Ours is not to reason why

Cries of "national security!" and "threat to Israeli lives!" shut down all thought in this country.

No, no, Egypt can’t open its border with Gaza – the terrorists will come in and threaten our security, our very existence! So last week Egypt opens its border with Gaza, and suddenly it’s no big deal, maybe we’re better off, now the Gazans won’t be able to complain so much that we’re starving them. Never mind.
Oh no, oh God, we can’t transfer customs money to the Palestinian Authority now that there’s a unity government – the money will get to Hamas and they’ll use it to destroy us! So the whole world tells us it’s not our money, it’s the PA’s, we can’t keep it, and before going to Washington, Bibi gives the PA the money, like we always have, we’re back to normal – and this once-pressing threat to our lives is forgotten instantly.
Remember the hysteria over the coriander menace? Until a year ago, we were stopping coriander and God knows how many other edibles from entering Gaza – in the name of national security! Then the Mavi Marmara sails for Gaza, we shoot it up, the pressure’s on again, and suddenly a long list of previously banned foods – yes, even coriander – is moving into Gaza, and suddenly no one wants to remember how mindless and sheep-like they were to take the army’s and government’s word that this insane policy was necessary to keep Israel safe.
I’m not saying there are no threats to Israel and that we should dismiss anything any security maven says. What I’m saying is that we have gone so absurdly far to the other extreme – somebody says “security,” and nobody asks any questions, everybody is immediately scared into total agreement and obedience.
And while this reaction is, of course, understandable, that doesn’t make it any less absurdly extreme, any less dislocated from reality, or any less destructive to ourselves and others.
It’s because of the way the cry of “national security!” and “threat to Israeli lives!” just shuts down all thought in this country that the army stayed in Lebanon for 18 years. Ask anybody living on the peaceful northern border if he’d like to have those Katyusha-crazy years back, if he regrets that the army is no longer fighting on Hezbollah’s turf. But I have to admit – I was against the 2000 withdrawal at first, too, because I didn’t believe it would work, it seemed way too easy. I couldn’t believe that the IDF had been fighting all those years when it didn’t have to. Now I think just about everybody believes it, even if they won’t admit it.
The same with Gaza. People want to believe that all our troubles started after the disengagement, but the fact is that many, many fewer Israelis are getting hurt or killed now than when the army was fighting inside the Strip, and Hamas was targeting not just the people in Sderot, but the people in Sderot plus the far easier-to-hit people in Gush Katif. The fact is that the warnings that our security would collapse if we got out of Gaza proved false, too; life hasn’t been nearly as safe in Sderot, of course, as it’s been on the border with Lebanon, but life wasn’t safe in Sderot before disengagement, either, and meanwhile, it’s become incomparably safer for IDF soldiers and the former residents of Gush Katif.
THERE’S A long list of wolf cries that used to be consensus and are now embarrassing to remember because of all the needless tragedy they caused. Remembering the Yom Kippur War, how many people still think Sharm e-Sheikh was preferable to peace with Egypt, as the security god of the time, Moshe Dayan, infamously said?
How many people still think that every cockamamie settlement looking down on Nablus, or looking down on Ramallah, is vital to national security?
Once upon a time, Israelis believed all this garbage because Moshe Dayan told them it was so, or Menachem Begin told them, or Ariel Sharon told them, or the deputy chief of the General Staff of the Southern Command of the National Security Council told them.
They were wrong. Incidentally, there were usually at least a few security mavens with lots of stars and bars on their uniforms, too, who were saying no, we don’t have to fight and conquer and build settlements everywhere, it’s not vital to our security, it’s devastating to our security – but these dissenting voices were asking Israelis not to be ruled by fear, so Israelis, as a rule, refused to listen.
Now we’re being told by the government and army that this new flotilla that’s preparing to leave for Gaza is a really dreadful threat to our security, and these Palestinians in Syria and Lebanon planning to make another run for our border are very simply an existential threat to the Jewish state, and they all must be stopped!
And if the army and government end up saying, again, that we had no choice but to shoot the people on the flotilla and shoot the people coming for the borders, even though they had no guns or bombs themselves, Israelis, again, will make their minds a blank, stand up and salute. And if and when disaster follows, they won’t be able to remember that they marched in step behind their leaders.
It would be more than a little helpful if Israelis could question authority over matters of national security before the troops are sent out, before the orders to fire are given. It would save everyone a lot of trouble if we could ask ourselves in real time instead of in retrospect: Is Sharm e-Sheikh really all it’s cracked up to be? Is coriander?
The writer blogs at Israel Reconsidered (www.israelleft.com).