'Will you guarantee my safety?

Israel has gotten to the point where a 16-year-old asks the defense minister this question.

soldiers 248.88 ap (photo credit: AP)
soldiers 248.88 ap
(photo credit: AP)
On September 1, 2009 more than 1.5 million Israeli children and youths - some glad, some not - walked into school for the opening of the school year. It is customary that the president, prime minister and various other ministers join the children at different schools around the country and greet them. Defense Minister Ehud Barak addressed a high school in the center of the country where a 16-year-old student asked him what the State of Israel would do to guarantee his security as a soldier. After all, he would be drafted into the IDF in just a year's time... At some point, we will have to explore how we, as a country, got to the point where a 16-year-old child asks the defense minister for a guarantee that the state will ensure his safety when he joins the IDF and bears part of the responsibility to guarantee this country's security. Sadly, Barak was correct when he replied that we cannot guarantee this young man's security as an IDF soldier. That's the way things are here. ACCORDING TO the unsigned agreement we are born into, everyone at the age of 18 is drafted into the IDF or national service. He/she will do his/her utmost to guarantee the security and the existence of our one and only Jewish homeland. Some of these young people are killed in battle, others are wounded. Some are taken hostage. Somehow everything has turned around. How did we lose our sense of direction? When did we invent a new philosophy that endangers the basis of our being? Gilad Schalit was not taken hostage. He was kidnapped in battle by a terror organization whose sole purpose is to erase the State of Israel from the map. The price this organization is asking for Schalit will cause enormous and irreversible strategic damage. If delivered, it will inspire a new intifada and motivate every young Palestinian to murder as many Jews as possible, because in the end, they too will be released one day. If delivered, it will destroy the moderates among the Palestinians while strengthening Hamas, as hundreds who have killed women and children are released. Paying this price will guarantee the planning of the next kidnapping. This is why Barak rightfully looked this 16-year-old in the eyes and told him the truth. We cannot guarantee his safety. All of this does not minimize Gilad Schalit's tragedy nor that of his family - nor ours as a nation. The soldier with shy eyes and bashful smile is suffering somewhere in Gaza while his father and mother try to move mountains and conduct a major campaign for his return. This does not relieve our government of the responsibility of finding a solution that will protect the country, maintain security and prevent all the would-be widows, orphans and bereaved. The ethos that all Israelis were born with is that we do not talk with terrorists. It is this philosophy that got us to the school in Ma'alot, to the lobby of the Savoy Hotel, to Entebbe and to all locations where they tried to terrorize us. This is the only way to free Gilad Schalit and to protect the State of Israel. I, ALONG with millions of Israeli citizens and Jews around the world, think about Gilad daily. Many of my writings in recent years have been dedicated to this child and soldier - our son and our soldier. Generations of IDF officers were drafted and raised on the ethos that we do not leave a wounded soldier on the battlefield. We do everything possible to bring him home, even when it is difficult and might put others at risk. This is what makes us better as a military power and as a state. As parents of three boys who will be called to serve our country when they turn 18, my wife and I are torn with the question of where we stand. What values do we educate our children with? What do we expect or not expect from the State of Israel? Where do we stand as individuals, family and state? For us this is not a philosophic discussion but a discussion about life and our future and values. I leave you today with these tough questions that were raised by the high-school kid, and that have left us once again torn, with tears in our eyes and pain in our hearts. The writer is a fifth generation Jerusalemite who served in an elite unit of the IDF and is currently the director-general of United Israel Appeal of Canada.