Step this way to the future

Trip Start May 19, 2009
Trip End Jun 16, 2009

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Flag of Israel  ,
Sunday, May 31, 2009

"Step this way to the future," the guide said. He was actually directing us to move in front of the rightmost panel of Marc Chagall's marvelous tapestry he created for the Knesset aka the Israeli Parliament Building. The large middle panel depicts the Jewish past, the left panel is the present, and the right panel is the future. It's mostly green-the future, that is.

But the guide may as well have been describing modern Israel. I don't know the exact statistics, but Israel has massive desalination plants, is one of the few countries in the world where the number of trees actually increased in the last decade, and my Motorola Razr was made here. They have a high tech center in Haifa, a nuclear power plant in the desert, and who knows what all else.

Interestingly, they also have security scans for as simple a thing as going to a movie or entering a shopping mall. To tour the Knesset, we essentially had to put all our personal belongings into a zippered, numbered black bag and leave it behind while we took the tour-yes, this included our cell phones, cameras, and even our water bottles. We were allowed to keep our passports, though Rich checked his wallet thinking it was just getting scanned and would be returned to us moments later. Luckily I still had money with me as it was lunchtime and the tour didn't start for 45 minutes.

In Israel, you sort of shrug it off. There are constant reminders that this country is under a fragile peace. I haven't seen so many weapons on display ever-and I grew up in rural Idaho! Soldiers carry Uzis as if they are yoga mats, casually, matter-of-factly, and handle them almost absentmindedly. Even mall security guards have pistols and metal detecting wands, and the museums have large areas for checking your weapons before going in. It's a daily fact of life and I have been amazed at how quickly I've become accustomed to it.

Guns scare me. I can't conceive of owning one and once stopped dating a person when I found out he had brought a gun to a social evening we had together. I believe they should be banned; or at least banned in my country and city and home. Somehow, after going through the Holocaust museum here and hearing the countless stories of the War of Independence (just 61 years ago), I am starting to see how maybe, for Israelis, guns might be a good idea. It's not like we've had threats from Canada and Mexico to push us into the sea and obliterate us from the earth. But those are actual threats made by Israel's neighbors.

A little sidetrack about Sabbath and Yom Kippur: I'm learning that there is a wide spectrum of Judaism from the secular Jews to the extremists on the ultra-ultra-Orthodox side of the fence. Somewhere early in that spectrum are Jews trying to follow their faith: eating kosher or observing Sabbath are some of the ways one does this. The more devout and holy one is, the more rules one follows and lives. For instance, to keep Sabbath, you can't actually strike a match or answer the phone, yet alone drive a car or press an elevator button. You certainly can't listen to the radio or watch television. In fact, in the old days, it wasn't just that you couldn't listen or watch, but that those services didn't even broadcast on those days. Yom Kippur is the most somber of holidays and, I think, to this day there is no TV service or radio broadcasts on that day in Israel. This brings me back to the security issue and why Israelis should be ready to defend themselves. When they were attacked on Yom Kippur in the 60s, it was devastating. There were no radio broadcasts to tell you what was going on, no emergency broadcasting system, no TV reports. Just bombs.

The Israelis fought back, and ultimately won that war. But at what price? On a casual stroll down the restaurant street near our hotel or one of the pedestrian shopping malls downtown, you see reminders and memorials to those who died in terrorist bombings. These aren't handmade signs with some bouquets on the ground, but brass plaques or sculptures. The one we saw today on Ben Yehuda Street even had a small fountain.

Israel has mandatory military service for men and women: men serve three years, women serve two years, and then the men are also on the reserve list for 30 years after. There are exemptions, of course, if your religion forbids it, if you are of Arab descent but an Israeli citizen, etc. But in the weird twisted logic of my mind, I would far prefer to have an Israeli who is trained in how to handle a gun and knows something of defense carry a weapon than some of my fellow Americans.

So, step this way into the future, give up some personal freedoms for the right not to be blown up on a shopping street or the security to watch a movie in peace. Maybe, if we're lucky, instead of the future of security wands at the cinema, our future will be more along the lines of desalination plants and tree plantings.

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weekilter on

Unfortunately guns on military guys is and has been the norm for as many years as I've been going to Israel (over 30.)

Also the way the Tzahal guys wear their uniforms with the beret under the left epaulet and trousers tucked into their boots.

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