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  • February 2009
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Hanging in Jerusalem

OK, so its been ages since I posted, but hey, it MY blog. Cope.

I decided to finally take a vacation in Israel, and I’ve got to say it has been an amazing experience so far. As a bit of background, I’ve traveled fairly extensively (the only continent I haven’t been to is Antarctica), and I’ve been to many third and second world countries, as well as the ‘normal’ first world.

Israel is an amazing place. Kids (I mean KIDS – 18 years old) are walking the streets carrying m-16s and uzis, and they’re loaded, carrying live ammo, and spare clips. The odd bit is that everyone (and I mean EVERYONE) is casual about it. I saw a weapon that I wasn’t familiar with, and stopped to chat with the solider, and he was glad to spend a few minutes talking about the new weapons, their characteristics, advantages, etc. He even called over a couple of his squad mates to expand the conversation when I asked questions he wasn’t sure of. No attitude. No swagger. Just a simple discussion about hardware – about as casual as disucssing the latest video game or computer equipment.

Another odd bit is that every time you go into a public place – a museum, the Western Wall, a shopping center, etc., there is a gaurd (also armed). His job is to make sure that you’re not taking a gun into the place. Once again, very casual. I’ve had gaurds casually ask if I had a gun in my bag (I carry a backback). Sometimes they ask to search, sometimes they don’t. They’re always casual and polite.

I’ve seen non-military people who have 9mm handguns hung on a lanyard on their belt. Easy to access, quick on the grab, and completely out int he open. No one even notices.

On the other hand, I’ve never felt safer in a city. It isn’t unusual to see people hitchiking. Today, we gave a ride to a young lady (college student),a nd enjoyed a casual conversation. Once again, no big deal. Walking about after dark doesn’t require paying special atttention to who is around you (if anyone). Everyone is friendly, helpful, and willing to stop and chat for minute.

OK, I’m know that there are areas of the old city that aren’t safe. As a Jew and an american, I don’t plan to be spending much time in the Moslem section of the old city. On the other hand, I don’t think twice about ducking down an alley to avoid walking all the way around the block…

Then there the whole “old city” thing. We’re talking OLD here. As in centuries. Like twenty centuries. Seriously – some of the walls here predate that jesus dude. By centuries. Old. Really old. You’d think it wouldn’t matter, other than simply for the archeological curiosity, but it does. Walking along a wall, and knowing the it dates back to Josephus is pretty cool. Of course, that also means knowing that a bunch of hairy unwashed Jerusalemites probably stood on those walls doing their utmost to waste Josephus and his army before the city fell and they were all killed or enslaved….  Or a srive through the valley where David fought goliath (or if you don’t buy into that story, where the battles betweent he hill people and the sea people took place).

History here is real. It comes out of the textbooks and takes on a life of it own.

Of course, history never ends, and fate won’t let me forget that. I spent part of today ecploring some caves in suther Israel, and when I emerged from the ground, I could hear a firefight going on it Gaza (we were actually fairly far from Gaza, but sound travels well).  I later learned that the Israeli army caught some Hamas terrorists planting a bomb on the side of a road, and they got in a fight. The terrorists were killed (presumambly) when the Israeli air force hit the car that they were fighting from, but a few hours later Hamas launched another round of rockets into Israel.

While I was listening to the firefight, I kept thinking about the squad of soldiers that I had shared a hotel with last night, and had breakfast with this morning. They’re kids. And they accept the fact that they may end up fighting and dying for their country. Even so, they are open, courteous, and friendly – hardly the ‘professional soldier’ that I knew when I was in the military. Somehow, they seem to balance the reality of possible (or almost certain) war with the fact that they’re still people. Maybe having all those guns on the streets is a good thing. I certainly know that I would trust a random Israeli soldier behind my back a lot sooner that I’d trust almost any armed person in the USA (that includes military, police, and FBI types). I don’t know how they do it here, but they manage to create professional soldiers that are still human.


3 Responses

  1. See, I told you blogging still was a viable thing for you, and I am very interested to read of your adventures in Israel and Jerusalem. While you, who were a soldier, IS comfortable with all those young soldiers and others carrying, I might feel very nervous. Stil, I would probably get used to it, I think… Aside from that, the aspect of a trip over there that is the most compelling IS the palpable history – the walls, the tombs, the everything. I can’t wait to hear more stories and see photos… Be safe, my friend. Love from Montreal.

  2. I cannot WAIT for your return and your stories and your photos and, well, take it all in and hurry back to us; we miss you!

  3. blogging is easy when I don’t have all of life using up my time. Vacation, ya know? Definitely loving it here…. See you all soon!

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