He is a paratrooper, a reservist now, but once a volunteer and he was called up with the others for the invasion of Lebanon. His unit took the refugee camp at Ain Hilwe, a virtual PLO fortress, and when he told the story about it, slowly and in good English, he nearly cried when he got to the part about the old men.
The old men were two Palestinians. For days their camp had been bombarded by the Israelis and in a lull in the fighting they came out and tried to surrender. One of them raised his arms over his head and the other held a case of Pepsi Cola. "We have brought you Pepsi," he yelled. The soldiers shooed them away.
The paratrooper's name is Yehoshua Yashuv. He is short, with red hair and a red beard. He is 27 years old, a student going for his master's in German history. In 1973, he fought the Egyptians along the Suez Canal and last month he chased the PLO all over southern Lebanon. This time, though, his heart was not in it.
His unit was told not to kill civilians, he said, but it was hard to tell the civilians from the fighters. They were not supposed to kill women and children, but they saw the artillery do just that--and the air force and the tanks. Only the troops on the ground could tell a civilian from a fighter. Only the troops on the ground had to make such a choice. Only the troops on the ground, he said, saw the PLO kill civilians who tried to flee.
Yashuv and soldiers who share his beliefs were against the war from the start. To them, the survival of Israel was not at stake. This was not like the other wars where the Arabs struck first or Israel was otherwise clearly provoked. "When we fought the Egyptians, we knew that if we lost they would be in Tel Aviv in two days," he said. The war in Lebanon is a different story.
It would be too much to say that Yashuv is a typical Israeli. He is not. He and the 2,000 or so other soldiers who have formed an organization called Soldiers Against Silence are a distinct minority. They are against Menachem Begin politically and in some sense morally, and what pains them most is the feeling that they are fighting for an Israel that may no longer share their values.
It is an Israel that launches a war on pretext. It is an Israel that invades Lebanon not only to make the northern Galilee safe, but to rearrange the Middle East--clean it up, make it tidy. It is an Israel that says it will go 25 miles into Lebanon and then keeps on going, that in the name of the Galilee bombs Beirut, that declares cease-fires and then, according to Yashuv, breaks them. And it is an Israel that took its fight into an area where the civilian population was indistinguishable from the fighters and sometimes it was an Israel that had to kill them both.
To Yashuv, the old men are symbols of what Israel did in Lebanon. The troops were told not to kill civilians, and he swears they did not--"not a one." But that is because they were on the ground, close to them. They could tell who was who and what makes the old men bring tears to his eyes is his realization that if they had been further away, he would have killed them.
"You ask yourself a question," he said. "At 500 yards they were targets. At 100 yards, they are human beings. Stupid, maybe, naive maybe--but they are human beings."
No wars are without their moral ambiguities. In America, the Vietnam War effort was crippled by them. In Israel, though, the wars have been neat, the enemy almost always another army. What brings tears to Yashuv's eyes is not only the old men, but the trap he is in. He can fight in a war he abhors, or he can, as one officer did recently, simply refuse to be a soldier any more. The latter is repugnant to him. He fights, he says, not for the Israeli government, but for the Israeli people.
In this sense, he is just another young man being used by politicians. His life is a card that can be played--maybe in Tyre, maybe in Sidon, maybe in Beirut. This is war not in self-defense but war for political and strategic objectives. And in Israel and elsewhere it is being judged not on its morality, but on its success or failure. If it works, it was right. This is not the morality that for years made Israel a nation to admire.
Recently Yashuv and about 35 other soldiers sent Begin a letter, saying how they felt about the war. He responded by telling him that he knows they did not vote for him anyway and as soldiers he expects them to follow orders. As soldiers they will, and if they ever return to the war, they will be fighting on two fronts. Of the two, the front in Lebanon is the least important. He put it this way:
"This is not a fight against the war, but a fight for the kind of country we will have."