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Miluim Part 1: A stone’s-throw away from home

Part 1 of a report from reserve duty, being served a stone's-throw from home
File: On the outside looking in at home, the West Bank city of Ariel (photo: Yossi Zamir/Flash 90)
File: On the outside looking in at home, the West Bank city of Ariel (photo: Yossi Zamir/Flash 90)

Draft notices for Israel Defense Forces (IDF) reserve duty are a wake up call for all who respond. Especially when you’re called up for military service close to home.

I’ve seen much of Israel and its neighboring countries from the perspective of a soldier. The IDF has taken me for stints of service along the Egyptian border in the south, to Lebanon and Syria in the north and across numerous locations in between. But of all the places, my current miluim (reserve service) coordinates carry the most meaning.

Being situated in the vicinity of Ariel, passing by my home on a regular basis, has clarified something that I’ve always known to be true, but couldn’t quite grasp until now.

Every single Israeli, irrespective of where he resides or what his political orientation may be, is aware – on some level of his consciousness – that he would not be able to sleep soundly at night if not for the IDF. By the same token, IDF soldiers occasionally experience a profound sense that “wow, I’m really protecting my country.” But these thoughts, both for the average civilian and for the heavily burdened soldier, are fleeting. It’s hard to see the forest through the trees on a day-in day-out basis. And just when everything begins to make sense, life marches on.

But milium is different than regular IDF service. As reservists, we remove our civilian clothes and lifestyles and head back into the once-familiar IDF boots, fatigues and mindset. Miluim is a time for revisiting ourselves and redressing our personal roles and responsibilities.

From the moment that I arrived at base, I’ve been asked, time and again, to place myself in the shoes of the terrorists whose actions we seek to prevent. In theory, the only way to effectively stem the terrorists’ efforts is to get into their minds and think like they think. But try as I may, this is a mission I simply cannot accomplish. I am capable of understanding the patterns of their behavior and anticipating their next move, but I will never understand how someone can strike innocent civilians in an attempt to advance a political goal. Especially when those civilians are people that I know and love.

The time that I’m now spending in the IDF, a stone’s-throw away from my home, has been an opportunity for me to see myself not as a terrorist, but rather as an IDF soldier and as an enlightened civilian. Trivial as that may seem, it’s been a profound experience.

Far more than impressing upon me the importance and value of my personal participation in the IDF, serving in my backyard has drawn me to appreciate the value of the thousands of soldiers who have preceded me and the untold numbers who will follow. As a resident of Ariel, I am aware of the IDF’s presence in the region. As a city representative, I’ve taken countless groups on visits to the IDF Antenna Hill post overlooking Ariel, where they’ve shown their respect and appreciation for the soldiers’ selfless and generally thankless sacrifices. But there’s nothing like carrying out IDF duty to know how it actually feels. And there’s no place like home.

I now know what it feels like to see Ariel from every single angle, yet to remain unseen. To be close enough to touch my office, yet far enough to be incapable of keeping things on track. To leave my family and my community in order to secure their safety.

This miluim has been a true eye-opener. More than a better soldier, it will make me a better civilian. Upon returning to “real-life,” wherever I may go in Ariel at whatever time of day or season of year, I will always know exactly what the men and women of the IDF are doing as they put their lives on the line for me. And I will always be sincerely grateful.

About the Author
Avi Zimmerman is the City of Ariel's international representative. He is the Executive Director of American Friends of Ariel and the Founder of TALK17.