Conversations with Soldiers
It was a dark and stormy night.
I was returning from two wonderful days in Bethlehem. As I passed the gate to the army base I noticed a small troop (7 or 8) of soldiers standing outside. My CPT instincts kicked in and I wanted to see what was going on. (A few nights ago soldiers went out and started detaining young men at random). My slowed pace and staring eyes were apparently suspicious to the soldiers, especially since I wasn’t wearing any CPT gear. So I heard yells in Arabic for me to come back. I generally don’t respond to commands in Arabic for two reasons. One because I don’t speak Arabic, and I don’t want soldiers thinking I understand more than I do. Two because it gives me more time to disregard the orders since they have to get a translator. Finally a soldier yelled “Stop!” in English, so I turned around and dumbfoundedly answered in English, “What me? Is there any problem?” The rest of the conversation went as follows (With my thoughts):
Soldiers: -Oh your American. Ha ha.
-So what are you doing here?
-Are you a tourist?
Me: I’m living here,(don’t say that, your on a tourist visa) well, um… I’m kind of a tourist,(Don’t wuss out) I’m on a tourist visa, but um… I’m with Christian Peacemaker Teams CPT.
-What did he say?
– He’s with…(Continues in Hebrew to other soldiers)
– So do you like it here?
(Are these soldiers trying to make small talk? This is hard to answer. I don’t like living in a place with such overt oppression. But I do like being able to work alongside those oppressed. But this guy is asking in such a tone that’s really saying “How can you live with these people?”)
Me: I could move here if I were allowed. (Maybe not the best response.)
– Do you really think you can make peace here?
( It does seem presumptuous of me to call myself a peacemaker, as I’m going to come in and make everything better. But what am I doing here then? I guess I’m more trying to lay the foundation for peace by non-violently protecting Palestinians and stop Israel from making a ‘just peace’ harder to accomplish. But what do I say to this guy?)
Me: Well I think you have a lot more to do with making peace than I do.
Soldier: -Do you mean because I’m a soldier or an Israeli?
(Ok so this guy actually wants to engage in the conversation. And he has the biggest gun, I wonder if that means he’s a leader?)
Me: Both, I think it’s up to Israelis and Palestinians and Israelis in the army to work toward peace.
Soldiers: -Do you really think they want peace?
(Well they certainly want peace more than having armed men stop them at random, not being allowed out their front doors, having sewage dumped on them, or having to walk through checkpoints everywhere they go like they do now.)
Me: Yes I do. I mean there are many opinions that Palestinians have, just like there are many opinions that Israelis have, but generally yes they want peace.
Soldiers: -Yeah, I think I agree with you.
(YES! The dude trying to grow a mustache agrees! This is bizarre Why are all their helmets different styles?)
– But they don’t even have a government.
(Did I miss something while I was distracted by the helmets? How do you get from ‘they want peace’ to ‘they don’t have a government’? Was this guy not paying attention to the conversation or is he thinking that they are unable to self rule, so Israel has to rule over them? Oh and what do you call the Palestinian Authority, that’s a government, but like most governments no one is really happy with them, so I may not bring this up.)
Me: Your nation is what’s keeping them from it. Give them the chance to rule themselves.
Soldiers: -But they don’t even know what they want.
(Well I can tell you what they don’t want. This! I assume this has something to do with a one or two state solution.)
Me: Like I said before they have differing opinions, but don’t Israelis want different things too? How can you hold that against them.
Soldiers: muttering to one another in Hebrew.
(I want to continue challenging these guys in small ways, especially since many of them are here by obligation of the mandatory draft. On the other hand I don’t want Palestinians thinking I often have friendly conversations with soldiers. There is paranoia on the Palestinian side. There are always rumors about collaborators, and there is general mistrust among the Palestinians. This is something that Israeli policy has helped create. So I think I’ve talked long enough. Now how do I gracefully end this conversation?)
Me: So I got to get going… Unless you are holding me or something?
Soldiers: -Ha ha.
-No no, you’re free to go.
-Have a nice evening.
I walked away and they went back into the base.
I don’t know that much was accomplished by the interrogation/conversation. But it did give me hope. I was able to have a conversation with Israeli soldiers. Where there is a conversation there is hope of communication. Where there is communication there is hope of understanding. And where there is understanding there is hope of peace.
And after all I am a peacemaker.
Pray that I know when to talk, and when to walk away.
Pray that when I do talk I do so in humility and allow God to speak through me instead of my own words.
Pray that there will be less harassment of Palestinians by soldiers and settlers.
Pray that Palestinians trust one another.
Pray for Peace.