Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Uncomfortable Interest

Elie is, in some ways, the "man of the house" while his father is visiting relatives in the States. This shows in many ways - he's helping with his younger siblings...including discipline and ordering them around.

At the Sabbath table, it was Elie who made the blessing over the wine and over the bread. Friday night, he did as his father does - cutting the bread down the center. My husband does this to show that the Sabbath is different in all ways from the rest of the week. During the week, we eat pre-sliced bread or cut from one end, on the Sabbath, we enjoy a sweet bread for what we hope will be a sweet day.

And at the Saturday meal, Elie did it his way - grabbing the challah (sweet bread) and pulling off a chunk for each of the people at the table. This is Elie - his father's son...and his own person.

Elie is also helping me with the move to the new house - going with me to speak to contractors who may be doing the work. One was an Arab - a Palestinian who lives in Hebron. I've had conversations with him in the past. He is one of those with whom we could easily make peace. His interests are his family, his work - politics isn't his focus. He wants to build - that's what he does and he doesn't mind at all building Jewish homes in the Jewish land of Israel.

I met Daoud in Jerusalem where he is working on a project and drove him to the home we are buying. I asked Elie to meet me there for many reasons. There is still, within much of the Arab world, the concept that men are more capable of discussing such things as building plans and measurements than women. Also, Elie came to Israel as a young child; his Hebrew is excellent, while mine remains that of an immigrant, even one here for many years.

On the way, Daoud asked me about my children - where they are, what they do. It's easy to talk about the one who is married, the ones in school. But it gets awkward to speak of Elie. This is my son...I am so proud of him...and yes, he fights your people. Not all of them, but many.

"Was he in Gaza?" Daoud asks and I choose to be honest.

"Yes, he was," I answer. "It was a very hard time."

Daoud didn't ask any more questions, I didn't volunteer information. We spoke of the sink and the walls and painting. He greeted Elie with a handshake; Elie greeted him back. It was fine; it was friendly. There could be peace, I thought to myself, if the world consisted of only Elies and Daouds.

When we finished measuring, I asked Elie if he would mind taking Daoud to the front of the city, from which he would find his own way back to Hebron. Elie said he didn't mind and so I asked Daoud if that was okay and he too had no problems.

When Elie returned to the house, I asked him if they'd spoken, or, more precisely, what they had spoken about.

"He asked me if I'd been in Gaza," Elie said.

"What did you tell him?"

"I told him, yes." Okay, that was clear.

"What did he say?" I asked.

"He asked me if it was true Israel had used illegal weapons," Elie continued and then answered with, "and I told him no, that wasn't true."

"Did he ask you..." I stopped. How can I phrase this for my son without him thinking that I question his actions for even a second.

"No," Elie answered, "he didn't ask what I had done and I didn't tell him about..." Elie answered, listing the places he'd fired into, what he hit. He knows these things, lives with these things.

No, there are things I can't list here, things I won't say. Elie did not choose to go to Gaza, but once there, he did what was required of him. He did not "follow orders" because that might imply a mindless acceptance of things beyond his understanding. That isn't the way Elie is, isn't the way the Israeli army works. Once, my people were victimized by a nation that "followed orders."

No, our army does not "follow orders" blindly. Our soldiers are encouraged to think, to understand, to evaluate and yes, to confirm the morality of the commands they receive. A soldier who does something immoral IS held liable, even if he attempts to argue that a commanding officer ordered this action.

The army takes the time to explain and so Elie understands. He did nothing that brings him or his nation shame; nothing illegal, nothing immoral. He feels no guilt - nor should he.

What he didn't tell Daoud was a double-edged sword. Had Elie opened the discussion, it would have started with rockets on our cities, our children terrorized for years by missiles and rockets that send them running for shelter with 15 seconds to find cover. What Elie didn't say is that Israel warned Gaza and Hamas repeatedly. Stop firing the rockets or we will be forced to respond. Stop shooting at our citizens, our children, or we will be forced to fire back...even if your gunmen hide among YOUR citizens, your children.

Elie didn't tell Daoud and Daoud would not have wanted to hear so it was left at the simplest of levels - yes, Elie was in the Gaza war and no, Elie and Israel did nothing wrong.

4 comments:

Rachel Ann/Salixj said...

G_d bless you and your son. Thank you Daoud for being there. One of my sons was in tanks the other in Nahal Charedi. Both are home now.

RangersGirl said...

Very interesting interaction. I have seen many different reactions regarding current and former enemies at the Marine Corps Museum. Some of our WW2 veterans have refused to give tours to Japanese tour groups. Some feel they have to sanitize their stories depending upon who they are showing around. Sounds like both men handled it quite well. And, you know, both the Israelis and the Palistinians have much more in common than they realize.

Michael Sedley said...

The relationship on a personal level with Arabs can often become "interesting"...

A number of years ago I was working with a Summer Teenage tour group. We had an Arab bus driver and over the course of the Simmer I became very friendly with him.

Towards the end of the Summer, as we came back to the bus from a visit to Beit Guvrin, he told me (sadly and uncomfortable) that a bomb had just gone off in Machaneh Yehuda (which had been on our itinerary for later that week).

It was a very tense moment as even though he clearly had nothing to do with the bombing, and was as shocked and saddened by it as we were, it felt a bit like he was saying "My people just killed a bunch of your people".

I'm not sure who felt more uncomfortable, him or me, but to me it shed a new light on Arab-Israeli relations.

beth said...

Nice blog about unconfortable interest. Enjoyed going through it. Keep it up the good work.

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