With a Shield or Upon It – Impressions from the Spartan State

With a Shield or Upon It
When Spartan men went to war, their wives (or another women of some significance) would customarily present them with their shield and say: "With this, or upon this", meaning that true Spartans could only return to Sparta either victorious (with their shield in hand) or dead (carried upon it).

Sometimes I toy with he idea of suing my government in international court. If you take a good look at the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, you reach a firm conclusion that, inherently, conscription is in fact illegal (I skip articles 1, 2, 28, 29 and 30, as they are unavoidably violated if any of the others are):

  • Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person. [Art. 3]
  • No one shall be held in slavery or servitude [Art. 4 – a conscripted soldier earns the equivalent of $0.026 an hour (the army does provide certain services at the time of service, but I’ll leave it to you to refute this as slavery)]
  • No one shall be subjected to… degrading treatment… [Art. 5]
  • (1) Everyone has the right to freedom of movement… within the borders of each state.
    (2) Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own… [Art. 13 – a conscripted soldier must be at base at designated times, otherwise considered “absentee”, which is an offense punishable by prison time]

This is Sparta

The sterility of the law isn’t enough to explain how such violations of human rights become the norm in a society. The Zionist mythos tells of Joseph Trumpeldor, the one armed man who grew up on an unhealthy diet of Russian militarism, who said:

It is good to die for our country.

Never mind that this statement was apparently misinterpreted, the myth-starving Zionism will assimilate any statement that may serve its cause. True to form, I was raised on this ideal and many Ashkenazis have this stranger’s portrait in their home.

The problem faced by the average Israeli, striving to be an ethical human being, is that you must fight a system of education that prevails in public schools and as such at homes. Chilling statements, like Ehud Barak’s, come naturally to an Israeli mouth (limited by my translation):

One of the students asked Barak if the state can promise, today, to return him, in the possible event of him falling captive. The Minister of Defense supplied the student with a straight forward answer: “The state can’t ensure your safety, your life, or that you won’t fall captive as a soldier. You enlist in the army to fight. We don’t live in Europe, he who doesn’t flinch in the face of Kasams and abductions-survives… The state can’t even ensure your life, when you’re in the army. The state of Israel exists in a region where there is no grace towards the weak. And a society that won’t know to stand and be able to risk life when there is necessity for it, even when risking life isn’t desirable – won’t stand and won’t survive.

Reut – 21st Century Spartanism
How do you coincide the Trumpeldorian myth with the capitalist ideals that reign supreme in Israel? You start a non-profit organization! Confused yet? Meet Reut. The Reut non-profit organization (“think tank”) is well embedded in the Israeli government. In fact, if the website doesn’t exaggerate, then Reut has it’s hands deep in the mud that is Israeli policy:

Reut is an innovative policy group designed to provide… strategic decision-support to Israeli leaders and decision-makers… Reut’s current focus areas are National Security and ISRAEL 15: Socio-Economics. In the future we plan to expand into content areas concerning the Jewish world and decision-making processes.

Armed to the teeth with military and capitalist strategy jargon, it’s founder, Gidi Grinstein, proudly explains his private connections to the policy makers, at none other than the Jerusalem Post, who were delighted to feature him, I’m sure:

In July 1999, one of these experts – Attorney Gilead Sher – was appointed as the Chief Negotiator of the Prime Minister and offered me a position as Secretary of the Delegation. The files we prepared during these three years later served as the basis for the negotiations.

My work in the Bureau of the Prime Minister exposed me to the reality of Israel’s decision-making capacities at the highest levels.

Just so we don’t get confused with all this sterile-speak, let’s take a look at one of the strategies Reut is ever-so-non-partisanly examining:

The Dahiyah Doctrine developed out of the realization that the IDF was fighting against a new type of enemy which required new tactics. In this context, the heavy bombardment inflicted on the South-Beirut Dahiyah neighborhood during the Second Lebanon war seen as a relevant model for fighting against non-state terror or guerilla organizations.

According to the Doctrine, the targets against which the IDF should focus disproportionate force may vary between villages from which rockets are fired, the political, social or religious strongholds of the Resistance Network, or the civilian infrastructure of the political entity within which the Resistance Network operates.

Sound familiar? It was used in Gaza. So while the Reut organization is contemplating war crimes as viable strategy, let’s take a look at it’s non-partisan connections.

