ישראל נאמן | Lectures, Articles, Tours: Israel | Mideast onTarget | Elliot Chodoff & Yisrael Ne'eman | Summer Contradictions 31.7.04

Summer Contradictions

31 July 2004

By Yisrael Ne'eman

Ten days ago the Gaza Disengagement opponents formed a human chain from the Katif Bloc to the Western Wall in Jerusalem. The settler movement is second to none in organizational and fund raising capabilities, especially when it involves impressive demonstrations. Just that the Israeli voting public was not swayed by the 100,000 + demonstrators who linked arms from the Gaza Strip to Jerusalem. 59% favor the Disengagement while 29% are opposed. When Sharon first made his proposal months ago, 40% agreed to a unilateral withdrawal and another 39% demanded it be done in agreement with a Palestinian partner. Less than 20% were unconditionally opposed. The human chain was a brilliant idea, but failed in its objective.

On the other hand, 80 families slated for evacuation have decided to look for homes elsewhere and are already seeking compensation. Most come from the four northern Samarian settlements mentioned as linked to the Disengagement, but 15 are from Gaza itself. They barely got a mention, but this trickle can be expected to increase to the majority of Gaza’s Jews.

In the army, summer is known for its “August draft”. After four years of intensive anti-terror work, one would think by reading the western press that Israeli youth are frightened and exhausted. But 90% of those young men drafted are asking for combat positions and are encouraged to do so by those already in service. In this past year, even the Artillery Corps was involved in hunting down terrorists. Most impressive is the Givati Brigade. Over the past 25 years very few volunteered for the “purple berets” and in the late nineties morale was so low there was discussion of disbanding the unit and sending the recruits elsewhere. This “August” all the recruits are volunteers who specifically asked for Givati. Why? This is the infantry unit with the responsibility for destroying terrorism emanating from the Gaza Strip.

But there is a schism, as 30% of all males and 40% of all females are not drafted. 25% of all those sent draft notices at the outset ask to see a military psychologist. Many avoid service altogether as the IDF is not particularly interested in unwilling soldiers. It is still a “people’s army” but maybe not for long.

The economy has picked up (as has tourism) and the middle class is beginning to feel the benefits of Finance Minister Netanyahu’s Thatcherite capitalist policies. Hundreds of thousands are taking vacations in Europe and around the world. But in the proposed 2005 state budget, another 1.5 billion dollars (about 2.5%) are to be slashed – affecting heath, old age and child allowances, education and especially the security services. The IDF is to absorb one third of the cut and is considering canceling major maneuvers. The finance ministry wants to improve military efficiency while the army speaks of increasing security risks. The IDF will now do battle on the budget front.

In almost every sphere of concern (not mentioning politics), there are diametrically opposed currents, yet it appears a more optimistic spirit has gotten the upper hand. Israel is as usual at several crossroads (with lights flashing and drivers running red lights), but today, as opposed to the past four years, there is more confidence that we will cross safely to the other side.