It isn’t easy being an Israeli. One minute you are winning the Eurovision song festival, and the next minute you are fighting off Palestinians at the Gaza fence. I try so hard to avoid politics, but at times, you just can’t sit on the fence – especially the fence near Gaza – so here goes my take on Gaza, Jerusalem and the right to a peaceful existence.
Why did I study in Jerusalem?
Today I was asked, “Why did you actually go to study in Jerusalem?” Well, yes, I did study at the Hebrew University on Mt. Scopus, in Jerusalem, and I lived peacefully in the student dorms together with Arab students where we shared cake recipes but not much else.
My boyfriend at the time was arrested after throwing a yogurt at Meir Kahane, an extreme right wing politician, when he came to talk at our campus. I made friends with a Palestinian who lived in East Jerusalem, when he used to come to visit my sister’s flat mate. I made friends with people from all over Israel, who had all come to study in Jerusalem, for a variety of reasons.
For me, it was far enough from home that I could move out. And I wanted to study English literature and Political Science. The campus appealed to me, as did the program. I got to study under a wonderful left-wing politician, Naomi Hazan, who knew all our names, and the brilliant Professor Bilsky, who encouraged my love of philosophy.
A divided city
When I lived in Jerusalem, the city was divided. For me, it was divided into three:
- Religious Jews who dressed funny and spoke Yiddish, even the children. They would never look at me – a girl dressed in shorts and eating non-kosher food.
- The second group was the Arab population. I would see them mostly in the Old City, or on campus where lots of ambitious students from East Jerusalem and all over Israel would come to study,
- The third group were the Students. We were all over the place, taking over the city, renting dorm rooms and then leaky roofed rooms next to the market. We went to the theatre and to the Tea Room under the theatre, we drove scooters up and down the hills of Jerusalem and went on picnics and sat on the steps in Yamin Moshe above the concert grounds so we could hear the music for free.
Why live in a divided city?
Back to the question of “Why did I study in a city so full of conflict?” If Jewish Israelis decided to live only where there was no conflict, or no question of original land ownership, then I’m pretty sure the State of Israel would be devoid of all Jews.
I was a soldier in Gaza.
Now I know that a few of my readers might unfollow me, but hear me out. Every girl in Israel does military service. I had been in Israel for 3 years only (having arrived just a few months before my 15th birthday) when I was obliged to join the army at the age of 18.
After 6 weeks of basic training where I ran around a lot, learned to march in formation, learned to load and shoot a rifle at a target, put on a gas mask, and do basic first aid, I joined what all girls call, “The crying line-up.” On the last day of basic training, you get your posting. If you’re lucky (and rumor is that being beautiful helps), then you get to go to a cushy job in the air force or the navy. If you’re unlucky, you get a boring desk job in some godforsaken base in the middle of nowhere. (And CRY!)
And if you, like me, hardly speak any Hebrew and ‘somehow forgot’ to tell them that you know how to type, then you get placed at a special job, and in my case, that was at the Army Spokesman’s office in Gaza.
We lived on the base, which was a part of the military prison, and my job was to work for the Army Spokesman, who had to report to the Red Cross about which prisoners were in jail and how they were doing. I’m sure there was more to the job, but not much more that I remember.
Memories of Gaza
Instead, I remember these things:
- Seeing a prisoner once on a concrete floor in a darkened cell.
- Going for a ride around Gaza with my commanding officer and the Druze officer, and drinking sweet tea and warm Sahlab from a street vendor.
- Drinking sweet prayer wine with the other soldiers on Friday night and getting drunk.
- Refusing to do my turn at frisking women who visit the prison by faking being sick that day.
- Hitchhiking rides into Gaza with military jeeps.
- Wondering if a grenade would be thrown into our jeep.
- Rehearsing what we knew – either one person has to throw himself on the grenade to save the others – or be brave enough to grab it and throw it out of the jeep.
- My friend being traumatized when the jeep in front of her blew up.
- The same friend getting married at 18 to avoid having to stay in the army.
- Asking my boss why all this was happening and he explained that the violence wasn’t just against us, but sometimes that a person would hide weapons in an enemy’s house, and then call the military to snitch on them.
- Asking about the new, unoccupied flats built by UNRWA, and being told that the Palestinian leadership preferred the people to stay in refugee camps where they could stay unhappy and fight ‘the good fight.’
- Understanding that it is all very complicated and there is hardly any right or wrong side.
After 6 months in Gaza, I was allowed to go to officer’s training, in a safer location in the center of Israel.
Back to today
It’s a sad day to be a Palestinian on Land Day, the day that Israel became an Independent country, but it’s been difficult for them since long before we ‘conquered’ the Gaza strip (which we no longer occupy). The Egyptians had Gaza before us, and they too gave no rights and no passports to the people living there. The leadership may or may not be helpful to the people, by putting them up in their tens of thousands against the might of the Israeli army and telling them to re-conquer Israel at any cost.
I want so much for a peaceful solution to be found, so both Palestinians and Jews can find an existence of respect for each other in this troubled land.
I pray for the souls of people who died today, fighting for their beliefs.
And, cowardly or not, I live abroad, where I can say what I want, but avoid having to face the difficult decisions that my friends and family back home deal with every day.
I pray for them too, to get home safely and to live in peace, too.