Rayne Wiselman

Tales from the Edge: The University and the Uniform

I came across two stories lately. The first about a pacifist who served almost 6 months in jail for refusing to serve in the Israeli army because of the occupation. The second about the university lecturer who refused to support, and berated, a student who appeared at her lecture in uniform. And I thought how much I’d like to move to their Israel.  In their Israel, peace will ensue if we don’t send our kids back to the army next Sunday. And those same kids will hang out in jeans 24/7, and spend twelfth grade thinking about nothing more than the college they’ll attend next year.

It’s an Israel of make-believe. And the kid in jail and the lecturer at the university aren’t the only ones who visit. There’s nothing we like more around here than the myth of what could be. We love to dress up, hop on a plane, and go party with the rest of the world. And we’re bloody good at it. We build technology with no borders, we sell TV shows to Netflix, we travel humus trails all over the world, and relocate Tel Aviv to Europe for a singing show. Here too, at home, we sell the other Israel like Friends episodes. The one where the two-state agreement makes everyone love us. The one where the one-state solution doesn’t cause a crisis of democracy and demographics.  The one where we have peace and they have peace, without moving an inch to get it.

But in the end, after the party fizzles out and the slogans prove empty, we come home to where we must live. Our villa is, if not in the jungle, at least in a pretty bad neighborhood, not so far from our neighbor’s tent in Syria as the crow flies. It’s scary and uncomfortable, the Israel where we really live. In this year of election, we’ll vote. From ideology and beliefs, but most of all from fear. In the UK and America, Brexit or Trump can imperil your values and affect your prosperity, but probably won’t endanger your life.  It’s different here. We’ll drop a vote for survival in the ballot. For the survival of politicians whom we think reflect us, for the survival of our nation in the flavor we prefer, and for the survival of our kids, so that their army service might coincide with a few years of quiet negotiated between wars by the leaders we believe will protect us.

Here in the real Israel, we live our lives and grow our kids on the thin lines and tightropes strung between order and chaos. And the pacifist and the lecturer are here with us too.  She said, the lecturer, that “there are people for whom civil society is as important as the army is to you”. She forgot about those soldiers and their uniforms, freezing their arses off blocking tunnels in the north where winter is coming, so that she can live a civil and civilian life undisturbed in the land of academia. She forgot she’s balancing too. On the tightrope where while my politics aren’t your politics, and yours aren’t hers or his, we’re all clinging together. If the tightrope shakes there’s a long way to fall. So, we send out kids to the army. They defend policies and people they might not agree with and might not like, so that we can imagine and even taste the other Israel, the one in which we don’t dwell.

About the Author
Rayne Wiselman is a writer living in a kibbutz in the Galilee. Never quite sure how she ended up here, she mostly loves and never tires of living in this marvelous messy country.