We had no choice but to go back through the curfew, through Bethlehem and out through yet another checkpoint.
Living in Jerusalem and working in the Occupied Territories means that you see a great many soldiers. One afternoon the young officer son of some Israeli friends sat down on the leather sofa in his parents house and talked to me about working in the territories. He was intelligent and thoughtful, sensitive and expressive, speaking slowly with long pauses while he searched his mind. Every word he said was weighed, not because he was afraid of saying the wrong thing to me an outsider, a goy but because he was working out what it meant to him. He was working out how it was that he had ended up doing the things he didnt want to tell me about.
He was not the sort of soldier who would swing open the door of his jeep and rake bullets into a house under curfew, killing a woman on her porch in the process (the mother of one of our friends died in this way). But he had had to do things that he found unacceptable and had ended up asking for a transfer. Perhaps he was seeking control over his actions; perhaps he just wanted to escape. It wasnt his fault that hed had to do terrible things to defend his country. But that was the nub of what he was trying to sort out in his head.
He talked of the need to sustain military orderif that goes, then youre really in troubleand his understanding of what the reality means, the reality of why they were there in the first place. All that the Palestinians wanted was to get to their fields or to the house to see Grandma, but we were trained to think of them as the enemy. That everyone is a potential saboteur. Some of the officers were more aggressive and let the troops have their head. Oh, they all emphasize the need to be polite, he said. But many of them are looking for a fight. Its boring. Theyre soldiers. The same Palestinians come back again and again, saying they want to get to their fieldsor to Grandmas houseand youve sent them back an hour ago, and yesterday, twice, and you have to send them back againbut our orders are to keep them away from the settlers. Thats our job, you see.
Soldiers contend with villagers sitting in front of army bulldozers, begging them not to demolish their houses or their orchards; with Palestinian farmers who want to harvest the olives from their trees; and with Jewish settlers who tell the soldiers this land was given to them by God 3,000 years ago and who are you to stand in our way when we drive off the Palestinians and take the olives? They are our olives: God gave them to us. And the Palestinians are pleadingour grandfathers planted these trees, please, protect us from the settlers. Then the Israeli peace activists try to intervene and say that the law we follow is mans law and if we follow Gods law well be stoning each other for our transgressions, for Gods sake. And the children come back from school and are trying to get to the village to do their homework and the settlers attack them with dogs and chains because this is our land, God gave it to us, and the Israeli peace activists say again, what kind of Israel do you want? And there they are, the soldiers, stuck in the middle, trapped.
And they know that anyone approaching them might be strapped with explosives and ready to die.
Some deal with their fears by thinking they no longer care about anything, wearing apathy like a shield. In Hebron a soldier shot the legs off two kids but, he said, nothing bad happened to him, it didnt affect him. Another said shooting was the IDF soldiers way of meditating. Its like shooting is your way of letting go of all your anger when youre in the army.Theres also punitive shootingopening fire on whatever you like: on windows with washing hanging up to dry, knowing there were people who would be hit. But the shield confuses the soldiers when they get home because the violence must not follow them; they must leave it somewhere, and that isnt always easy.Theres no room in Israeli life for firing on children, for example: that couldnt be real, could it? Surely that doesnt happen. Israelis talk about the bubblethe place where what goes on in the Occupied Territories cant touch them. It is a place to hide.
Excerpted from It's Easier to Reach Heaven Than the End of the Street by Emma Williams. Copyright © 2009 by Emma Williams. Excerpted by permission of Interlink Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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