HER STORY #40 - anonymous
To Go Back
I am 32 years old. I grew up in Herzliya. I went to the army, then I began my bachelor's degree in International Relations and Communications at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem from 2006. It was during my studies that I met my husband. I went on to do my Masters in Communications and a now doing a PhD in Communications at Northwestern University in Chicago.
We moved here three years ago, and my PhD program will continue for another two years, and after that we don’t know where we will go. We are a typical Israeli couple that leaves Israel, really misses it but on the other hand, doesn’t miss it at all.
Now I’m pregnant with my first child, who will be born in November.
I have a feeling we might move to another place in the U.S. after those two years. There is a divide between us with regards to this. I think it’s always like this.
I’m the one who wants to go back, and he prefers to stay here, but we’re both not sure. We are tired of the politics and the economy [in Israel], but we also miss our families and friends a lot. It’s a discussion that we’ve had since we moved out, and it always ends the same, but it might change when I begin handing in my project.
I think that politically and economically the cost of living there [Israel], in terms of the professions that we have (me working in academia and my husband working as independent) would be difficult, even though we are from the center of Israel. I can’t really complain about the economic situation, but it would be more difficult.
If Israel, ideologically, were a place that was comfortable for me, it would be different. Ideologically it’s difficult for me, when I see what happens there –in terms of the violence, the lack of patience, and the lack of will to think about solutions to the status quo that we live in. The government is also something that is frustrating for me to see.
There are a lot of liberal leftists in Israel who sit and complain about the situation. This cliché does exist, but the government is legitimate, as it represents the majority, so when you get out of the liberal leftist bubble, you see that the majority doesn’t think like this. I’m just a minority that doesn’t have a place in Israel, so when I think about going back and living my life there – I could live a quiet life there in some way or another—in a bubble but it’s difficult.
And it’s difficult to think about sending my child to the army, even if my own time in the army wasn’t so bad. I can’t accept that something would happen to my child within the ideological context that we live in.
On the other hand I don’t connect to the society that I live in in the US. The racism and violence that is there [in Israel] also exists here [in the US].
However, in Israel I’m really a minority, and sometimes I sit in this minority that is liberal, and also a little bit irritating, that is talking to each other and is full of itself. So I also have criticism with regards to the left, although I still identify more with that side.
But I am, in any case, a minority. The people decided that it would be like this, so if I went back to Israel, I would have to accept that.
I didn’t have that form of critical thinking when I was 15 years old.
I come from a home that was politically pretty centrist. I think that electorally my famiily voted more to the left, but rhetorically they were more to the center. They would also vote for someone like Lapid [Yair Lapid, Chairman of Yesh Atid political party in Israel]. So I came from that kind of home, where they were very aware about current affairs, history, politics, and critical thinking, but they weren’t necessarily critical about the Zionist project.
When I was 15 years, I was just a normal girl. I heard what my parents said, but the things that I learned at school weren’t critical.
And when I went to the army, I was very happy about being a soldier. I was in combat support, and I thought that it was amazing. I was a Zionist, and it wasn’t an office job. I was out with soldiers and working with weapons. It was an army position with a lot of action and had a lot to do with combat. I didn’t have too much criticism vis-à-vis the army.
I grew up in Herzliya, and my husband is from Ma’ale Adumim [urban Israeli settlement in the West Bank], and he laughs at me and my leftist views sometimes. He says that it’s easy to be leftist when you come from Herzliya. If you didn’t see a bus explode every day or experience similar things on a daily basis, then you don’t really know. I agree with it. It’s a very privileged position to come from, so I think that I was really living within a cocoon. I didn’t really think about this.
When I began studying in Jerusalem and began studying about politics and communications in 2006, it was relatively quiet at the time, although there were some attacks – but living in a city like that made things more political for me.
Today I think that I’m more critical in terms of Israel and other countries in general as well. I won’t create an idealization of the other [Palestinian] side, but I just feel more responsible about my side, although I understand where other people come from and that it’s easier not to be critical in life.
When I was younger, and would say I was Israeli, I would say it with a lot of pride, but today when I say it when I’m abroad, I say it with a little bit of embarrassment.
It’s a cognitive dissonance, and it’s not comfortable to be with it, so I think most people don’t want to experience this dissonance and be critical, because it requires more work. I also think it’s easier to be more critical when I’m far away, as I also think more about Israel.
