The Israeli War Machine and Urban Fear Mongering
Jerusalem, Israel and the Palestinian Territories
My Peruvian fiancée is uncomfortable in this country. Today's Israeli reminds her too much of what it was like to live in Lima during the 80s and early-90s, when Peru was suffering from extreme bouts of terrorism (courtesy of the Maoist guerrilla group Shining Path, among others).
This was a period in her life where people were too scared to walk around outside, gather en mass, or even attend a movie cinema. The best business to run at the time was a video rental store.
She feels like she's always waiting for a bomb or explosion to go off—a constant state of unrest that's eventually toned down at home, only to be exaggerated again by all the reminders of unrest lurking outside. Sleeping in biological/chemical-resistant shelters, roadside checkpoints, grocery store bag searches, x-ray machines, concrete barriers to keep the Muslims away, and encounters automatic rifles everywhere—Israeli does not exude a friendly demeanor.
Regular Risk and Rare Risk
But there's a difference between regular risk and rare risk. And although the rare risk gets the headlines, it's probably the regular risk that's going to cause you pain.
"But Israel is one of the most pedestrian-friendly countries we've been in together. You're a lot less likely to get hit by a vehicle here, than say, Vietnam," I told Tatiana.
"I stay home in Vietnam, and I don't get hit. I stay home in Israel, and I can still get bombed," she retorted.
Clearly, there will be no coming back to Israeli for Tatiana in the foreseeable future.
Intimidation and the Perception of Risk
There is a fundamental question about the perception risk and visibility of "protection" that each person (and the society they live in) have to asses and come to terms with.
Does a high concentration of armed soldiers in the streets make you feel safer from danger, or less secure because of the supposed threat warranting their placement?
One of the perks of equal opportunity conscription are all the attractive young women in uniform running around with automatic rifles—so hot. All that's missing are the halter tops and Barbie-pink weapons.
I understand Israelis occupy a portion of land where their neighbors would love nothing more than to swallow them whole, and as a result the country's youth are conscripted for mandatory military duty for no less than two or three years as soon as they turn 18 and finish high school (with some exceptions). It's been like this for over 60 years, and like most nations with mandatory conscription, there's a strong of rite of passage sentiment regarding it in Israel. Camaraderie, national spirit—I talked about all this stuff last year when I was in Bulgaria (Obligatory Military Service).
To visualize the scene for you, I'll explain it like this: You know those World War I/II-era movies where you've got masses off-duty U.S. troops in uniform running all over city? Well, Israeli looks a whole lot like that, except many of them are carrying their weapons around.
Israeli's infantry carry their automatic rifles with them, even when off-base, which I think creates more of a sense of unrest then sense of protection. Likely more harm is done both mentally and physically (accidents do happen—we're talking about teenagers here), and would love to see some justifiable stats on how lugging around a rife resolves more problems than it creates.
But it gets better! Even more absurd than letting these kids take their rifles off-base is to let them walk around dressed in civilian clothing! I can really think of no better way to passively creep out tourists while simultaneously enabling a potential group of armed men and/or women to casually walk into a public square with the intention of shooting up the joint (when you need not even spoof a uniform)!
Additionally, the Israeli government has declared that soldiers will use public transportation (buses) for movement within the country—that's why it's very common to be riding alongside a bevy of soldiers; they pay nothing for bus rides when enlisted (with many going back home for the weekends to wash clothes and eat mom's meals).
Frankly I think the practice of mixing troops with civilians on transport is a big no-no, but here it's just another example of the next to no line between the religion and the government of this country.