Spartan Academia
While Reut uses neutral language, which leads me to speculate it is only contemplating shameful, illegal atrocities, one of Reut’s featured writers, Colonel Gabriel Siboni (reserves) of the Institute for National Security Studies, is in fact an avid supporter of the Dahiyah Doctrine:

…a disproportionate strike at the heart of the enemy’s weak spot, in which efforts to hurt launch capability are secondary. As soon as the conflict breaks out, the IDF will have to operate in a rapid, determined, powerful and disproportionate way against the enemy’s actions…

This strike has to be carried out as quickly as possible, through prioritizing strikes at its assets, rather than chasing after launch sites. Such a response is likely to be remembered by decision makers in Syria and Lebanon for many years, thus deepening deterrence

Colonel Siboni isn’t a one time slip up of crazed militarism. The Institute for National Security Studies, of which he is a resident expert (here the good Colonel assumes the title of doctor), is an “academic institute” (for all you academic boycott fans: an external institute of Tel Aviv University). INSS describes itself as “non-partisan, independent, and autonomous”, and in the same paragraph “it has a strong association with the political and military establishment.” (In any case, I don’t know how non-partisan you can be when Dan Meridor, longtime active member of Likud, is on your board of directors. [click View the INSS brochure] )

Similar to Reut, the mission is to:

…contribute to the public debate and governmental deliberation of leading strategic issues and offer policy analysis and recommendations to decision makers and public leaders, policy analysts, and theoreticians, both in Israel and abroad.

Between the most decorated soldier in Israeli history in our schools, encouraging children to make the ultimate sacrifice, to the inevitable conscription, it’s not hard to see how a society would slip from the Trumpeldor tradition to the Dahiyah Doctrine. As a terribly ridiculous film once said:

This is madness. This is Sparta.

4 thoughts on “With a Shield or Upon It – Impressions from the Spartan State”

  1. Tali

    I am not sure if its even worth responding or whether you will publish this but i work at Reut and i wanted to clarify a few things.

    To suggest a concept paper reflects policy is completely inaccurate.

    These papers try and fully define phrases and terms that are in common use. In addition to writing on the Dahiya Doctrine, we have also written ‘concepts’ on Permanent Status and Israel Apartheid Week.

    According to your logic would this mean we are contemplating both promoting boycotts of Israel and full peace?

    Gabriel Siboni is not a featured writer. Reut uploads articles by other people that discuss topical issues. The Siboni article is about the de-militarization of a Palestinian state, which – whether one agrees or not – is an issue currently in the news.

    If you wanted to see who works here you simply could have clicked on the ‘team’ page on the website.

    One is free to feel however they want about Israel and Zionism, but at least try and maintain accuracy rather than selectively quoting from somewhere to prove a point.


    1. Calev,

      When the subject of a “concept paper” (there’s that sterilized language again) is of such an illegal and immoral nature, such as the Dahiyah Doctrine, and your organization doesn’t come right out and condemn it, your ethics are in question, not to mention your stance on legal issues. It is quite disturbing to me that the only fault Reut would find with a strategy that proposes to indiscriminately massacre whole villages is that it “fail[s] to mention the importance of the Home Front as a central component of this concept.” (As stated by you, in Reut’s blog http://reut-blog.org/2008/11/16/dahiyah-doctrine-israel-hizbullahnational-security/ )

      As for Israel Apartheid Week, Reut is much less successful at sterilizing its language and clearly characterizes it as “anti-Semitic” and groups this term with “radical leftist movements, or human-rights groups”. This is
      a) Slander.
      b) Got to make you wonder about your personal ethics, when you’re trashing human rights organizations.
      c) Silly, seeing as many participants of Israel Apartheid Week are Semitic.
      My point then being that Reut is hardly impartial, no matter what you name your “concept papers”. I’ll say one thing in your favor; You keep your word of transparency, and your agenda and ethics are hanging out for the world to behold.

      In Gabriel Siboni’s case we may have a difference of semantics. He is featured on Reut several times and as such a “featured writer”. I never claimed he was paid staff. Most obviously when you feature this man’s opinion, it means you highly regard it. The connection to the Dahyiah Doctrine is logically inevitable. I never said you consult your high profile “clients” in that manner, I just say that your failure to condemn it suggest something very rotten in the state of Israel.

  2. Hello Tali,

    I am not part of the “like-minded” Pulse activists, but I hope that my response will be published.

    I was always wondering how this weird axis of so called enlightend leftist liberal European elements and fundamental extreme elements, is created.

    Following its violent (and so inhuman) takeover of Gaza, Hamas controls and governs the Gaza Strip. Therefore Hamas should not be seen as another non-state armed actor, but as a state.

    Thus, did you ever question the ethics of a state that militarily operates from civilian centres (kindergardens, hospitals and mosques)? who should be blamed if these are harmed during war? you will be surprised to know that the rules of war of international law, suggest a different opinion from the one you broght up.


    1. Elad,

      You are most obviously not only not like-minded, but quite the zionist activist. I’m sure that ad hominems like “axis of so called enlightened leftist liberal European elements and fundamental extreme elements” set your mind at ease while your government is one of the prime violators of human rights. I won’t have yet another tedious debate about Hamas’ crimes, as the answer of a consistent person would obviously be to condemn them. A consistent comment from you- since you are so concerned with Hamas human rights violations of the Palestinian people- would be shock of what is being done in your name. Unfortunately, you prefer on using the distraction tactics straight out of the TIP book. Good luck with that and please come back when you actually have a comment relevant to the content of the article I’ve toiled over.

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