Soldiers At My Back

“They look like babies,” is what my husband and I used to say about the soldiers at the checkpoints. Truly, some of them could have passed for twelve-year-olds. But today I was thankful for these young men, and awed by them.

As in the past weeks since the newest wave of terror attacks started, there are soldiers posted at every bus stop in Gush Etzion. They are posted at the stop near Alon Shvut, where Dahlia Lemkus was viciously murdered just two weeks ago. I stood there for only a few minutes, happy to have their reassuring presence by my side.

The day after Dahlia was murdered, even though I was driving and not hitching, I could barely make myself go to work just past the spot where there now stands a cairn of rocks as a memorial, along with a bus-stop size poster proclaiming our nation is strong. That spot is also currently infamous for being diagonally across from the bus stop where the three boys were kidnapped in June, prior to their murder. A few days later, I almost couldn’t leave the house for an evening meeting at my school, knowing I might be hitching from there in the darkness. But I did go, just like all of us Israelis, native-born and newly-arrived alike, keep going on with our lives. As each horrific event has happened, one worse than the next –a three-month old baby run down, four men, holy leaders, who only wanted to pray, butchered in a house of worship— I kept wondering how we all do it. We just keep living our lives, getting on buses, hitching when we must, going to pray, to school and to work.

I had a hard time going into the supermarket the day after Dahlia was murdered too, but not from fear of an attack in the supermarket. I couldn’t face chatting with the workers as I usually do, and wondering if they, too, want to fight for their place in this country in a way most of us wouldn’t (I hope) think of. I don’t really think that they would. Mostly, I think that the Arabs just want to live, like we do. But when they go into the same supermarket chain that I shop at, into our houses of worship and attack us, what can our response be?

The second place I had to stand to hitch a ride today was at Tzomet Hagush, the largest intersection in the area. There is not only a soldiers’ post practically on top of the intersection, but there is a place called “Pina Chama,” the “Warm Corner”, diagonally across from where I was standing. It is a place where the people of Gush Etzion bring homemade (or store bought) cakes and cookies as well as other refreshments, to show our appreciation of the soldiers posted here. So yes, it is an area well-covered in khaki uniforms, yet it is also currently in the news because two days ago a stabbing attack occurred there. Fortunately for the victim, the soldiers shot and subdued the attacker and thank G-d, I understand that the victim is fine. Unfortunately for the attacker, whose name should be erased, the soldiers responded quickly. Although they shot to wound per orders to be able to question any perpetrators, if the situation permits, the terrorist died later. I waited for about twenty minutes for a ride, during which I saw some of those baby-faced soldiers switch with others almost as young. The young men went on to do some random checks on Arab cars. All I could think was how brave the soldiers were, and how annoyed the Arabs must have felt to be stopped. I looked at these young men with their protective vests and knee pads and well worn boots, and I felt protected. I have a son almost their age, something in me said, I should be protecting them! But instead, they stand out on days not half as nice as today was, not because they are told to but because they know how important it is. I spoke with one of the soldiers about why he stopped the cars and how he felt about the hitchhikers, if it bothered him that he had extra work because of us. He’s twenty-one, in a joint program with a yeshiva. He said that the checks here were random—they weren’t stopping any particular kinds of cars. He also said that people have to hitchhike, and he is there to protect them. He pointed to the spot mere meters away where the attack happened two days ago, but seemed to shrug off how amazing it is that the soldiers are there to do their jobs.

I don’t usually hitch, but even I have learned that in these times, we all have to do more to protect ourselves. I saw what seemed to be a father and son waiting in the street, past the cement barrier meant to protect us from the horrific incidents that took place in Jerusalem just this past month. I asked them why they would stand in the street. The younger man spouted defiance, something like, “Just let them attack, I’ll bash their heads in,” but I noticed they moved back onto the sidewalk. Another lady I spoke to, when I told her I would have walked to Efrat except for the danger of the highway, agreed, saying, ”Lo- b’idan hazeh-Not in this age (era).”

It’s possible I said this over the summer, during the war, but I will say it again. On one point I do agree with the Arabs. We are all soldiers. Those men standing in the checkout line at the supermarket just a few hours ago who are now hopefully recovering in the hospital, the people waiting at train stations all over Jerusalem despite the past month’s attacks, others patiently waiting for rides home, and all of us going about our daily lives: we are fighting for our country. Every minute of every day that we live here, we are giving of ourselves to protect the Jewish homeland, the only Jewish country in the world, and yet a country that allows others of all faiths to live here and participate in a democracy (nope, not discussing the elections today) in more peace and freedom than some of those people would find in their own homelands. You know, I can’t say it as well as Ambassador Ron Prosser (fighting as a diplomatic soldier), so take twenty minutes of your valuable time for an amazing speech he gave recently at the UN.

The more we go on with our lives, not letting the terrorists keep us cowering in our houses, the more we win. We will not stop living, we will not give in. We will all protect each other and stand up for our right to exist.

These thoughts and more went through my head as I got into a car and the soldier smiled and waved at me and then turned back to his post. Now I think I need to go bake a cake for our boys in green.

About the Author
Mori Sokal is a FIFTEEN year veteran of Aliyah, mother of three wonderful children (with her wonderful husband) and is an English teacher in both elementary and high school in the Gush Etzion-Jerusalem area. She has a Masters’ degree in teaching, is a copy editor, and has published articles in Building Blocks, the Jewish Press magazine.