Reserve duty – an army base somewhere in the south. After midnight. War games. Two-way radios and telephones crackling. "Dragon this is Tiger, Over". Forces mobilizing. Missions assigned. Destroying targets. Maneuver and fire.
A clutch of reserve soldiers, bleary eyed and whisker-stubbled, are manning the control posts. Twenty-year olds to men in their sixties, in faded army fatigues, they come from every conceivable background - lawyers, government bureaucrats, farmers, hi-tech'ers. Entering reserve duty, each one dons his uniform, assumes his army position, and is magically transformed into an intelligence officer, operations sergeant, medical officer or tank battalion commander. They've all left their comfortable "civilian world" behind, to focus on the military agenda at hand.
Between the changing of the shifts, looking for a mattress or a sleeping bag and a quiet spot to grab a few hours’ sleep, there is time for more personal, "civilian" conversations. "Where are you from? What do you do in everyday life? Do you know this person or that?" And the big question that occupies us all: Why are we doing this? What brings someone to put everything on hold and report for reserve duty?
And I ask myself: So much time, energy, money, adrenalin, and mainly - human life are invested in this huge military machine. If this existential national imperative, to be strong and defend our country, drives us to invest such enormous energies and resources, then couldn't we allocate similar resources for a cause that is no less critical – one which would yield truly promising and substantial fruits – the challenge of making peace?
Shalom or Peace is one of the most frequently used words in Hebrew. We refer to it daily, sing about it in songs, and pray for it at least 3 times a day. The word appears everywhere. Yet the meaning of shalom is not so simple. When I asked a friend for his definition of peace, he tentatively suggested "the opposite of war". The Wikipedia definition is "the absence of hostility", or "a relationship that is operating harmoniously without violent conflict". Other sites gave similar definitions. It appears that peace is often described more in negative terms (absence of war), than in positive ones (how good it would be if there was peace).
Between "War" and "Peace", the former is more familiar, and perhaps even more natural and obvious. Already in the Book of Genesis, we encounter plenty of violent conflicts. Even in modern times, it seems that there are people and countries that opt for conflict and war, much more readily than they are willing to pursue peace; almost as if violence and war are ingrained in human nature. Peace is identified as a lofty ideal – as a goal that is to be sought after, but ultimately unachievable – a dream of the naïve. Often it even seems that the people expressing the old clichés like "Israel is striving for peace", don't even believe the words they are saying.
Consider the following:
Are we devoting sufficient commitment, passion, energies and resources towards achieving peace? And what if Israeli society and its policy makers dedicated themselves to peacemaking – both within the country and with its neighbors – with all the spiritual and material resources available? Would peace still be unattainable? And what if the work of peacemaking became profitable, trendy and fashionable, replete with advertising, promotion and marketing campaigns? Wouldn't there be more people, attention and resources devoted to the direction of making peace?
War and violent conflicts are not simply motivated by human nature, but also (and some would claim mainly) driven by vested interests of power, influence and resources. Yet what are the vested interests that drive peace, which would motivate people, communities, societies and organizations, to dedicate the best of their efforts and abilities to this cause?
And what does peace look like? What color, taste and smell does it have? Thanks to the images of war and violence that we are bombarded with such as live broadcasts and printed media, movies, games, books, advertisements, and more, we can all describe war – even those who haven't experienced it first-hand. Can we imagine and visualize peace in such a tangible way?
And what about the term "Peace"? Is it too clichéd and pathetic? Has the time come to adopt a new term – a different word that would express that same lofty ideal, and perhaps even mobilize us to achieve it?
But back to reserve duty. The radios sputter, the combination of hard work, sweat, fatigue and adrenalin are at new heights as the war game extracts every bit of energy from the dedicated reservists, who represent many Israelis serving on military reserve duty, in order to prepare for possible war. And I wonder, will it ever be possible to recruit, equip and engage an army of peace?
Sagi Melamed lives with his family in the Galilee community of Hoshaya. He serves as Vice President of External Affairs at the Max Stern Yezreel Valley College, and is the Chief Instructor of the Hoshaya Karate Club. Sagi received his Master’s degree from Harvard University in Middle Eastern Studies with a specialty in Conflict Resolution. He can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org. For more articles, see: http://sagimelamed.blogspot.com