Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Get Back to Where You Once Belonged

Yup, I’m finally back. The 23 days are finally over, and I’m glad to be a civilian yet again. While I really enjoyed spending time with the lads and the various daily experiences, it was time to get back to the routine of life: the 9-5 job, the evenings to relax, a good night’s sleep and so on. Despite the growing desire to finish up this stint, the last few days presented some good learning experiences for me. On Sunday, we were given a chance to ‘practice’ urban warfare on a paintball course. I’ve always been scared to try paintball – the idea of getting shot at & hit for ‘fun’ wasn’t something I was too eager to experience. However, despite my worries, I gave it a shot. The practice runs were a good chance to put into action the routines we drilled in July. I really enjoyed the ‘wet’ runs and actually did really well: quite a few clean hits and amazingly, I didn’t get hit once. Oh well, I guess I’ll have to wait till the next time to get hit! That night, I participated in my first mission to arrest a wanted fugitive. The GSS (General Security Services, also known as the Shabak) had all the information on this man, except for what apartment he inhabited in the 3 story building he lived in. The task of securing the GSS agent and the ‘main team’ from above was left to me and Daniel, a 34 year old Italian who immigrated to Israel some 16 years ago. Basically, he would cover me on the stairs as I would sprint up and make sure the next stairwell was clear of any menace. Before the first sprint, I felt my heart pounding against the 12 kg bulletproof vest – all of a sudden, it wasn’t that heavy. As I approached the stairwell, I can only remember my mind being literally blank and just being at ease with the task at hand - I knew what had to be done. Once I made that first dash and pointed my M-16 upwards, my heartbeat slowly started to ease up and any worries I had about hoping my reflexes would be fast enough if I encountered a terrorist subsided. 25 minutes later, we had our man and whisked him away. 25 minutes that felt like an eternity but at eternity's end, we all went ‘home’ unscathed after a successful operation.

During this stint in the reserves, I finished Menachem Begin’s ‘The Revolt’, a first hand account of the Irgun by its commander-in-chief. The book was extremely interesting, and easy to read. I’ve always been fascinated by the Irgun and how important of a role the organization played in destroying the British desire to occupy a land they didn’t belong in. Begin’s amazing narrative covers the whole period from his imprisonment in Siberia through to the country’s declaration of independence. He delves into the Irgun’s war on the British (the daring raids on the British army depots, the King David Hotel bombing, the Acre Jail break etc), the tragic betrayal of Jews by the Jewish Agency & Haganah (the ‘Season’, the Altalena Affair – I need to mention though that Ben Gurion was deliberately misled and hence allowed the Yitzchak Rabin led forces to destroy the ship, the kidnapping of Y. Stern etc.), and the amazing destruction of the Arab & British forces in Jaffa, which ensured Tel Aviv would be safe from potential invasions during the Independence War. What amazes me about Begin was his handling of the period of self-delusion and self-hatred of the elitist Jewish Agency and Haganah leadership. He refused to even contemplate retribution, despite non-stop betrayal of his organization – be it to the British or to the yishuv itself. His love for the Jewish people and desire to stay focused on the goal (the eradication of British rule in Israel) allowed him to deal with the severe blows of seeing a people who’ve been destroyed time after time by not only their enemies, but also by their self hatred, potentially go down the same track yet again. Begin’s book gives a much needed first hand account of events that have sadly only been narrated by the people who held power till he became prime minister in 1977.

When I made aliyah, my parents rightfully warned me that Israel wasn’t the Israel I was dreaming about. The Israel I was obviously yearning for was the one that Begin so elegantly strove for: An Israel where Jews were proud to stand up for their undeniable right to live on this land, where brothers stood united on all fronts, and were were driven by a deep love for the Jewish faith and the values it tought (and still teaches). While this Israel did in fact shows signs of developing despite the elitist attitude of its leadership, I really wonder how much differently Israel would have been had Begin been given a chance to run the country his leadership helped bring into existence. I’d just like to quote one part of his famous May 14th, 1948 speech (I wish we still had leaders who cared so much like this man obviously did):
Citizens of the Hebrew State, soldiers of Israel, we are in the midst of battles. Difficult days lie ahead of us … We cannot buy peace from our enemies with appeasement. There is only one kind of ‘peace’ that can be bought – the peace of the graveyard, the peace of Treblinki. Be brave of spirit and ready for more trials. We shall withstand them. The Lord of Hosts will help us; he will sustain the bravery of the Hebrew Youth … And you, brothers of our fighting family, do you remember how we started? With what we started? You were alone and persecuted, rejected, despised and numbered with transgressors. But you fought on with deep faith and did not retreat; you were tortured but did not surrender; you were cast into prison but you did not yield; you were exiled from your country but your spirit was not crushed; you were driven to the gallows but went forth with a song. You have written a glorious page in history ...

And as Begin ended his book, so I will end my entry with the following tribue to the wonderful boys and girls of the IZ”L, the Irgun Zvah Leumi … “Their Life was a struggle; their death heroism; their sacrifice sacred; the memory eternal”


Gilly said...

Begin did get a chance to run the country - unfortunately he didn't do that great a job.

Our country lacks men of his calibre.


Avram said...

by 1977, it was too late ... a country that ben gurion had already severely scarred with his treatment of Jabotinksy's remains, the Altalena (though it wasn't 'really' his fault), the mizrachim (whom he banished to the outskirts of the country) and even holocaust Jewry (whom he asked to 'hide' their stories) ... Even his strong desire to mend bridges (ashkenazim, iraquim, yehudim, achim) did little to close such large divides ...

Rasjie said...

Nice article Avr. Lend me the book one time will you
Shana Tova, gmar chatima tova
rasjie, 1488