What Happens When the Two Israels Meet
ON a summer day in 2007, I made the mistake of touching a young man I shouldn’t have. I was a soldier stationed on a training base near Binyamina, and my job was to teach combat soldiers how to use their personal weapons. That day, the soldiers in our boot camp were divided in half. While one group was firing under the cement shade of the range, I was left with the other, practicing shooting positions under the unforgiving Israeli sun.
The soldiers’ commander and I lined them up and checked to make sure their weapons were empty of bullets. Then I shouted out a position — standing, sitting or lying down — for the soldiers to jump into. Once a soldier felt certain that his position was correct, and that he was on target, he was supposed to scream “on,” and then yell “fire, fire, fire.” In the meantime, I passed by the row of soldiers and corrected them: an incorrect grip on the gun handle, an arm that was not exactly at 90 degrees. One of the more common problems occurred in the sitting position, which was really less like sitting than it was squatting in a way that increased stability and made it easy to spring upright if you had to. This position strained the leg muscles and, with sweat pouring down my face, I could not blame the soldiers who took the easy way out and simply sat on their feet. But it was still my job to make them do it right.
Amid clouds of dust and shouts of “fire,” I noticed one soldier who was sitting on his foot. He was Ethiopian, and he spoke beautiful, overly correct Hebrew, and usually showed an eagerness to please his commanders. I expected more from him. I approached him and kicked him lightly, to show him how unstable his body position was. “They are shooting at you, and you are falling down!” I shouted. “Get your position right.” But he didn’t move. It must have been hard to hear me, or maybe he was just tired and hot from wearing his helmet and heavy vest.
Still, I couldn’t let it slide. The next time I called “sitting,” I came up behind him and put both hands on his shoulders, shaking him. I wanted to explain, “Look how easy it is for me to shake you out of position,” but I couldn’t, because the soldier was yelling at me like he was on fire. I couldn’t make out what he was saying, but he was still in training and I was shocked by his disobedience. I thought maybe he was confused, so I bent down in the sand and grabbed his foot, moving it so that his toes pointed forward. If anything, he screamed louder. It was only when the drill ended that I caught what he was saying: “I observe touch.”