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Thursday, May 28, 2015

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What they teach the officers

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Sagi Melamed

Shortly before my release from the army after four years of service, the commander of the Armored Corps School asked me to take on a prestigious role that would have required me to sign on for another year.  I thought about it and declined.

I had two reasons. First, I was simply burnt out. But it was the second reason that was the more significant: I did not see myself continuing to develop my expertise in the art of war, whose ultimate purpose is to destroy the enemy.  I had no doubts about its necessity, but I wanted to devote myself to other arts.

On June 2, 2014, the self-proclaimed Israeli  “newspaper for thinking people,” criticized the commander of the Officers Training School for giving graduates a book by military commando Meir Har-Zion in which he wrote of “incursions and killings of Palestinians during retaliations.”  

I had trouble maintaining my composure.

What on earth was the newspaper editor thinking?  Does he believe that cadets spend their time at the Officers Training School doing nothing but taking familiarization trips around the country, learning Hebrew songs, attending educational seminars and studying Jewish tradition? True, the cadets do learn these subjects, but their Job One is and always will be to lead soldiers into battle and to kill the enemy before the enemy can harm them. At the end of the day, the graduates leave the training base and return to their units as equipped as possible for the labours of command and war.

I did not know Har-Zion personally, but I was well acquainted with some of his comrades, including Katcha from the Gilboa and Elisha from Kibbutz Ramat Yochanan. Hesitancy was not exactly one of the prominent characteristics of Har-Zion, Katcha and Elisha.  But without their determination, belief in their calling, willingness to lead and to be the ones to pull the trigger, to volunteer and to dare, I doubt if today we would have the luxury of sitting back in a comfortable armchair to read a newspaper.

B.’s family came to Israel from Azerbaijan and he grew up in a distressed neighbourhood in a development town in northern Israel.  His year in the Yitzchak Rabin Pre-Army Leadership Academy at Ha’Midrasha was a turning point in his life.  It was there that the seeds of motivation were planted for a meaningful service, to contribute to society and the country.  

The seeds took root. At the end of his preparatory year B. enlisted in an elite unit, excelled there, went to Officers Training, and was selected by the head of Southern Command to set up a special unit within the Givati Brigade.  When his first son was born, B. called him “Har-Zion.”

A few weeks ago the Melamed family went to the graduation ceremony for our oldest son’s paramedic course.   Dozens of crew-cut young men marched onto the parade ground fiercely determined to complete their demanding path and achieve their combat pin. I looked around at the proud, emotional parents, the brothers and sisters and girlfriends.  The announcer presented one of the parents, a lieutenant colonel in the reserves who had lost a son in the Second Lebanon War, and who, despite his bereavement, permitted his second son to pursue an elite combat track.  The issue of unequal burdens did not seem to be a concern.  Everyone, parents and sons, were proud to be among those who do bear the burden. 

The books of national legends like Meir Har-Zion, Yoni Netanyahu, Hannah Senesh and others, constitute the bedrock upon which Israeli youth has been educated for generations. They are not necessarily the legends parents would choose for their children, given the choice, and we all pray for the time when there is no longer the need.  But as long as the need exists, officer cadets must continue learning the art of war.

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