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The Purity of Weapon

cagle.com

cagle.com

An oxymoron, you might suggest. But when I joined the Israeli Defense Forces, and began serving my mandatory army service, no expression; no term; no ideal; no two words (in Hebrew it reads: טוהר הנשק) were stronger, more important. And no two words were hammered into us young soldiers more often, and more fiercely, as an example of what the Israeli army, in charge of defending the young state was all about. How I came to think about it, and to reminisce about it; how it so purely (yes, purely) exemplified the spirit, and the essence of Israel and its army back then, came to me so unexpectedly due to a recent article in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz. I almost wish I hadn’t read it. I have enough memories as it is.

Anyway, in this article, titled “Breaking the Silence, The Poem That Exposed Israeli War Crimes in 1948” – please keep on reading, and don’t jump too quick into false conclusions – the author, the Israeli professor Yair Auron, a scholar of genocide studies and genocide education, writes this, or as Haaretz put it in its one-sentence forward: “A poem published by Natan Alterman during Israel’s War of Independence criticizing human-rights abuses was lauded by Prime Minister Ben-Gurion, who even distributed 100,000 copies of it among soldiers; other such testimonies were made to disappear.”

You see, I couldn’t resist reading it. After all, it’s about a great poet, and a great leader, and how they reacted to atrocities, even if committed by their own soldiers. Because, I assumed right away, they were not afraid of criticism. Indeed, the long article describes in details what brought the poet and playwright Alterman to write it. Since it was written in 1948, and was published in full first in the Israeli newspaper “Davar” on Friday before Shabbat – where, incidentally, on that same paper, and on Friday too, an anti-war poem by yours truly (a minor and unimportant not-even-poet) was published as well in 1982, following the first Lebanon War – I take the liberty of posting here the first stanza of that short, three-stanzas-long poem, as published in the Haaretz article, in the translation of Ralph Mandel.

Across the vanquished city in a jeep he did speed –

A lad bold and armed, a young lion of a lad!

And an old man and a woman on that very street

Cowered against a wall, in fear of him clad.

Said the lad smiling, milk teeth shining:

“I’ll try the machine gun”… and put it into play!

To hide his face in his hands the old man barely had time

When his blood on the wall was sprayed.

Here the thing, though, my friends: Ben Gurion was not afraid. He was not afraid to declare Israel independence; he was not afraid of war with the surrounding Arab countries; and he was not afraid of criticism. And even though the poem dealt with atrocities committed by the nascent Israeli army under his command – specifically against the Arab population in the “massacres perpetrated by Israeli forces in Lydda (Lod) and in the village of Al-Dawayima” – and even though back then Israel was fighting for its independence, and survival, and faced, unlike today, true existential threats, he was so touched by the poem that he wrote the poet a letter. Get that?!… He asked his permission to distribute the poem it to the soldiers, so that they would learn from it. So that they will keep the oath of the “Purity of the Weapon,” meant to defend the country and its people. Not to kill people at will and at random, without proper cause.

But that was back then, you see. Nowadays the story is totally different. The poets are not silence, I assume, but I don’t hear them from here. Maybe it’s my fault, not reading enough poetry as I used to, now that Yehuda Amichai is long dead. And maybe the Hebrew poets are indeed afraid. Because this Prime Minister, and this government, are doing all they can to silence any sign of dissent, protest and criticism. What are they afraid of, you may ask? The truth, obviously. That’s why they are trying so hard to silence the brave Israeli officers and soldiers who fought to defend the country, and who are now fighting for the soul of that army to remain pure, and clean its ranks of human rights abuses. As is the case with the NGO “Breaking the Silence.”

Dictators are always afraid of the truth. The truth voiced by poets and authors. And Prime Minister Netanyahu is very close to being a dictator now. And his regime is very close to being a dictatorship. Not there yet, true, but close enough. That’s why they want to outlaw “Breaking the Silence.” That’s why there is now a theater play in Israel about the true case of a teacher who was fired for his “Leftist Views.” The Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked is working on a law directed against NGOs, demanding of them to reveal their financial support from “foreign political entities,” which the American administration labeled as undemocratic. There are other instances, such as Netanyahu’s plan to allow elected members of Knesset to be ousted by a majority of other members of parliament (directed, naturally, against the Arab members). There are more such attempts, but you get the picture. The writing is on the wall, my friends. And it’s not a thoughtful poem any longer, or a thought-provoking play. It’s an upfront slogan against democracy; a rude attack against the human ideals Israel was built upon. And built its army on. Among them the “Purity of the Weapon.”

* The “Leave a comment” link is the last tag below, in blue.

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2 Responses

  1. I have often wondered what I would do in the aftermath of combat if I was confronted with having to decide when to pull my finger off the trigger. The scenarios are easy, until you factor in the emotions of a young man who has survived and looks around to see that his comrades have not survived. Although I do agree with always trying to stay on the high ground, it will always be ludicrous to expect that war, the most ugly thing known to man, can ever be “clean”. The only solution is to ban war.

  2. BG was a true leader. He was idealist and not a politician. A few leaders such as Ghandi and MLK were like him. They were not afraid to do the right things to correct what they believed is wrong. The phrase in our Torah is ” Tikun Olam”.
    BG dealt with an ugly fact and used it to correct it during such a complex time of true survival, rather than use it as excuse. Such a true leader.
    We need leaders like him in such a broken world.

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