As a counselor for ten year old boys at Camp Ramah in the Poconos many years ago, I quickly learned that figures of authority are successful when they set the rules and strictly enforce them. Over the course of time it is then possible to become less formal, but those counselors who started the summer trying to befriend their charges had a very difficult time enforcing rule and discipline later on.
As a parent, I am constantly balancing the tension between teaching my children right from wrong, enforcing rules and ensuring their safety on one side while being sympathetic to their age and desires on the other.
Unfortunately, when the public is divided and sorely needs strength and vision, the rules and guidelines are not so clear. During these times not only are leaders often afraid to act as it may be political suicide, but additionally they may be caught in stalemates, incapable of decisive action.
Israel has been torn apart for over 37 years since the land captured during the Six-Day War and its inhabitants have been without a clear status or policy. While East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights have been annexed and their inhabitants eligible for Israeli citizenship, no definitive policy has been established regarding other territories captured in 1967. We do not even know what to call this land – “The West Bank,” “Judea, Sumaria and Gaza,” “the Territories.” No government of Israel has ever exhibited the strength either to withdraw from the areas under Israeli military administration, nor to annex them and claim them and their inhabitants as an integral part of the State of Israel.
Like many Israelis, I am tired of living in limbo. I am tired of the economic, political and moral drain living in this state has put on me and my society. I want a solution.
I was delighted when, on February 20, the Israeli cabinet approved the disengagement plan.
Since it first was raised, the plan has been hotly debated in Israel and there have been calls to open the decision of its implementation to a nation-wide referendum. There have been many public discussions about the legality, moral and religious obligations of soldiers to obey or disobey orders to evacuate Jews. This is despite the overwhelming popular support of the plan by the majority of Israelis and the clear majority of the cabinet’s vote.
Like the majority of Israelis, I support withdrawing from most of the territories Israel captured in 1967. Like the majority of Israelis I do not know all the details of the current disengagement plan and at this point, after living with decades of the difficulties that the unresolved status of these territories has put upon me, I have grown increasingly apathetic about details. I find myself filling with resentment at the tremendous toll the continuing retention of these territories has taken on my life and that of the society in which I live.
The costs are not just financial. While the high taxation required not only to defend settlements, but to build them, maintain the infrastructure in the territories and to subsidize settlers creates undue hardship on all Israeli households, many other prices are being paid. Reserve duty tears men away from their families, communities, careers and from being productive members of society; enlisted men (boys) have excessive moral dilemmas during their service as occupiers and often the environment of our teenagers with guns and their power over a minority ethnic civilian population deteriorates our children’s sensibilities. With so much of Israel’s energy focussed on defense and the problems caused by the unsettled status of the territories captured in 1967, I feel that almost any conclusion would be preferable to the unstable uncertainty which has befallen us for close to 40 years.
I do feel sorry for Jews who have made their homes in the areas slated for withdrawal. They followed their ideals, were supported by their government and, while they will be compensated, the life and communities they have built through severe hardships are being sacrificed in the name of the very motives that sent them there.
Inconsistent policies and the inability or unwillingness of authoritative Israeli leaders to create a solution for the territories conquered in 1967 have left most Israelis like children whose parents offer them no framework in which to behave appropriately. No rules were set, no vision laid and thereby people suffer.
As a parent my primary responsibility is to protect my children. I do this by enforcing rules and establishing borders just as a national leader fulfills his primary obligation to ensure the security of his constituents. Of course I want to contribute to the type of life my children live just as a responsible political leader wants to shape the character of the society he is elected to serve. However, as I learned at camp all those summers ago, the clearer my message is, the more effective my parenting can be.
If my child is caught doing something wrong, sometimes I ignore it so that he can work it out himself. Most of the time, however, I confront him directly and depending on the severity, I may intervene. I try to send a clear message. I avoid sending mixed messages like “If you do that again you are going to your room” – where the message is this time I won’t punish you but next time I will. I try to establish a consistent policy.
Once the borders are drawn clearly, my children can turn their energy away from testing them and can begin developing themselves. Likewise, although the days ahead are sure to be among the most difficult the Israeli people have faced since the founding of the State, we will emerge stronger than ever with a clearer sense of who we are and where we are going so that we will be able to create a productive society mutually benefiting us all.