Walden World

The wacky and wonderful tales of Beth's and Catherine's global adventures. And all things Walden too.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Guns! Guns! Guns!

"And they shall beat their swords into ploughshares, And their spears to pruning hooks; Nation shall not lift sword against nation; Neither shall they learn war anymore." Isaiah, 2:4

In Israel, you may be taken aback, particularly if you are a Canadian, by the fact that everywhere and at all times everyone has a gun. Not just any gun, but big, big, guns. First off mandatory military service for all Israeli Jews, Druze and Circassians starts at 18. Interestingly enough, Arab Israelis are not required, nor I suspect, wanted to serve. Israeli men must serve 3 years and all women 2 years. Thus a huge proportion of the population is always in uniform. Everywhere you go, soldiers of the airforce, army or navy are lounging about bus stations, taking trains or just having coffee. As soldiers are considered to be "always on duty" an Israeli soldier almost always walks with his or her M-16, complete with scads of live ammunition, strapped to their back.

The first time I came across a sleepy young soldier dozing in a train I kept looking nervously at the M-16 I had to brush against to get past him to my seat. I was worried that he was worried why I kept staring at him. I finally said: "Sorry I am Canadian, I am not used to guns." He laughed and stretched his back and arms: "Yes it is for our protection, we are surrounded." and cradling his large weapon, went back to a happy sleep.

But soldiers are not the only gun-toting folk in Israel. Average civilians are allowed to carry anything they want. "Birthright Israel", a group that offers free trips to Israel to American Jewish teens in the hopes of getting them to emigrate, is always guarded in front and in back, by civvie clothed men, who look something like WWII partisans, sporting rifles and watching everyone one who approaches their flock like a hawk. At Masada I went near a group on a tour, sporting sunglasses for the desert glare and an "audioguide" strapped to my neck; a fierce and suspicious glance from "gun boy" was enough to send me away from my destination to daly at some boring stone 'mikvah' bath site rather than the Roman ramparts I longed to see.

Compare this vigilance with the strange youth hostel we stayed at, at the Dead Sea, close to the border of the West Bank. There, the night manager guy, a tranced out and clearly completely stoned young hippie dude, his long hair curled up by way of string in a fountain form, sported a huge Glock pistol stuffed in the belt of his quite faded fatigues. The contrast between the Glock and the "marijuana plant" emblem shirt and "ganja" smell he eminated was almost surreal. When I jokingly suggested he shoot the soccer ball the trillion unsupervised teens were repeatedly kicking against the outside wall of our room (they were using it as the 'goal-post') his faced turned a weird and angry lava lamp red: "I am here to protect them, why would I shoot their ball...?"

Then there is the West Bank and Arab Jerusalem. Over the walls are countless "martyr" posters. These are posters with photos of suicide bombers or other boys who threw themselves on civilians or Israeli positions simply to be blown into pieces and take others with them. They invariably show a very young man holding an AK-47 or other gun before a greenish background, sometimes showing Mecca, and othertimes showing some female relative looking up to them and their new beatitude, as many believe that once you die in such a way, you will ascend immediately to heaven. The writing which accompanies the poster exalts their deeds.

Guns, guns, guns.


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