A friend of mine recently tried to commit suicide. He was not discouraged by an inordinate amount of trouble with organic chemistry. He was not despondent over a recent break-up with a long-time girl-friend. He was not having trouble making friends or getting along with his parents. Though these can all be powerful reasons to be upset, his reason was much more compelling.
After three months of basic training, this-18-year-old Israeli was horrified to discover that the army was not for him. With more than two-and-a-half years of service ahead of him, this realization understandably depressed him to the point of desperation.
Nor could he expect the situation to improve much in the future. Basic training would last an additional three months, after which he would be considered prepared to enter active duty. This state of preparedness first requires breaking the strong wills of adolescents and then building them anew as highly disciplined soldiers. Though this procedure may seem cruel, it is the only way to build an Israeli army in which most soldiers must expect to see combat.
However, in my friend's case, things would not improve much at the end of his six months of training. He had the misfortune to receive the worst assignment in the Israeli Defense Forces. The principle duty of the "Chermesh" division entails patrolling the occupied territories. Even patrolling the "Security Zone's in Southern Lebanon for terrorists is considered better--at least there one's enemies are clear. In the Gaza Strip, however, the little boy who you just saw playing soccer might throw rocks at you when your back is turned.
My friend figured that a bottle full of pills would allow an escape from his present predicament.
This tragic story comes to my mind every time I am confronted by claims, whether from opponents or supporters of Israel, that the Israeli government is not truly interested in securing peace during the current talks. Certain observers of Israeli policy believe that the government in power is operating from a position of strength, and is therefore unwilling to make concessions even approaching a fair settlement.
Yet, anyone who has spent time speaking with Israeli citizens knows that the leader or such a community must fully pursue any legitimate proposal for peace. The impact of the military on the Israeli psyche is difficult to grasp for someone who is not personally involved in this community. National defense is every Israeli's responsibility, and so (with few exceptions) every 18-year-old must serve. In addition, all men serve in the reserves until they reach the age of 45.
Therefore, all Israelis have a personal interest in the arrival of peace. If they, themselves, are not in the West Bank or the Security Zone, then their parents, children, grandchildren or friends most likely are.
Most American parents would probably not be satisfied in letting their children face the same pressures and dangers as my friend, for the sole purpose of maintaining a stubborn front of intransigence for their country. And neither would Israeli parents. Israelis wish as much as anything to be allowed to exist as a normal, demilitarized society.
It is most disheartening to hear leaders in the Arab world express the opinion that Israel is not really interested in peace. Many seem to think that they are the only ones paying for the constant state of unrest in the Middle East.
After the Hebron massacre, Jibril Rajoub, an aide to P.L.O. chairman Yassir Arafat, announced that "This crazy man who murdered in Hebron today killed all possibilities of continuing the peace process." Arafat himself asked, "What kind of peace are you talking about if the crimes and killings against our people do not stop?"
While the massacre at the mosque was indeed tragic and inexcusable, it cannot be used as an indication that Israel is not negotiating in good faith. Just as Arafat cannot control the Hamas or any number of other radical Palestinian groups, so Rabin cannot be responsible for the act of one deranged American-Jew. Calling off the talks because of this incident would grant the murderer's ultimate wish. It is wrong--and offensive--to suggest that either community wishes for an extended period of hostility.
So how is it possible to explain the unwillingness of Israeli leaders to concede to Arab demands and free Israel from the burden of maintaining an armed populous? It would appear that no price would be too great. Yet, even the Israelis that would agree with this statement would not advocate sweeping concessions.
The reason should be clear: no peace would be profitable unless it lasts, and no peace can last in the Middle East unless it involves a combination of goodwill and deterrence. Certain strategic sites, for example, would be necessary to ensure Israeli security. And it is not unreasonable to be cautious when negotiating with people who were sworn enemies only a few short years ago.
But Israeli leaders are definitely not objecting to peace out of sheer stubbornness. To do so would be more than irresponsible. It would be treasonous.
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