On the other hand I think there are people, and I see this within my own family, who have strategic reasons for why Israel should keep the status-quo and refrain from getting to a peace agreement and from exchanging territories. These people will give me very critical, well-thought out, informed reasoning for holding on to these “strategies.” I respect this, because it’s a different opinion, and if someone else comes with facts to support their opinions, then I don’t have anything but respect for them. I will have less respect for people, who just don’t want to think about it, and just go with conformism, as in: “This is what they tell us to do, so we will do this” or “All the Arabs want to throw us into the sea.” Those people are not critical, because they don’t wish to challenge themselves, and this attitude is more difficult for me to handle.
I don’t think that I could live like this, because I’m the sort of person who reads the news, and my research deals with this regularly, so my personal, as well as professional life, are too close to these things. However I can understand the will not to be immersed in this.
I know people who are not interested in politics and don’t want to think about it all day. My husband, for example, is not. Some people in Israel just want to live, and I identify with this. I identify with so many voices, which makes me a little schizophrenic.
We [husband and interviewee] sometimes talk about politics. His [husband] opinion also changed throughout the years. He was much less left than what he is today. Politics is a large part of our lives, so we talk about it; however, perhaps less about topics such as the occupation.
I was working with mortars during my army service. I served in a military base called “Bislamach” [acronym for “The School for Infantry Corps Professions and Squad Commands”], which was half an hour from Beersheba, where soldiers got infantry training and would get different courses in handling of weapons.
In my department soldiers would get a three-week course, where they would learn how to work with different weapons. They also participated in exercises on the ground and were trained in shooting and in how to handle mortars. It was specifically intended for the mortars. I was there for about a year and a half, and then I went to do an officer course for about six months. Then I went back to Bislamach, and I became an officer.
At the end of my service I worked a little bit with an exterior company in development of a specific mortar, which they wished to use. Today it’s being used actively.
People call Bislamach the “Disneyland” for women, because it’s where many women are in command, and the soldiers have a lot of respect for women, since women know how to use the weapons better than the soldiers, and they teach them as well. Also, you are within an environment where the majority are women, and the conditions are relatively good.
The soldiers would go there from different departments, i.e. from Givati [Givati Brigade] and Golani [Golani Brigade], and although they had their own officers back at their respective bases, I would be their officer for a couple of weeks. They would be under my responsibility, and they knew that I wasn’t their “friend.”
So personally it was the most interesting thing that I did, as I learned about serving with friends, and about the borders of authority. Also, the kind of responsibility that I had as a girl of 18 years old was astounding. The lives of people were in my hands, and if I made mistakes, it would be my responsibility. Today I think that it was astounding that I was given this kind of responsibility. I didn’t think about it in those terms back then.
The whole experience was intimidating however, especially in terms of the responsibility taken upon myself and to be thrown into a place that was so different than my previous daily life. Suddenly being away from home for three months in a uniform with other girls and with people telling me what to do was intimidating. The whole army experience is intimidating. It was intimidating to go to training for the first time, and it was also the first time I worked with mortars. It was also intimidating the first time that I had to teach and to be an officer working with both male and female soldiers.
I served in the army for almost three years, and the whole time I had to learn new things and try new things. It wasn’t traumatic in anyway however. It was more exciting then traumatic.
On the other hand my husband was a combat soldier in Moran [elite unite under IDF Artillery Corps], and for him the army was traumatic. I don’t think his unit exists anymore.
He experienced abuse from his officers. He even got his knees damaged because of the things he went through. It was much more difficult for him than for me.
You know, officers do this “tizuzim” [hazing], which is Israeli army slang for when, for example, things like the officer telling the soldiers to run for three hours non-stop around a particular building. So when he [husband] was in the army, he landed in a tough unit with tough officers. I even think one of them eventually had to go to court. They exaggerated and he [husband] unfortunately was treated badly, he and his friends, and that is how his body was damaged from this.
I think it’s [army experience] something that a lot of couples talk about, because it’s part of the complexities of Israeli society. Many people go there.
He [husband] is more sarcastic and cynical however, and he says that he would try to prevent his son from going. I, on the other hand, had a good experience, so I wouldn’t.
Fifteen Minutes About Our Enemies
I went to the army reserves twice after my military service, once during my first degree and the second time during my second degree. I went when my political and critical thinking were much more developed, so when I went it felt ridiculous. I didn’t understand. I looked at it in a very different way. All the talks about the army are far away from me now. It’s a bubble.
