the cost of the operation would be worth my life. It’s was a rational discussion held by rational men, many of which are still the military and political leaders of Israel today. Every mission I went on went on, as a navy seal, was approved by the highest ranks, at least the head of the army and the minister of defense. It was the time of “the war between wars”, when everything was very volatile and everything had to remain discrete.

I remember once, me and my friends were a little nonchalant on our way back from ‘long night’ that went smoothly. The training and preparation for anything we did,, was always extensive. When we joked with one of our officers, trying to understand why we needed so many models (dress rehearsals before the mission) despite the fact that we knew very well what we were doing.. just because we “were professionals”. His answer was “you may find this simple, but Barak didn’t sleep tonight either”.

Let’s talk about the soldiers. They could be people who dreamt of being in the military all their life and support the government, never met an Arab, fear for Israel’s existence and believe that military is the best policy. They could also be hippies who don’t support war, don’t eat meat, have no problem with Arabs, pro-legalization, environmentalists  and pro peace based on the 67 line based on mutually agreed land swaps for example.

I was the latter. Sometimes people, in a condescending manor, after I express my views ask me, “So what did you do in the army”, I tell them, and then the tone changes “oh”. For years I got the  admiration treatment  for that achievement. It still happens today.  I had people complimenting me with such chest puffing things throughout the years that I cannot even write them down without sounding pretentious. But now people call me names ranging from naive to traitor.

In Israel, expressing an objection to the war, is perceived as an objection to the soldier, or a lack of support for our troops. The problem is that everyone knows someone in the army, someone close to them, and such a perception triggers hate towards those who don’t support their child, brother or boyfriend. An unprecedented hatred had emerged between the right and the left; with the extremes receiving the main stage and attention; hijacking and destroying the political discourse.

Now people ask me :“Gal, what changed?” and the answer is : nothing. I returned to Israel having grown up ten years in the UK and the US, because most of my life I dreamed of returning to Israel, I love Israel. Unfortunately,  part of the Israeli culture is going to the military, and to simplify I decided that the package was worth it, even though I had often heard weird reaction to my decision.

As a Seal you are strategic, you are important you are relevant and that’s what I wanted, and that’s still what I want. But my battle is no longer violent, because the war is no longer fought on battle fields. Ami Ayallon, an academic (military hero, commander of the Seals, head on Shin Bet etc.), said that we are fighting on four battle fields, and only one is the actual battle field. The other three are: Image-fair: how we are perceived; Law-fair: how the international courts see us; and diplomacy: how the other countries perceive us. We can win on the battlefield, but we are  making it impossible to win on the other three, as hard as we are trying.

But something did change and affected me. It was when I was put on a “scale” again  in a very stupid operation. I knew it ,my friends knew it, and we did many, many dress rehearsals. We didn’t understand why everyone thought it could go smoothly. But we didn’t say anything, I didn’t say anything. Because a soldier is not supposed to say that he is scared. Well, I was shit scared and more so longing back today. My life was spared at the last moment, thanks to one man; at least that’s how I see it. I don’t want to put more soldiers in that situation, and I believe that individuals have the power to spare many lives. I am not longer a soldier, a number, and I can’t pretend anymore.

If we look at things as they are, cold and realpolitik, we must understand that violence is never good for the people, this is clear. We have been manipulated in such way that we think that if we win, if our soldiers succeed, it will bring peace and prosperity to the people of Israel. It won’t. And it won’t bring peace and hope to the peace of Gaza or the West Bank. For what it’s worth, I still have hope, we might still take the right decision. When this mess is over we will have a choice; a framework agreement to peace or a framework agreement to Gaza III (insert name here), 2016.


YaLa Young Leaders

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