Doomed to Fight

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Vengeance is in my heart, death in my hand. Blood and revenge are hammering in my head” (Titus Andronicus, Shakespeare).

There is little doubt that war brings out the worst in us. Falling under this category, one should list the incitement, hatred and racism flowing unchecked on the Internet and in other media outlets. While patriotism and national solidarity are understandable under the dire circumstances, the spirit of militarism and belligerency sweeping across the land like a tempest warrants further introspection.

The April 1956 eulogy delivered by Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Moshe Dayan at the funeral of Roi Rotberg, the security coordinator of Kibbutz Nahal Oz, expressed this very same spirit more aptly than any other text or speech prepared at the time. As Israel and Gaza again exchange blows today, it continues to articulate the moods of Israelis today.

In his short speech, Dayan displayed exceptional understanding regarding the suffering and hostility of the Palestinians, and concluded that violent struggle for control of the land is the “fate of our generation.” We have no choice but to fight, declared Dayan. “This is our life choice,” he said, “to be prepared and armed, strong and determined, lest the sword be stricken from our fist and our lives cut down.”

Under our circumstances in 2014 – in the era of Lieberman, Bennett and Danon – Dayan’s text reads as though it is a subversive document. The legendary chief of staff, the person who exemplified the IDF’s spirit of aggressive activism, expressed sensitivity toward the emotions of the enemy across the border: “Let us not cast the blame on the murderers today. Why should we deplore their burning hatred for us? For eight years they have been sitting in the refugee camps in Gaza, and before their eyes we have been transforming the lands and the villages, where they and their fathers dwelt, into our estate,” declared Dayan.

Today, Dayan would be accused of post-Zionism, of sympathizing with terror, of betraying his homeland. But in those days, memories of the 1948 War of Independence were still fresh, and evidence of deserted Arab houses and ruined Arab villages was manifest; so it would have been futile to try to conceal or blur this history for the purpose of inculcating a nationalist message, as some Israeli politicians try to do today.

Though he understood the Palestinians’ suffering, Dayan did not conclude that their demands had to be met. On the contrary, he called on the Israelis of his generation to continue the fight: “We are a generation that settles the land, and without the steel helmet and the cannon’s fire we will not be able to plant a tree and build a home,” concluded the first-born child of Kibbutz Degania, who grew up in the Jezreel Valley fields around Moshav Nahalal. “Let us not be deterred from seeing the loathing that is inflaming and filling the lives of the hundreds of thousands of Arabs who live around us. Let us not avert our eyes lest our arms weaken.”

To understand the Israeli state-of-mind, especially during times of war, one has to pay careful attention to these telling words. In them, Dayan expressed an Israeli ideology of force, fashioning the character of an entire society with a resounding message: We are a state of immigrant-settlers, whose very existence in the region is not guaranteed or self-evident. The “Arabs,” an indiscriminate category, hate “us” (and justifiably so, from their point of view ). This situation cannot be changed; it is our “fate” and we have no control over it, and the only thing we can do is guarantee our “existence.” This existence is protected by means of the fist and the sword. All other societal-wide goals are subsumed within this dominant objective of protecting our survival. We are forced to remain a mobilized, enlisted society. We must accept as a self-evident reality the sacrifice of human life (in addition to costs presumably paid in other spheres ), which we make to guarantee our continued existence.

The similarity between events of those days on the Gaza border, and current events is uncanny. The poetic language, the concise formulation of a complex political and social message, Dayan’s military rank and the circumstances – all transformed this eulogy into a keystone Israeli text.  Today, the Gaza war continues, and Nahal Oz remains a frontier outpost, even in an age when tanks replace a horseback-riding security coordinator, and Grad rockets take the place of fedayeen bullets. The argument about the war’s objectives, a debate Dayan summarized eloquently, persists, and so his eulogy remains germane today as well.

 

 

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