Shall we forever live by the sword?

A personal and national reflection on the day my son was inducted into the Israel Defense Forces.

An Israeli soldier sits next to tanks at a staging area near the border with the Gaza Strip (photo credit: REUTERS)
An Israeli soldier sits next to tanks at a staging area near the border with the Gaza Strip
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Twenty-four years ago I fell in love with my wife and life partner, Galia. I was then 26 years old, the secretary general of Kibbutz Ein Hashofet. This was about a year after I returned from representing Hashomer Hatzair and the Jewish Agency in the United States. It was four years after I completed my service in a Paratroopers commando unit, where I spent time in Lebanon and served in the first intifada as part of my reserve duty. Galia had just completed her military service as a welfare officer of the Golani Brigade.
After five years of being together, we got married and our first son, Tav Sagee, was born. Today, after the completion of his year of civil service in Hashomer Hatzair, he was inducted into the army for combat service. At the height of the Gaza conflict, the next generation is joining the cycle of war. How long will this continue? My father, Ya’akov Sagee (Weissman) was born 77 years ago in Bucharest, Romania. When he was four years old, he arrived with his parents in Transnistria, a terrible place where most Jews in Romania were sent during World War II. After four years of great suffering, orphaned of his father, who perished in the Holocaust, he joined his mother and sister on a journey to the Land of Israel. A journey that was only completed in July 1948 upon the establishment of the State of Israel, which enabled him to leave a detention camp in Cyprus and immigrate to Israel. In Israel, he insisted on enjoying a “new life” and at the age of 10 demanded that his mother allow him to go, on his own, to Kibbutz Ein Hashofet. This kibbutz is the Jewish Israeli home that adopted my refugee orphan father. This is our home today, where we have raised our children.
My father, who grew up during a time of war, educated me on the value of peace. He taught me that violence begets violence and that peace brings life. My father, who gained a new life thanks to the establishment of the State of Israel, taught me about the Arab villages that were in the area of Ein Hashofet and about the devastation that was caused to the people living there. He was no great soldier. While he began his service in the Golani Brigade and even participated in the Sinai Operation, later his unique musical talent was discovered. He composed the Golani march and completed his service in the IDF orchestra as one of the best trumpeters in Israel. His compositions became well known and sung by every Hebrew singer as part of the modern Jewish Hebrew culture that was developing.
But I remember how much he loved the melody he had composed for the apocalyptic vision in Isaiah 2: “and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.”
I grew up as a child of the 1960s and 1970s. Despite the two wars that took place during those years, my father always told me: “When you grow up you will not need to be a soldier because there will be peace here.” I never had toy guns. However, when my time came to go into the army, I was certain that I would do so to the best of my ability. I began my service in the Paratroopers commando unit and I was discharged from the reserve brigade after 23 years of service.
My son Tav was born when Yizhak Rabin served as prime minister, leading the most significant attempt to make peace with the Arab world.
Following a campaign of incitement, Rabin was assassinated by a Jewish citizen. We as a people do not believe that peace is possible, continuing to elect leaders who compel us live by the sword. I never deluded my son that he would not need to join the army. I educated him on the value of peace and prepared him for the day when he would be forced to be part of the ways of war. This reflects the complex life in this nation of ours.
My child grew up to believe in equality of all people – the values of solidarity, social justice and partnership.
On the belief that what I deserve others deserve. He grew up to be an ethical and sensitive person, bearing the burden of the knowledge that one day he would need to join the army.
An army that is forced to serve the last occupation that exists in this world.
To serve the oppression of freedom of 1.5 million people. An army that attempts the impossible in an effort to preserve the values of human and Jewish morality when it is forced to act among civilians. There is no army more moral than this one, but there is also no other army that has been controlling the daily lives of others for the past 47 years. We send our children into this reality, and we pray that they will not incur physical or emotional damage.
With an aching heart, we accompanied our son today to be recruited into the army. How much we would have wanted him to avoid the difficulties of the coming years. As his parents, we know what can be expected, and we believe in his strength to get through this in the best way possible.
Our prayers will accompany him.
From this day forward, my covenant with the nation changes, and so do my demands of its leaders. We have entrusted our son to your hands.
We have nothing more valuable than him, and he is now under your responsibility. When we drove to the army base today, the radio broadcast discussions about soldiers’ funerals.
Tav asked us to turn off the radio so as not to weaken his spirit. Around us, an entire nation filled with the urgency and importance of the war.
A hardened people, who have learned to believe only in force, viewing peace as a dangerous illusion. And today I thought about my father and the parallel events in our lives. I thought about the insights of a child of the Holocaust who so much believed in the urgency of peace to ensure the existence of the State of Israel as a home for the Jewish people. I also thought about my own path, for more than two decades participating in war and peace. I recall the time when I fought in Operation Defensive Shield while simultaneously preparing a peace camp for Israeli and Palestinian youth.
Is it still possible to accommodate these paradoxes and contradictions? Most of my Jewish friends tell me that it is not possible. Wise up, they tell me. Most of my Palestinian Arab friends tell me that it is not possible.
Refuse, they tell me.
But I insist on continuing to integrate what cannot be integrated, in the hope that the day will come when my vision will prevail and will become the inheritance of the majority in this country. I insist because I am a Zionist who thinks that there is no future existence of the Jewish people without the State of Israel. I insist because I believe in equality and the value of all people, and I think that there is no existence for our country without a democracy that will grant true equality for all its citizens regardless of gender, race, religion and nationality. From my perspective, there is a genuine and immediate danger facing the future of Israel and the Jewish people. The Zionist movement came into the world with one purpose: to ensure the existence and the future of the Jewish people.
War, occupation, hatred of the other directed towards Arab citizens of Israel – all these threaten to destroy us; a threat greater than the terrorists surrounding us who are nourished by the force of war.
Over the past month, I have been the object of much hatred because of my views. “Death to left-wingers” people shouted at me, “traitor,” “Israel- hater” they called out to me. They were filled with burning hatred and incitement against someone who dares to think and express himself differently.
The First and Second Temple were destroyed because of baseless hatred.
Can we not see the danger for the Third Temple? I believe in building bridges among us and with our neighbors. Instead of hatred and anger, I believe in dialogue with those who are different from me.
It is my hand, outstretched toward peace, that allows me to send my son into the army.
The author is executive director of Givat Haviva.