IDF prepares kids to be good citizens as schools don't

High school pupils hold in-depth talks with officers in new army initiative; some decry project as "brainwashing."

IDF w kids 224 (photo credit: Sasson Tiram)
IDF w kids 224
(photo credit: Sasson Tiram)
"Soldiers are trapped in this house," said the air force officer, drawing a diagram on a chalkboard. "Hizbullah is firing on them from here, here, and here," he continued, pointing at each location with a dry-erase marker. "After five hours, the soldiers decide they have to get out of the house, and run, under heavy fire, to this location here," the officer continued drawing on the board, tracing the steps of the soldiers. "When they run, one of them stops, under heavy fire, to inspect a body of one of the terrorists. That soldier was later awarded a medal for his bravery." You might think that the description above of the battle of Maroun a-Ras in the Second Lebanon War was given at an IDF debriefing after the battle in the summer of 2006. But the recap of the encounter with Hizbullah, however, was recounted Wednesday at Mekif Gilo High School as part of the IDF's "Derech Eretz V'Shamayim" (a play on words meaning both "the Golden Way and the Sky" as well as "Across Land and Air") campaign currently taking place in schools nationwide. The campaign, launched this week by the Education Ministry and the Israel Air Force, sends thousands of IDF soldiers to visit schools and talk to pupils about the values and achievements that have made the Israel's armed forces succeed throughout its stormy history. Officers expounded on values such as carrying out a mission at all costs, and having pride in the achievements of the Jewish state. "Why did he stop to examine the body?" the officer asked the schoolchildren. "Maybe he was in disguise!" yelled out one of the students. Another interrupted him, "No! They needed his radio." The officer looked on. "He was searching him for intelligence," said another student. "Ah," said the officer. "Very good. He was looking for materials that might have been on his person." The students who weren't actively engaged in the discussion sat transfixed by the officer and his stories from the battlefield. As part of the campaign, officers from all branches of the army visited schools yesterday, hoping to instill in high school kids a sense of pride in what the country has accomplished in the last 60 years. All pupils were shown a video featuring rapper Subliminal that details Israel's wars, the country's technological and medical advancements, along with its achievements in sports, music, and entertainment. Twelfth-grade students, in their last year of school before being drafted, held additional in-depth talks with officers. "It's interesting to see what the country has been through," said Linoy Shitreet, a 16-year-old who viewed the army's video. "I think it's important for the army to come and raise awareness of these things." But strong reactions to the campaign were heard from those who feel that the classroom is not the place for military dogma. Yossi Sarid, a former education minister and Meretz chairman, told The Jerusalem Post that he disapproved of the army's decision to launch the campaign. "It's unnecessary," he said. "From the age of eight, these kids are reminded of how important it is to enlist and serve in the army. Why do we need to make them into soldiers at 15, when they'll be going anyhow three years later?" Other voices were raised against the campaign, including at a demonstration that took place yesterday in Tel Aviv, in which protesters labeled the army's program "brainwashing," and called on the army to halt its presence in schools. But others praised the initiative, and expressed understanding for the army's need to speak with pupils before they are drafted. "The desire to serve in the army will not simply come from outside the classroom," said Brig.-Gen. (ret.) Avigdor Kahalani, a former Defense Ministry official. "The school's job is to prepare good citizens for the country. The teachers aren't doing it, so the army needs to." Back at Mekif Gilo High School, students seemed generally interested in the army's presentation, and officers who visited there said they had been well received by pupils and staff. "The idea is to show them what we've accomplished in 60 years," said Maj. Moshe Danieli. "Sure, there are problems... but we have to see the glass as half-full, not half-empty. These kids watch the news and see nothing but problems. We want to show them that there's more." As some of the pupils got up to leave for soccer practice, Danieli began to wrap up his presentation. "You are the next generation of the state of Israel," he said. "And you are the ones taking us forward."