Thursday, July 31, 2014

Children of '93

Back in the autumn of 1973, during the traumatic days of the Yom Kippur War, Israeli superstar Yehoram Gaon had a hit song whose refrain was "I promise you my little girl that this will be the last war", in each verse backing up his pledge in the name of all the different branches of the armed forces, the fathers who've gone off to war and want to come home to their little girls, the dusty faced tankers, the doctors and medics fighting to save lives, the paratroopers who saw a vision of her as an angel amidst the smoke of battle, the pilots seared by missiles and anti-aircraft fire.

Nine months after that war ended Israel started experiencing a baby boom.

About twenty years later the children born then were of military age, Israel was in the early stages of a new peace process and also experiencing an increase in terror attacks. One of those soldiers from the Yom Kippur War was now a successful playwrite and he penned a song called "Winter '73" about those children born after the war who were now in the army, those children whose parents had promised, in the words of Gaon's song that '73 would be the last war.

"Winter '73" was recorded by the musical troupe of the Israeli army Education Corps. The chorus seems to rebuke their parents' generation "You promised us a dove, an olive branch, you promised us peace at home, you promised us spring and flowers, you promised to keep your promises", continuing " we're now in the army with guns, helmets on our heads...when we were little you taught us, promises must be kept."

The song was so controversial when it came out that leading radio stations such as the Voice of Israel and even army radio declined to give it air time, though the song later gained popularity following live performances at Memorial Day ceremonies.

I am from that post-73 generation but that song has always felt to me like a kick in the teeth to our parents' generation who helped build this state, who sacrificed to ensure Israel's survival and who all the while strived to achieve peace, most notably achieving an agreement with one of Israel's bitterest opponents, Egypt.

It's now over twenty years since those heady days of autumn 1993 when the Rabin government announced the Oslo peace accords with the Palestinians, setting in motion a chain of Israeli concessions that would see Israel agree to the creation of the Palestinian Authority, the Palestinian government that would take control of the territory Israel ceded to it, including almost all Palestinian population centres and the whole of the Gaza strip. 

IBack in the autumn of '93 Israeli leaders Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres tantalised Israelis with visions of a bright future, of what Peres glowingly termed "The New Middle East", a Middle East of regional cooperation, peace and growth. Rabin stood on the White House lawn and promised "No More War". A few years later prime minister Ehud Barak promised Israelis an end to military reserve duty. 

Twenty years have gone by. 

The children born in the heady days of Winter '93 amidst all the talk of no more war and a peaceful New Middle East are today the dusty face tankers, the army medics fighting to save lives, the paratroopers who saw a vision of their little girl as an angel amidst the smoke of battle, the pilots seared by anti-aircraft fire, the tireless sailors, their eyes stung by salt and waves. They are reaping the rewards of the Oslo process, not an end to army service but yet another war forced upon us to defend Israel from bloodthirsty enemies intent on our destruction. A war in which rockets are falling on almost all of Israel's major cities, in which the homefront in some places is as threatened as the front. 

This is what was running through my mind as I read the latest list of Israeli casualties from this Gaza war, so many young men of military age born to my generation, the Winter '73+ generation. We who came of age during the heady days of Rabin's and Peres' Oslo promises, who were encouraged to believe that peace would be right around the corner even during the horrific wave of terrorism which was the culmination of that process in the autumn of 2000, whose leadership told us that all those Israelis murdered by our peace partners were "sacrifices for peace" and if we could just stomach a few more Israeli civilian casualties then the Palestinian leadership would come around, reign in the opponents of peace and ring in a new era of coexistance. We're still waiting.

What song then should the children of '93 write? Should they rebuke their naive parents for believing the Oslo hype? Should they chastise their grandparents for failing to achieve peace? Should they admonish their grandparents for gambling with territorial concessions in exchange for a piece of paper with empty promises? Should they berate their parents for voting for governments which allowed Yasser Arafat to place his heavily armed goons within range of almost every major Israeli population centre and then tolerated escalating attacks in the name of not rocking the peace process? 

Even as the children of Winter '73 are starting to get their official notices of retirement from military reserve duty many of our children are getting their draft papers from the army. Those of us with children still too young to serve have few delusions that they are likely to come of age in an era of peace. If we have learnt anything from our parents' generation, it is not to make empty promises whose fulfillment is likely to be out of our hands.

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