My son is a soldier. He was recently out on a training run with his unit when for no apparent reason he was set upon by a soldier from a different unit, who used a wooden stick he was holding to hit my son and one of the other soldiers. It all happened very quickly, and luckily, although this boy hit my son so hard the stick broke on his back, my son and his friend were not injured. The attacking soldier was taken away to be charged and presumably punished. When they returned to the base, my son’s comrades-in-arms, and, indeed, his commanding officer, mocked him for not beating the other guy up. They used pejorative terms casting doubt on their manhood. When my son called that evening, he told me that it had never even occurred to him. He had never beaten anyone up in his life and he wasn’t going to start now. I told him I was proud of him and disgusted at his officer’s attitude on any number of levels.
Later I reflected on the situation. We, like many other parents, brought our children up not to fight, but to ‘use words’ to resolve conflicts. I remember the day our oldest daughter came home from her first grade classroom, upset by the fact that her teacher had told a boy to hit back when another boy hit him. My friends all have similar stories to share. The culture of hitting back is unfortunately only too common in the Israeli ethos. And perhaps this should not surprise me – after all, hasn’t the Israeli army, like many other armies in the world, adopted the principle of hitting back as part of its defence strategy? Although by name a defence force, retaliation (for example, in response to missile attacks from Gaza) is a central part of the army’s functioning.
“Use words” we tell our children as they grow up. Why do we not believe in the same principle when it comes to conflicts between states? I can already hear the cries of those who will tell me I am naïve. Indeed, perhaps I am. But I will also tell you that our policy of ‘hitting back’ doesn’t seem to be getting us very far. Rather than using words now to prevent the next (almost inevitable) outbreak of violence, we are waiting for the next occasion when we will be horrified by an unprovoked attack and will have no other option but to hit back. Whether it’s Lebanon or Gaza, in Egypt or Syria, if we don’t use words to resolve this conflict, then indeed we will have to hit back.
Our government has a tendency to suggest that the Palestinians only understand violence. “We won’t talk under fire,” they say. But when the Palestinians aren’t firing at us we won’t talk either. It seems that we simply won’t talk at all. As the mother of an Israeli soldier, I feel compelled to voice my plea for our government to talk now in order to prevent armed conflict later. I, for one, am not prepared to see my son go into battle in an entirely avoidable war. Now’s the time to take action to prevent the next war. It’s time we learned to use words rather than always hitting back.