pa·tri·ot·ism[pey-tree-uh-tiz-uhm or, especially Brit.,pa-]
devoted love, support, and defense of one's country; national loyalty.
(patriotism. (n.d.). Dictionary.com Unabridged. Retrieved January 21, 2012, from Dictionary.com website: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/patriotism )
Patriotism is a strong force.
It allows people to make huge sacrifices for a higher cause.
People willingly suffer psychological and physical wounds and scars, sacrifice and die for patriotic sentiments, and later (with the exception of the latter) look back at these with pride.
Am I a patriot?
I've spent 4 years in the IDF as a soldier, commander and officer in several combat units.
What did I fight for and what was I protecting?
The IDF is called "The People's Army" or "Tzva Ha'Am" (צבא העם) in Israel.
This is because it is considered not only a tool for defending the country but for building a nation via a "melting-pot" approach as well.
The army is for The People, By the People and Builds a People - a paraphrasing of the Education and Youth Corps Motto "People Build an Army Builds a People" - "Am Boneh Tzava Boneh Am" (עם בונה צבא בונה עם).
The role of the IDF in Israeli society and culture is a big one and will probably be the focus of another post, however it is difficult for me to talk about any aspect of Israeli society without mentioning it and relating my experiences there as examples and anchors in my perception of Israel specifically because it is so deeply entrenched in the heart of Israelism.
Anyway, because of the IDF's perceived role as a social melting pot it's usually where people from different tiers of society and walks of life meet for the first time:
Seculars with religious and traditionalist folk, Jews with Bedouins and Druze, rich with poor, immigrants with sabras and so on and so on.
During my service, as I've gained wider and deeper political and social awareness, I've had several discussions with people from different backgrounds regarding their reasons to serve in the IDF. While yes, the draft is a compulsory one, many people look forward to it and serve willingly and voluntarily, especially in combat units. Their reasons for doing so vary.
Some religious folk I've talked with saw it is a Mitzvah to protect the holy land and the chosen people.
Some Zionist Seculars I've spoken to thought it's important to protect the borders of the only Jewish country in the world.
Druze and Bedouins I've discussed this with felt it was important to take part in the protection of the country the live in.
I felt it was important to keep Israel safe so that it would be possible to maintain a democratic society within.
Which brings us to a recent public debate still raging here:
Where do people's loyalties lie?
There's been a lot of media coverage of religious soldiers refusing to sit down at ceremonies in which women sing or present, due to Jewish religious tradition and thus subsequently disobeying orders. This shone the media spotlight in the direction of male-only units which were formed in order to allow Orthodox Jews to serve in the army in a "safe" environment, and most recently a letter written and signed by hundreds of seniors at religious high schools and yeshivas stating that they will not serve in an army which will force them to listen to women and that their ultimate allegiance lies with god, not with any secular government.
While this may seem like an irrelevant point, since it's hard to prove military orders contradict a divine will, it becomes scary when you realize that the word of a rabbi who opposes government agendas may rally hundreds and thousands of armed and trained religious soldiers, and when you know that a lot of Israel's religious leaders belong to a certain part of the political map which supports Jewish settlement of the West Bank and, according to recent interviews with some prominent members of the settler movement, do not think that religion and democracy are both reconcilable aspects of the same governing body and therefore see a reason to leave democracy behind.
So it's clear that for some soldiers their loyalty to the country is conditioned by Israel remaining Jewish, remaining in the occupied territories and not infringing too many Jewish laws. If some or all of these conditions will no longer be met, they'll refuse to play along in the best case scenario or, in the worst case, will openly revolt against the country.
For soldiers like me, these red lines will be crossed if Israel ceased to be a democratic country and turned into a theocracy or a tyranny of some sort.
And yet, soldiers coming from both ends of the spectrum - agnostic leftist liberal socialists like me and religious right-wing conservatives living in settlements in the west bank can both serve in the army today and feel like they're protecting a country that embodies their ideals.
I think that this dissonance is possible due to the fact that Israel is a country that's in its infancy, a country that hasn't really reached a social equilibrium and consensus. People have very different ideas about what Israel should look like and will look like in the future.
Which is why I can call myself a patriot - but I'm patriotic towards a country that doesn't exist yet and may never exist at all.
I'm willing to sacrifice a lot in order to make a secular, democratic, open Israel a reality.
Some religious folk are willing to sacrifice a lot to see the Third Temple built on Mount Moria and the Judian kingdom re-instated, its laws firmly based on Jewish Halacha.
Most people are somewhere in between on that spectrum - although I hope to convince you, over time, the any sort of government with theistic motifs is irreconcilable with a truly democratic country.
Today it seems like both futures are possible, and both sides are trying to assert themselves.
As long as Israel struggled with outside forces we could put these issues aside and focus on surviving, but these past few years we've had some time to ourselves and the differences between the different parts of the population have become more pronounced. I fear we're riding full speed in a collision course.
What'll happen when we collide? I don't know.
Can this collision be averted? I doubt that much can change within a single generation.
I just hope that democracy will win.
Meanwhile we can talk, discuss our differences and hope we find a peaceful solution before we collide. Because right now we've got patriots of two very different hypothetical countries serving in the same army, and that's a very scary thought.