I spent the last two days in Tsvat, about a 1.5 hour car ride away from our home base of Haifa. Because I don’t have a car here in Israel, the public transportation system has become my new best and most annoying friend. Thankfully, it is a quite dependable one, though, and I safely traveled the 4 hour bus ride to Tsvat yesterday and the 3.5 hour ride back to Haifa today. After sitting at a bus stop in Rosh Pina today with a female IDF soldier who just could not stop smacking her gum in my ear in the hot sun, I finally caught my bus, #500 back to Haifa. No security check needed, the driver just wanted my shekels, then off we went.
Needless to say, I have a lot of time to think on these long bus rides, and it’s hard not to when the first sight I see when I step up into the bus is about 15 young Israeli Defense Force soldiers spread out among the blue cushioned seats. On Sundays, everyone has explained to me that the public transportation (which is free for soldiers), is usually pretty crowded with young men and women going back to their stations after a weekend at home with family. Today, though, was a Tuesday. Why did I notice more than the usual soldier in his/her green or khaki uniform on this bus? Well, you may know by now that Israel is at war…again…with Hamas in Gaza. With the thousands of reserve troops who have been called up, the young soldiers ages 18-22 are also being tested to the limits of their stress and skill levels. Thus, lately I have noticed more of these soldiers out and about, carrying their weapons and huge backpacks with them to their next location.
When I sat down – towards the front of the bus due to my recent bout of motion sickness in one of these lovely automobiles – I pulled out my headphones to drown out the world and try to fall asleep. My body was armed with a motion-sickness-preventing pill, and I was ready to fall into defense sleep mode. As I was plugging my turquoise blue earphones into my iPhone for some easy listening, I noticed that the driver turned up the radio on the bus. As an NPR addict, I can recognize talk radio anywhere, even in Hebrew, and this, my friends, was talk radio in Israel. The topic was obviously the present conflict and those soldiers who have died (25 was the last count I heard, in addition to over 600 dead Palestinians). I heard intermitted but frequent words that I recognized, “….Hamas…Gaza…Israel…Hamaz…United Nations…Obama…”
I started to look around at the soldiers faces on the bus. A few were sleeping, but most were listening, as I was, to the news station. I can’t help but wonder what they are thinking of. No soldiers sat together. They sat alone, some with machine guns sitting across their laps, with furrowed brows and frowns. They all had a far-away look in their eyes, probably thinking, I never thought it could happen to me…but here I go… Did the neighbor’s son go into Gaza this week? I should have gone to that funeral yesterday, but I just don’t want to because it will become all to real for me…I’m scared.
Perhaps no, this is the furthest thoughts from their minds, but I think it would be going through my own mind if I were them. Their serious silence was overwhelming on the quiet 3.5 hour bus ride home. I continuously looked around at their faces, and they probably thought I was really strange.
Even the female, gum chewing soldier who sat with me at the bus stop was silent, no smacking of gum…no bubbles.
Suddenly, the voice on the radio changes from your general tone of talk radio to a shrill woman’s cry. She is weeping uncontrollably into the microphone. I do not know what she is saying, and even if I spoke Hebrew I probably couldn’t decipher her words. Her cries are broken up by the static of wind blowing into the microphone, making her continuous moans sound sporadic and frightened. Perhaps she is frightened as well as saddened by the loss of young life to a war she may or may not believe is unnecessary.
I continue to look around at the faces of the soldiers on the bus. Who do they know that is in Gaza now? Are they headed there this week as well? Is their cousin, friend, or boyfriend stationed in the middle of Gaza as we sit on this bus together, listening to the pained cries of Israeli news stations?
Everyone in Israel seems to know someone who is or was fighting in a war. Maybe they fought themselves, as well. It’s reasonable that a person may have fought in 3-5 wars in his or her lifetime and only by in his/her 50s. It’s not “news” over here to see soldiers, it’s not common to thank them for their “service” to this country, it’s not expected, and in fact someone recently told me it would be thought “very strange” to thank a soldier. It is their duty, their parents did it before them, they will do it now, and their younger siblings will serve when they turn 18 as well. It’s just what they do.
At the end of the day, children, 18-22 year olds, and families want peace. I believe this is true in Syria, Israel, Gaza and everywhere in the world. Literally, at the end of the day when the night has fallen and the moon is shining while a family tucks children into sleep on whatever surface they may sleep on, they want to sleep peacefully and wake up to a new day of new and hopefully better possibilities.
I keep thinking about this idea, this idea of the end of the day.
Evolution of Fighting
What makes a person turn into a fighter in a war? You may think this is a pretty simple question. Well, we fight for justice, freedom, peace, our people, our rights. Sometimes, I find myself thinking it is admirable, fighting for peace…then if I think about it just a hair bit longer, I realize that’s ridiculous. Why hasn’t the process of evolution helped our human race by getting rid of our drive to fight? Maybe this war in Israel and Syria and the entire Arab Spring is part of that evolutionary process, and may be we can hope that our children or grandchildren will not, quite literally, “have it in them” to fight. After all, when humans fight humans, this is not a positive step for our species…in fact it’s almost backwards if you ask me. Why fight, why kill members of your own species? Isn’t the part of the point of biological existence to overcome and essentially “win” at the whole “life game?”
Perhaps one day, if evolution catches up with this human flaw, fighting will be a nonexistent issue for our species. If so, is it conceivable that we will no longer be what we consider “humans” at all?
I’m not sure any one of those 18-22 year old soldiers actually want to be in Gaza. At the end of the day, they wish they were home, watching the latest summer movie eating an ice cream sandwich. Soldiers in any war are followers of orders. They follow the orders of those in safe bunkers underground, those for whom fighting is easiest and whose only risk is a loss of power, glory or face. The powerful people who make decisions that keep countries in or out of war and conflict are seeking and trying to maintain power, land, justice, freedom and a legacy, while the rest of us only think about the end of the day. “Will I make it to the end of this day?” “What are my loved ones at home doing tonight before they go to sleep?”
What about those who “fight for a cause”? What is that all about? Remember, at the end of the day, the only cause each of us want is peace and safety and a warm place to sleep comfortably. So, it is hard to think about being in the heat of the moment, fighting for a “cause.” But, I realize that without the Israeli soldiers, I would not be sleeping well here in Haifa each night. I just wish it didn’t have to start in the first place. The very beginning seems to be where humanity falls apart. Later, after war is raging, of course you feel like you have a cause, you probably do! You are fighting to protect your people, I get it. I just don’t get the “cause” at the beginning. The “cause” that had those 3 boys kidnapped and killed, or that burned and murdered the Palestinian 16 year old in Jerusalem. Those are “causes” I call bullshit.
Jewish tour guides, new friends and taxi drivers have pointed out the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem to me both times I visited this summer. They say to me, “this is where the Messiah is supposed to come at the End of Days to bring his people to Heaven.” So my question is, At the final end of days, will any of this matter at all? If not, then why does it matter so much now?”
At the end of the day, Hamuda, the 3 year old Syrian boy I have become close to in the hospital over the last two weeks with a reconstructed left leg and foot, will go home to a country where he will very-well dream of the fun and safety he experienced in Israel with hospital visitors, sweet nurses and therapy clowns who made him laugh constantly. He will remember what little flirt he was and how is energy captivated everyone in the department every second of every day. Will these be the best memories of his possibly short life in Syria?
At the end of today, I am full of questions and no answers, but I have memories here in Israel I will carry with me until the end of my days.