Sometimes, I think that I have to find issues about which to post. Having had this blog running now for about 18 months, many of you have come along with me on this journey while others have joined on more recently. I love clicking on the ClusterMap icon on the lower right to see from where you all come. America is covered, much of Europe as well. Israel has long since disappeared in a red blur of visits, and on and on. And so sometimes, even though I don't feel the urge to write, I know that it's been a while and people are wondering. What's happening with Elie? What's he doing? Where is he? What's new?
So, I'll start by saying the most important part of all. Elie is home. Elie is safe. Elie is wonderful. He's running errands today. He's on a schedule that gives him five days home now and then. He's got all day today to do whatever he wants; same with Sunday. It's a wonderful schedule for him. He decided he needed more personal items and went to buy them this morning. He called to tell me what he'd bought and that he'd borrowed money from his brother. What an ordinary conversation, I thought to myself, just like any other kid anywhere in the world. Yes, Elie. I'll give your brother back the money. It's fine. Later, we will go to the mall in Jerusalem. Just for the fun of it. Just for the break on a warm day in the month of August. Yesterday he was standing with a gun, today we will go relax at the mall.
I told him about the vacation we are planning for next week, the one that he won't share with us. He understood. If I'd told him a while back, he might have been able to switch things around - but I didn't know a while back. He accepts and moves on while I ache a little inside.
I picked him up from his base yesterday on my way back from a client. Ok, it really was on my way back and this time I didn't manipulate the route, I just manipulated the time, leaving the client's offices several hours earlier than normal because I wanted to get Elie. The client cooperated by having a development crisis leaving their engineers unable to meet with me. Perfect timing.
Elie asked if we could offer a ride to a friend. The two soldiers loaded the car and we were off. The young man in the back fell asleep very quickly while Elie played a little with the new car phone we just had installed.
"Are you tired?" I asked Elie.
"No, I'm fine," he said and indeed he sounded refreshed and wide awake. We talked for a few minutes; he fiddled with the radio. He told me a little about the checkpoint. It's different than the ones I pass through regularly. This is one between Arab villages and is intended to stop the flow of weapons and drugs while attempting not to interfere with normal traffic and life. It's a hard balance.
One young man made Elie suspicious. Elie asked him for identification but the boy said he was only 14 and didn't have anything. Elie made him wait and soon the boy's father showed up demanding and then asking that his son be released. Elie asked his father for the man's identification and quickly realized that his son was not listed on his identity card.
"How old is your son?" Elie asked the man.
"Fourteen," the man answered.
"Then why isn't he listed on your identification card?" Elie asked the father. All children until the age of 16 or 17 are listed there. After that age, if you get a new ID, those children who are over that age are removed and only the younger ones listed, each with their date of birth, their ID numbers, etc.
After 16, they must have their own IDs. If this boy had really been 14, he would not be expected to have his own identification, but he would have been listed on his father's ID and so clearly, something was wrong. Either the boy was not his son, or the boy was not 14.
Elie kept the boy there while sending for the boy's mother. He looked at her ID and found the boy was indeed listed there. He also had a date of birth and quickly calculated according to the date that was listed on her ID.
"Your son is 17 years old," Elie told the parents, "not 14 as you told me."
The father asked Elie to let the boy go, and Elie asked why the boy has no ID. The father explained that he didn't want him traveling all over and so he didn't get him his own identity card, despite the fact that the law requires this.
"So stop him from crossing into Israel illegally," Elie told him as he let the boy go.
It's hard to explain. From one point of view, the news media would report that an Israeli soldier, my son, had detained an Arab boy for question, seemingly without cause. But that Arab boy was caught sneaking back from an Israeli town, which he had entered without identification or a permit.
What did he do there? Perhaps he was seeking to work - that's a possibility. But other more sinister events have happened when young Palestinians have crossed into Israeli towns. Theft is rampant, drug trafficking, but by far, the worst are those young Palestinian men who believe for the glory of Allah, they should blow themselves up as close to as many innocent people as possible.
Was the boy so innocent, if he had already lied to a person in a position of authority? Why not just say, "I'm 17." Why lie and raise suspicions?
This time, the boy was let go. Hopefully aware that he risks detention or arrest if he attempts to enter Israeli towns without permission; hopefully impressed enough by the sharp-eyed Israeli soldiers that he will not risk attempting to enter Israel with explosives.
It is a world filled with "what ifs" for my son, who is responsible for the safety of a team. I want my son to respect others, to never judge someone by their religion, their customs, their nationality. And I want my son to be safe.
My son wants to serve his country and protect its citizens. A 17-year-old young man entered Israel without permission. Without a permit, he cannot work. He would be checked at stores, just as we are. He had no identification on him, and when he was stopped while trying to sneak back home, he lied about his age. Innocent or guilty? Bent on fun or evil? Decide quickly - in the blink of an eye. Too much time, and he, like too many other such young men, might reach into his pocket and pull wires connected to explosives.
After a short conversation, it was quiet in the car. The young man in the back slept peacefully. The music played quietly and my mind filled with a picture of Elie standing on some road, narrow and isolated, stopping and checking Arab cars and pedestrians and a group of young Arab boys standing in the distance, playing at getting closer and then backing up when warned to keep their distance. It's a game to them; it's my son's life to me.
I looked at Elie sitting there with his sunglasses on and noticed that he'd falled asleep. He'd said he wasn't tired at all, and then a few moments later was dozing peacefully in the front seat, his head tilting a bit to the side. I thought of waking him to tell him to put the seat back, but decided not to bother him.
I drove; they slept. A while later, Elie woke up, looked at me, at his friend in the back, and then adjusted the chair backwards. "I thought you weren't tired," I said to myself and was rewarded with that smile that I love so much - the one that reaches deep into his eyes.
Elie is home now. Day after day, last week, he was challenged with decisions to make. Does he look suspicious? Could she be hiding something? Is there danger and if there is danger, are they back far enough that they can't hurt others. Hurry, make the decision because you don't want to cause hardship and delays to innocent people who have a right to go from point A to point B. Slow down and take the necessary time. Lives depend on it.
Elie is home now. Elie is safe. Elie is happy and at peace with himself.