I saw this blogging for books thing around when the Zero Boss did it and now it’s cropped up again over at Faster than Kudzu. So here’s my try at writing about my experience with the military.
When I was growing up we had guns stashed safely (away from us kids) around the place because dad was a farmer but mum was vigilant about telling us never ever to touch a gun, even going instilling in us that we shouldn’t point a toy gun at anyone. Consequently I grew up with a fear of guns and what they can do to people. I’ve never fired a gun of any lethal description – water pistols are about it for me.
Apart from the odd weapon I saw growing up as a kid I never really had anything to do with guns until I went to Israel in 1993. Israelis have to join the Israel Defence Force when they are 18 and there is a large presence of military over there as I witnessed.
We stayed at a youth hostel in Eilat where there were also a lot of school children. They had soldiers guarding them and it was very strange for me to sit down and eat dinner alongside a table of soldiers with their guns lying on the floor. I knew they wouldn’t use their weapons if it was unnecessary but I still couldn’t relax and would keep glancing over at them and then look down to make sure their weapons were still sitting on the floor.
After a six days trekking in the Sinai Mountains – pretty much gun free – we hired a car to drive to Jerusalem to have a look around the city. I had a turn in driving and along the way a soldier stepped out and waved us down. I thought it was some kind of checkpoint so I pulled over and stopped. It turned out not to be a checkpoint but he just wanted a lift with us. I said, in no uncertain terms, that I did not want that gun in the car, but maybe he could put it in the boot. We ended up not giving him a lift, as there were four of us in the car and would have been very sqashed for everyone in the back. I found out later that hitchhiking is a form of transport for soldiers in Israel and regarded as quite normal.
We stopped at the Dead Sea on the way to Jerusalem and there were yet more school children there who needed guarding. Here’s a picture I took. Note the casualness of the guy leaning on his rifle.
When we were driving back from Jerusalem to Eilat we got two flat tyres simultaneously, in the middle of nowhere. A utility vehicle with four workmen stopped to see if they could help out. We explained that we had a rental car with two flat tyres and only one spare. One of the workmen had a mobile phone and offered to ring up the rental company for us. The phone didn’t work where we were so he explained that we would have to drive up the hill to make the call. I got one of my friends to come with me while he made the call, and arranged for us to go back to Jerusalem and get another car.
We drove back and when we got to the top of the hill and looked down to where our car had broken down there were two other cars that had stopped along with an army jeep with three soldiers circling the area holding their guns. I thought it was a bit extreme as we were only tourists that had broken down and were no threat to anyone.
It turned out that we were in occupied territory and it was a really unsafe area to be in. The car rental person in Eilat had told us to go this way and there was a much safer way to go which we did on the way home after we swapped cars without any mishap. We were able to drive to Jerusalem in our car because the workmen had some tyre stuff that you squirt into the tube so you can drive on the tyre for a little while.
After finding out that we were in occupied territory the presence of the military felt somewhat comforting but until we got into the car to drive away I kept expecting a group of baddies to come over the hill and start shooting at us. I think I’ve watched too many westerns.
I suppose all this highlighted for me the difference between Australia’s and Israel’s political situation. I’m sure it’s a way of life for Israelis and they’re completely used to it and don’t even notice the soldiers standing around with their guns. I’m not sure what the general feeling is of sending your kids to school and having the military guarding them incase something happens. All the same, I’m glad it’s not something we have to contend with here.