Monday, October 15, 2007

And the Decision Was...

never really made. Elie and his unit waited for word on Friday that they would be allowed to come home. Their bags were packed, the artillery equipment cleaned and packed away and the buses were there, but somehow up the chain of command, the approval never quite materialized and so Elie and his fellow soldiers spent the Sabbath up in the Golan.

On Sunday, Elie had a medical appointment to check why his feet and back were hurting (he got a referral for special inserts into his hard combat boots) and was kept waiting for the doctor for many hours. In the end, it was clear that by the time he returned to Tiberias on the regular bus, he would miss the last connecting army bus to the base and so he was allowed to come home for the night. I saw him for only a few minutes - enough for him to agree to my question about whether he would like me to bake him cookies to take along.

He went to sleep - I went to bake cookies after his youngest brother kindly prepared the ingredients. In the morning, I decided to indulge my need to be with him and agreed to drive him to the base where he and his unit will be stationed for the next two weeks. Elie wanted to drive and we stopped by his youngest sister's school because she'd forgotten her bottle of water and I know she likes to be able to drink during school.

As I watched Elie walk into the school with his uniform, I could imagine how excited his little sister would be to have her big brother walk into the classroom and hand-deliver her water. I could have taken the bottle in, or left it at the office, but it was a little gift I gave to each of them - Elie the chance to be the big brother, Aliza the sister with the soldier brother.

Elie loves to drive and so I gladly surrendered the wheel. As he drove, I asked him about the coming weeks. He'll be patrolling along Israel's security fence, helping protect against those who would try to infiltrate and attack our cities and civilians. I asked him about what he'd learned and he told me for the last week in the north, they spent most of their time back in the classroom learning all that they needed to know: how to identify a suspicious person, a fake ID, someone likely to cause harm.

The goal, Elie learned last week, was to protect the people of Israel so that they can live normal lives.
  • Israelis must be free from fear, so that they can live normal lives.
  • Palestinians must be free, so that they too can live normal lives.
  • Israelis must be able to travel to work, to schools, for medical care.
  • Palestinians must be able to travel to work, to schools, for medical care.

The challenge, Elie learned last week, was to combine these directives and to minimize the inconvenience to one population while minimizing the threat to the other. But the most important directive must be the lives of Israelis. The quality of the Palestinian's life cannot take precedence over the safety of the Israeli, over the very life of the Israeli.

Elie was taught how to face a threat, when to shoot, where to shoot and given the right to decide. It is your responsibility, they told him, to decide if the person who approaches you poses a threat to your safety or that of Israel.

If an ambulance approaches the checkpoint, he was told, you have to search it as quickly as possible. Try to make it fast so that the Palestinian patient doesn't suffer. But if you miss something, someone in Israel may die. Ambulances have been used in terrorist attacks and to hide explosives. Be thorough. Be careful. Israel is counting on you.

Heavy words for a 20 year old. Responsibility beyond any I can imagine. Elie is calm and smiling when I drop him off at the base. He's met two of his friends and they are awaiting the rest of the unit. It's another day in his life as a soldier. Another day when the sun is shining and he is being tested. He's strong. He's happy. He's a human being and he will do what is right - for the Palestinian who approaches him and for the Israeli who depends on him.

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And a quick update on Elie's friend, Re'em ben Chaya Margalit: today, someone touched Re'em's leg and it moved in response. The doctors are hopeful that this is a positive sign that Re'em has some feeling in his legs and that his recovery has begun. I called Elie and told him the news. We are hoping to go visit Re'em this week.

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