Chapter One – War
We came to Israel on October 15th, 1990, right into the Gulf War. I was just about to turn four. I don’t remember much, to be honest, but I do remember. I remember I got the grown-ups gas-mask, as opposed to the one for little kids. The air-raid alarm would go off and we’d go into my grandparents’ bedroom, the room designated as the ‘sealed room’. There was tape around the door and window frames, my grandfather would re-touch it once we entered the room. We’d all be on the bed – my grandparents, my mom and I. My grandpa would take off his mask, open the window and smoke the moment he decided it was safe. My grandma would keep her mask on until they said it was safe on the radio.
The only other memory I have of that room is lying on the bed with my grandmother, looking out the window and naming shapes in the clouds.
Chapter Two – The Brain-Washing Years
School was… school. At first I and the likes of me were “the Russian kids” (or the dirty Russians, depends on who you asked) but with time that actually faded away. Things happened around me but it didn’t really matter, it wasn’t really important. We’d draw peace themed pictures, write the word peace in Hebrew, Arabic and English, knowing this was for peace with the Arabs, but not knowing why there’s a war to begin with, who are these Arabs and what the hell is going on. We’d draw maps of Israel including Gaza and the West Bank, never doubting. We’d study about the illegal immigration, about the different underground organizations during the British mandate. Government nation-building was working its magic.
Exploding buses were in the background of it all, but they didn’t really matter. The soldier’s memorial in town was our playground, because we didn’t really understand what it all meant. Rabin got shot, but at age 9 this meant very little. It would mean a lot more later on.
I’m not sure whether it was in High-School or the year after, that things finally started clearing out regarding the whole West Bank and Gaza situation. Things were happening that were hard to ignore, that didn’t sit with things previously learned. There was a whole world I never knew about.
Chapter Three – The Army
The army was a place I really didn’t want to go. But I ended up going anyway. Boot-camp was only two weeks, because we were all a bunch of girls. Literally. It mostly felt like a really long field-trip, but they gave me an M16 and told me to shoot. I may or may not have cried while doing it. I hit my mark, though. At the end of the two weeks was the swearing in ceremony. It was very mechanical and it’s mostly a blur of standing in the sun waiting to be called. They called my name, gave me a gun and a Torah and told me the words I need to repeat, and for that one moment, I was proud. It was the same ceremony they did in the Haganah. Those were the same words. For that moment I was part of something bigger, something better, I was connected to a time and a people where the fight was just and they knew exactly why they were fighting. When it was necessary.
Waiting for the course to start, they took us to do “security” for a few days. The first day we stood at a border crossing in Jerusalem. It was a Friday and people were going through for prayers. They told me and this other girl to stand a few meters after the actual crossing point and check people’s papers and ID’s. I scared a man half to death by being stupid, thinking he didn’t have the right paper when he did. Other girls were sent to join the real soldiers at the actual crossing. They came back excited about getting to load their weapon and hassle people who wanted to go through. That was the first time I felt actual shame for being part of this country.
Then the course ended and I found myself in a Home Front base, doing office work that would’ve been fine if it was an office anywhere that wasn’t the army.
Chapter Four – War
The war started while I was still in the army. June 2006. We were watching the news in my commanding officer’s office, figuring out who’s going to stay the night at the base because someone had to be on call in case something happened to a computer. On our way out of the base in Nazareth, around 8p.m. fireworks went off somewhere nearby. Later on, it turned out that it was probably a wedding celebration, but at the moment it was the most infuriating thing one could do.
The next morning I woke up to the sound of the air raid alarm. Maybe it was the shock of it; never in all the years of rockets falling in the north did the alarms go off where I live. Not since the Gulf War. But it went off that morning, and I freaked out. After that, I would hardly even bother moving when the alarm went off – because fuck them – but that was after.
Although rockets were constantly falling where I live – which happens to be conveniently located near a desirable target – they missed my house. Not by much, but they did. Once a rocket fell in Nazareth, a friend of mine and I were walking from the base to the bus stop and suddenly something exploded and we saw smoke rising from behind one of the buildings. We kept going to the stop, not wanting to get stuck in the base because of this, and a private bus driver picked us up and dropped us off at a junction a few miles away. There were other points of smoke rising around the area that we could see, and the air was full of gunpowder smell.
Chapter Five – University and Work
At the university I learned that people exercising their right to protest are in fact traitors who can’t appreciate the things that are given to them.
At work I learned that being Israeli requires a lot of public relations and defense work. Work was where people came and laid out their perfectly reasonable and easy solutions, as if there’s anything easy about the situation. Where people came by and showed that there’s a world out there that is slightly less messed up than the one I live in.
It was the time when I learned the most about this country, felt the most shame and most pride, the most anger. Work illustrated the huge gap between this world and the outside world, showed that there are very few people outside of these borders who can understand how deep everything goes, how complicated it really is.
Growing up in Israel isn’t that much different than growing up anywhere else. Not really. The main difference is in the background. In opening your bag to the security guard whenever you enter a public place, because you, or someone else, might be carrying a bomb. In knowing exactly where the safest place in your house is if the air-raid alarm goes off. It’s in understanding that even the scariest right-wing comments are fueled by a trauma they can’t let go of, by fear.
Growing up in Israel, I got brainwashed as much as the next person, which ultimately proved to be just enough for me to want to see it do better, and become what it was supposed to be.
Aviv Geffen also wants Israel to become what it was supposed to be.