Sergeant Hananel Dayan was awarded a decoration as one of the finest soldiers in the IDF. The Independence Day ceremony was at the Presidential Residence and attended by not only Israel’s President, Moshe Katsav, but also by Ehud Olmert who is now PM, and the IDF Chief of Staff, Dan Halutz. Halutz was also at the same rank during the disengagement from Gaza.
At one point in this ceremony, the key principals went over to the decorated soldiers to congratulate them. Not only were salutes exchanged, but the Chief of Staff warmly extended his hand to shake that of these soldiers who represent the cream of the crop as far as the IDF is concerned. Most of these soldiers are young men and women and their rank is usually that below officer. For those who don’t know, in the IDF, the officer ranks are entirely filled with soldiers who serve as non-officers until they are invited to serve as officers, after passing the Officers’ training course. Point being that Dayan is a sergeant and he was being directly introduced to the highest ranking officer in the IDF – a military, hierarchical organization.
Here’s where things get a little wacky. Israel being a country where discipline is not always strong, some people feel very comfortable expressing their feelings even when the occasion may not be appropriate. What Dayan did was salute the Chief of Staff, Halutz, but then refused to shake his hand and basically leaned over and told him as much.
Halutz was embarrassed and angry. Olmert was angry as well. After all, this was a special ceremony and somebody was ruining it with a political statement. Except that the somebody who was doing it is a soldier, not a civilian, and different rules apply when it comes to self-expression. Dayan explained that he refused to shake Halutz’s hand because his grandfather’s home was one of those affected by the disengagement – essentially, the IDF evicted his grandfather from his home and from Gaza.
The upshot of this is that the incident harmed the ceremony and has received a tremendous amount of airplay in Israel. Of course, many on the Right who opposed disengagement immediately sided with the soldier, calling him brave and wonderful and a true patriot. Many on the Left and Center were outraged, although they have not been overly ascerbic about it because it was a relatively mild form of protest.
The IDF, however, took a different position. After interviewing the soldier, his Brigade Commander (a colonel) decided to expel him from the Armored Corps unit where he served. He didn’t just serve, he was considered among the finest soldiers in the entire brigade, which is how he was invited to the ceremony in the first place.
The Brigade commander explained his decision thus:
“[Dayan] chose to express a personal protest of a political nature and in so doing caused damage to military discipline and the value of service. In expressing his personal position, he violated the brigade’s values of comradeship, mutual trust and partnership.”
Now the IDF is considering whether to remove the decoration from Dayan’s record and may preclude him from having senior roles or roles with responsibility in the future. Since the IDF selects their officers from the non-office rank, a young man who was almost certainly going to be asked to move to the officer ranks will now likely never be invited to do so.
There are many who feel the IDF is going over the top by punishing this protest and should simply have let it go. The soldier, they say, continued to act as a soldier but refused on the personal front to be accommodating to Halutz.
I see it differently and happen to agree with the IDF. As a civilian, this soldier has every right to dismiss or be rude or to ignore any member of the IDF. As a soldier, however, he is taking an overt and unacceptable position whereby he rejects the IDF’s actions. Make no mistake, that is his protest: that the disengagement was inappropriate and the man who led it, by extension, is a man not deserving of his handshake.
Huh? Since when does the IDF get to pick which actions it may or may not take? It is an apolitical organization doing the government’s bidding and in this case the government, headed by Sharon and after months of protests and numerous attempts to bring down the government, legimately and democratically ordered the IDF to move ahead with the disengagement. This was their duty from the moment the political echelon gave the order. Not only was it their duty, but in removing the settlers, they were doing something no different than when they were in Gaza, at the government’s instruction, to protect the settlers and the settlements. Except that when things don’t go according to the viewpoint of certain settlers and certain settler movements, suddenly they seem to forget that the very same system was what enabled them to, say, live in Gaza despite the inhospitable environment.
Halutz had to accept the orders from above and to execute them to the best of his ability. For doing so, he and the other officers and soldiers involved, were labeled as no different than Nazis by the opponents of this move. The same settlers also boycotted the appointed civilian head of the disengagement authority and prevented a senior officer who went to the holiest site accessable to Jews in Judaism, the Western Wall. They not only prevented him from praying, but forcefully pushed him away from the place.
The self-righteousness needs to end. This soldier should be punished severely, as should any participants in the actions I describe above. The last thing Israel needs is a politicized military, and a split one for that matter. Actions such as this hasten that day, just as they did during the disengagement. These actions should be denied and confronted. If those that continue to claim that the state of Israel is indeed immoral or ruined or not worth defending because of the disengagement do not return to their senses, it is time to exclude them from the mainstream.
I write this on a day when supporters of certain Hebron settlers who were to be evacuated burned an Israel flag, and other Hebron settlers threw rocks and stones at Palestinian children and the Israeli soldiers assigned to protect the children as they were going to school. On the way back from school, the settlers attacked again. The Israeli soldiers did not shoot at the rock-throwers, but I would venture they had every right to do so. Perhaps in the not-so-distant future we will actually see an anti-Zionist coalition between these settlers and the Haredi mobs who lit fires on Yom Ha’atzmaut and refused to respect Yom Ha’Zikaron. Dayan may be a fine soldier, but if he has no understanding of the basis foundations of the state of Israel, with democracy and the neutrality of the IDF among them, then he does not have the maturity to serve as an officer, and the act of embarrassing his commanders and fellow soldiers in that ceremony indicate that he doesn’t deserve to be among their soldiers either.
Also, one last point, before people start talking about how others like him will now refuse to serve, I’m afraid that ship has already sailed. He is merely somebody who expressed this underlying sentiment publicly. Those soldiers simply shouldn’t serve as combat soldiers. It is clear their motivation is not going to be there and it is clear that their sense of duty to the state of Israel has been corrupted by a sense of entitlement to their own points of view regardless of how few Israelis may share them. They usually brush off that majority of Israelis in unkind terms that attack their patriotism and love of the land and the state. They should look closely in the mirror.