by Jesse Gonzalez —
We careened around corners, up and down impossibly steep hills in the orange service and I said many silent prayers for the tires and pavement to remain wed a little longer. The terraced slopes of Palestine swallowed our infinitesimal lives. It was the end of Ramadan and Eid al-Fitr had begun. People walked, presumably to meet loved ones for the holiday, and vendors sold toys by the street. Small, black plastic pistols seemed to be an extraordinarily popular item for sale. Occasionally we passed one or two young Palestinian boys playing with the fake guns.
A few temperate evenings later, Muki, Ibrahim and I were strolling through Tibera, a touristy spot in ’48 (Israel). A group of young Israelis wearing casual clothes passed us. They appeared to be shouldering large weapons. We asked Ibrahim,
“Are they real?”
“Of course,” his short reply. But they are just teens, I though. We called out to two young gals to ask about the guns. They turned out to be 19 year old military commanders, and the group was on an ‘educational tour.’ Soldiers, they said, cannot be caught unarmed.
One girl was from ‘just outside of Bethlehem.’ Ibrahim said, oh well I’m from Bethlehem, so where exactly are you from? She named an illegal settlement. Without missing a beat Ibrahim replied, “oh yes, that’s close to where I live. So we are almost like ‘neighbors.’”
That benign little word, neighbors, sank hard in the silence that followed and hit a place that five strangers could not otherwise go in the short minutes of that conversation.
Walking away, the girls’ very real weapons thu-bump-thu-bumped against their narrow hips and I thought of all the little plastic guns that were sold on the side of the road.
Military service is required of all young Israelis. Two years for females, three years for males. And being a ‘contentious objector’ isn’t really an option. One young Israeli guy I met (a fellow liberal arts student of the anarchist persuasion) said he got out of the service by receiving proof of mental illness (which may or may not have been legit) from a psychiatrist. Many others face years in prison for refusing to join the Israeli military.
A recent article in +972 magazine cited that a significant number of soldiers desert the army because their families need more financial support than they can provide. The average Israeli soldier is paid less than minimum wage (I’ve found different numbers, and I don’t want to give wrong information, but this report said it was like $100/month or $200 for combatants). According to the report more than half of the soldiers currently imprisoned for deserting were motivated by economic reasons.
I walk through this land, with its daily injustices and immense beauty, knowing so little but seeing so much, and everywhere there are green-clad Israeli Occupation Forces (who call themselves Israeli Defense Forces). They have become the face of the occupation: dividing space to control it, perpetuating violence and toying with the power they’ve been given. But they are merely the tendrils of much more sinister beasts: the military industrial complex, institutional racism, globally Northern ideals of ‘development’ and nationalism as justification for violence.
Jesse Gonzalez is a Div II Hampshire student and former Merrill intern currently on leave and volunteering in Palestine. Her writing aims to explore political issues through non-fiction narrative.
The above article first appeared in Through Cracks in the Wall, an online blog written by two Div II Hampshire students currently living and working in Palestine. Read more of their work at throughcracks.blogspot.com.