My favorite beach is now a military zone.
In the summer, it’s crowded with sunbathers and beach volleyball players and now it’s empty except for the soldiers.
Last week, I started bringing them coffee (instant Nescafe with milk is a treat, one of them said), or Turkish coffee with cardamom each morning. I gave them clementines I just picked from our tree. Yesterday, I took home their laundry to wash in our machine.
I always ask them their names, so I’ll remember.
Just in case.
Dotan, Guy, Ofir, Ben.
In their regular lives, they are musicians, chefs, engineering students, law interns. One has four kids. One has long dreadlocks. Another has a nose ring.
They were called up to their reserve units and they came. One landed in Israel on Friday and was with his army unit the next day.
Whenever I give them something, they always thank me. I say, “No, no, thank you.”
How can you thank people for putting their lives on the line to protect you and defend your country?
People ask me, “Are any of your kids in the army now?”
None of my husband’s and my six children were called up this time, but it doesn’t matter. All these soldiers feel like my kids.
Sometimes I know their families, or we know the same people. I was walking with my son’s girlfriend, Shoham, and we started talking to a soldier, Jonathan. It turned out that Shoham’s mother was Jonathan’s teacher in high school.
It’s such a small country. We all know someone. We all knew someone. Someone who was murdered. Abducted. Widowed.
One of our sons who was wounded in the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah War said, “Israel is a PTSDC.” A Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Country.
Here in the Western Galilee, we’re holding our breath, waiting for Hezbollah to attack from Southern Lebanon, on the other side of the northern border. Maybe Hezbollah terrorists will come in from the sea. Maybe they’ll come in on trucks and motorcycles, like Hamas terrorists did in the south on October 7. But this time, we know what to expect, when the death squads come. This time, we’re prepared.
Everything seems surreal. Our 83-year-old neighbor, a classical musician and organ builder, plays haunting tunes on his piano that are occasionally drowned out by the sounds of helicopters and drones and the shouts of soldiers. Before dawn, I can hear the voice of the muezzin calling from the mosque across the road. Then there are the sounds of jackals.
Yesterday, I rode on my scooter to do some errands. At a grocery store in the nearby town of Nahariya, a middle-aged Jewish woman was talking to the Muslim woman in a hijab working behind the meat counter. They seemed to know each other. They were smiling at each other. Smiling. It astonished me. Their dialogue felt like a relic from a time before October 7 when Jews, Muslims, Christians and Druze lived peacefully here in the Western Galilee. It all seems so fragile now, so precarious.
In May 2004, I got a reply to a letter I wrote to former Israeli President Shimon Peres:
Dear Ms. Bletter,
I want to thank you for your touching letter of May 9 and for not losing faith in the pro-peace efforts underway.
I would like to reassure you that building a better future for all our children serves to inspire our sense of motivation, and I trust and pray for the day when we can live in peaceful coexistence with our neighbors.
With all good wishes,
Now, 19 years later, my husband and I sort and fold the soldiers’ laundry. When I return it in neat piles, I talk some more with the soldiers. I think about Israel, my adopted country, a country that keeps having to fight, over and over, for our right to exist, for our right to contribute to the world our sense of light and justice and creativity and tolerance and vibrancy.
That is the country these soldiers are guarding.
They are the guardians of hope.