As a young child I found it hard to understand why my cousins would arrive home in a soldiers uniform holding machine guns, or why burned out tanks decorated the hills of Jerusalem. They seemed little more than memories of a story told so long ago it didn’t matter anymore. Now I’m a little older and (arguably) wiser these memories and realities today seem all the more real and chilling.
It is a sobering thought to realise that whilst I am worrying about whether I remembered to save my coursework and where the cheapest place to get drunk is, my family are hugging their family, friends and children goodbye, chucking their uniform in their bag and heading off for another week in the army.
Being in the military is not easy. The army is a place that demands the highest forms of mental and physical endurance. It’s a place where you have no rights, you have no freedom and you can lose your closest friends and family; it’s a place where you can realise that everyday you live on this earth is a blessing. Even as a visitor to the country the severity of the situation is quite clear. Going into a shopping centre or bus station is like going through security at Heathrow. Going for a coffee at the equivalent of Starbucks requires being checked for the possession of a bomb. Even as a Jew in Israel travelling from one city to another means going through checkpoints guarded by soldiers sometimes my age and younger.
No one in Israel wants this. No one wants to go about the normal stresses of everyday life with the added burden that a missile or suicide bomber could end their life at any moment. No parent wants to spend their day wondering whether their child will come back alive from the army. No one in the world would want this, and no one in the world should have to live with this.
However this is the harsh reality of Israel, that the people of Israel – Jewish, Christian, Muslim alike – have to deal with. We may never understand how it feels to say goodbye to our loved ones just after finishing school to spend three years in one of the most active armies in the world. I have met many of Israeli soldiers during my life; not all of them agree with the things Israel does – why should they? However there is one thing that they have to agree on: they are needed.
Israel, a state that arguably came about due to the largest genocide the world has ever seen, has never known peace from its neighbours. Ever since Israel was declared a state by majority vote of the United Nations, it has been embedded in a portion of the surrounding population have been people who hate Israel for the Westernised, democratic and pluralistic country that it is. This hatred and evil towards Israel is still rife today and is now in control of Gaza.
That is why looking at the current situation in Israel it is not hard to see why Israel needs the military it possesses. Deadly rockets being fired into heavily populated areas with their masters intending the maximum amount of civilian deaths. These rockets are being supplied by a regime that calls for the destruction of Israel. My 89-year-old grandmother is as much a target as any other Israeli, soldier or civilian. Something that may be harder to understand is what the Israeli army are doing. The toll of Palestinian civilian casualties is frightening, the damage done to the area is disastrous and the hardship the innocent people of Gaza are undergoing may seem unforgivable.
Israel is attempting to disarm a government which not only vows to destroy Israel but consistently attempts it. Would you not expect our government to do the same? Israel is disarming a government whose constant attack is a blockade to any peace in the Middle East – a government which cares more about the destruction of Israel than it does about its beloved people, who use civilians as human shields in a battle that they purposely provoked. Israel is aiming to disarm a government that whilst in power erases any hope for Palestians or Israelis to ever live side by side in peace. A consensus has shown that the majority of Israelis and Palestinians would want a two state solution, yet Hamas is a sworn enemy to a two state solution. It is a thorn in the side of all people who would like to live in world of peace, free values and liberty.
Something that will always stay with me from my time in Israel is the Israelis people’s love for life and their dream for peace, a dream that’s been alive in their history for millennia. Whether the reason for this is the incredible country in which they live, or the sobering position the country is put in by its enemies, I have never been so convinced that peace can be achieved than whilst standing in Jerusalem with thousands singing ‘Od yavo shalom aleyeinu’ (Peace will yet come over all of us) ‘Salem, aleinu v’al kol olam, Salam, Salam’ (Peace, Peace, over us and all the world). The significance of the colossal sound of thousands of Israelis singing a song for peace in Hebrew and Arabic will never leave me, nor will my belief that Israel wills a peaceful solution with its neighbours despite everything she has been through.
By Gideon Golstein