Let me just say this right from the beginning: I know that I will not be popular after writing this. Others have also gone down this road, and I know that they are not too popular.
I was a kid back in 1967. A few years later, I was a bit older and I trained to become a defender of Israel. I was a Golani Warrior.
Months after the Yom Kippur War, instead of releasing me from my mandatory service, some people in some offices of the IDF decided that too many of our Armor Corps soldiers had died during this war, fighting both Syrians and Egyptians. I was ordered to present myself for re-training.
I learned to become a tank commander. I served in a tank unit for the next 15 years. The only time my brothers and I actually saw our tanks was when we were called up for reserve duty that included training in the desert sands of southern Israel.
We spent all of the other times that we were called up for reserve duty patrolling. At first, we patrolled the northern Sinai peninsula. Gradually, as the peace agreement with Egypt became fact, we patrolled less and less of the Sinai and more and more of the Gaza Strip.
Rather than defending our borders from enemies without, I began patrolling the streets of villages, the shores of the Gaza Strip, and then the very streets and alleys of Gaza City itself. The job was to protect Israel from the potential enemies within a territory captured from Egypt in 1967.
I don’t make a fuss about this time of my life. I look back on it as something that I was ordered to do. I did what was required. I became an occupier. Plain and simple.
I was always respectful of the people that I had to deal with, even when I was personally uncomfortable asking for their documents, searching their vehicles, their belongings. I never went out at night, on patrol, destroying property, damaging vehicles, entering homes, as others in other units did, simply to spite and anger the people living in the Strip.
Yet, looking back, my discomfort, my feelings, my very being were in turmoil. I was not alone. Others felt the same way.
In my civilian line of work, working for my kibbutz’s transportation needs as a tractor-trailer operator, I came into contact with residents of the Gaza Strip. Palestinians. I offered to take Adam home. Shy at first, he accepted my offer.
Guiding my huge vehicle along the narrow roads of the Jabaliya refugee camp, Adam’s home was a shack with a corrugated tin roof. He invited me in. Hospitality.
I brought Adam home several times from the garage where he worked. I serviced the tractor-trailer there. He told me not to come any more. He said I had done nothing wrong. He had received death threats to his family. To him.
The same thing happened with Halil, who lived in Gaza City. An engineer by profession, he worked in an Israeli air conditioning installation shop. I serviced my vehicle’s AC unit there.
My last three years of reserve duty were as a Liaison Officer with the IDF. It so happened that my last reserve duty was in Hebron. I was not with my liaison unit, but by some fluke I was called to serve with a diverse group of officers, randomly chosen to patrol Hebron and the surrounding area.
I was among the very few officers with actual, real combat experience. I still have nightmares and flashbacks. Twenty-six years later.
We (we being Israel) no longer occupy the Gaza Strip. During the month of August 2005, Israel withdrew all Israeli Jews and soldiers from there. For better or worse, mostly for worse because of the blatant hostility from Hamas and other terror factions among the Palestinian population there, the Israeli occupation of the Gaza Strip ended.
The fear that those same rocket, missile and mortar attacks would become commonplace from the West Bank, i.e., Judea and Samaria, is a real fear, etched into the national psyche of Israel. Fierce debate rages within Israel’s political parties, within Israeli society, among friends, and there are no easy answers.
The fact remains that as a nation, Israel is occupying a geographic area captured from Jordan during the 1967 Six Day War. For a variety of reasons, King Hussein and later King Abdullah of Jordan did not want the captured land back. Even though today there is a peace treaty between Jordan and Israel, the Palestinian people living in the West Bank are a people living under occupation.
Many attempts have been made to create a neighbor on Israel’s eastern border, a Palestinian nation, and all of these attempts, some reaching as far as a 98 percent agreement on issues discussed by both sides, all of these attempts have failed, leaving Israel as the occupier.
It is my opinion, and I am sure that I am not alone, that Jerusalem, and specifically East Jerusalem and the “Old City” of Jerusalem, with its holy sites, is the core, the heart of the issue.
I am a pragmatist. I do not wish to rebuild the Holy Temple. I have visited the Noble Sanctuary, the al-Haram al-Sharif. I have been inside the Dome of the Rock mosque, walked by the Al-Aqsa mosque. I have admired their splendor. I have walked the streets of the Armenian Quarter, the Muslim Quarter, the Christian Quarter and the Jewish Quarter of the “Old City.” Many times. I want to continue to do so many times in the future, as I wish for all people from all nations to be able to do so in going forward.
The Wailing Wall, the wall that once supported the Holy Temple prior to its destruction by the Romans more than 2,000 years ago, is as much a part of my heritage as are the streets of the town of my birth, Kfar Sava. The streets of Jerusalem belong to my people, they are part of our collective heritage. They also belong to those who have lived there for hundreds of years, and have made their lives there.
So, what is the solution then? I told you at the outset that I would not be popular after writing this. The United Nations Security Council’s vote, the vote that witnessed the US abstention, the vote that passed a resolution condemning Israel’s settlement policy, has created a firestorm of discussion, and has put an already isolated Israel into even greater isolation.
The vote, however, may also, and hopefully, bring about a serious discussion about this very policy. I hope that the discussion will begin within Israeli society, and I hope that it will remain a serious and deliberate discussion.
We do not need to be occupiers. It is demoralizing. We need to be able to live in peace and stability, and not being able to do so is just as demoralizing. It is demoralizing when huge amounts of money are offered to settlers to vacate hilltop settlements while my daughter and son-in-law, both professionals with masters degrees, cannot afford to buy a flat in their town.
I ask myself, who will live in these apartment blocks built in and around East Jerusalem? Who can afford them?
I ask myself why is such a huge part of Israel’s Negev so unsettled, so barren of villages and towns?
Like me, many of us veterans of the IDF who served in combat units and saw war and conflict first-hand, were trained to defend our nation. Now, towards the end of my sixties, I am still prepared to lay down my life to defend my Israel. I hope that we can find a way to reach a peace and an understanding with our Palestinian neighbors. I hope that they, too, will live in a nation of human rights, like Israel. I hope that they, too, will see their children and grandchildren live in a nation of a free press, a vibrant culture, a stable economy.
Perhaps this time we will be successful.