The first time that I went [to the reserves] I wasn’t so organized. I did something else than what I had done during my service, so it was not nice socially and it was less relevant to what I had done. But the second time I went to the reserves they refreshed the information that we had learned during service, so it was more relevant, even though it still felt ridiculous.
For example, during my time in Bislamach every time someone important came and talked to an audience, he would give a 15-minute speech about Israel’s strategic position in the region, i.e. happening on the border with Hezbollah, Syria, Iran, etc. When I was in the army, it didn’t seem weird, but when I came back for the reserves it did. You come and tell me about our enemies within fifteen minutes? It’s not an in-depth explanation, and it’s not even relevant. We can’t really use this information. Suddenly I saw how the army rhetoric is part of the national rhetoric of fear and how we are always under threat.
Also, when I was in the army I was a mortar guide, and they are known for having high spirits, what you call “ra’al” [in Israeli army slang]. They have a lot of songs, and they are known for being loud. When I was in the army it was part of the fun, but when I came back to the reserves and had to sing songs, it seemed ridiculous.
Uniforms / Cynical Soldier
When I was young I was more open to those things.
I won’t forget how when I was in the army there were all sorts of decorations and pins that would say all sorts of things about you, and I remember once sitting on the train [during my army service] and sitting in front of another soldier.
He was one of those people, who were critical from a young age, and he was a cynical soldier. I don’t remember his position in the army, but he started asking me about all these knick-knacks, and so I explained them to him. Then he asked: “Did you ever think about the fact that you go to all this training, and what happens there takes all your humanity out of you? Everyone is in the same uniforms, and everyone looks similar. They try to make you feel small and they try to make you feel as if you don’t understand anything. When they have gotten rid of your personality during training, they will then give you an important role and a lot of motivation about the weapons you work with, and they build you a new personality around this thing.”
It was a very pessimistic way of looking at it, but it’s also right. When you are young and you go to the army, everywhere basically [worldwide], at entry-level, you are insignificant and similar to others, and when they have molded you into not being important, they give you a lot of importance in your new assignment.
I was in the army, when I met this young man, so I must have been between 18 and 20 years old. At the time I thought that it was annoying to hear, and I guess I didn’t agree with him back then, but the fact that I remember it probably means that it made me think.
From a young age I didn’t ask too many questions, but it didn’t bother me to gain new information. I think I was always open to get new information.
There is something about going through this process [of military service] at the age of 18 that makes you very mature and gives you a new perspective about life.
Right now in university, I teach 18-year-old students. When I think about their Israeli equivalents, they seem like children to me, as in they haven’t seen anything.
So on one hand that’s great that they didn’t have those experiences I went through. On the other hand, there is something very childish about not going through these experiences, where you deal with those kinds of hardships, learning discipline and hierarchy and to give something, to sacrifice, perhaps not in terms of sacrificing your life, but even just your time. I think it’s very positive in general, and it’s a molding experience, and that is why, to this day, there is something about Israelis that is easier for me to connect with. It’s something in us.
So when I think about my child and about army service, I would want for him to go through this, even though the army works with an ideology that I don’t identify with.
Also, it would be much easier for me to do it if I knew my child didn’t have a chance of dying there. If he was a soldier who went to the army before 1967, where it really had to do with defending the country, it would be much easier for me morally, but today it’s like a machine that I don’t agree with. I wouldn’t want my children to be faced with this kind of thinking and for them to have to defend a settlement for example – I don’t like the dissonance in that.
I think it’s an amazing experience, but I also understand that there are different experiences. For example, for many women their army service is about serving coffee or experiencing sexual harassment, and for men it has to do with much more traumatic and political experiences than what I had. So it’s all very complicated for me.
My husband doesn’t really have a clear opinion on this. He says that he will try to prevent his children from becoming combat soldiers at the very least, but I will laugh at him when he says that because when your son is 18 years old, he can do whatever he wants. It’s not your choice.
There is no doubt that my indecisions in terms of staying abroad or moving back to Israel has to do with my children going to the army.
From Far Away
I don’t have an experience [in Israel] that was more or less traumatic than others.
From far away it’s scarier I think. However, I guess it depends on where you live. If I had lived in Sderot [Israeli city], I guess I would feel differently about this.
But there is something about watching TV that is scarier, and the news doesn’t portray the daily lives of people. For example, during the last war in Gaza, my sister would go to the beach, and when there was a siren, she would just go into the water.
Living in Israel is dangerous and scary. But it’s part of living in Israel. It has an environment of war. I don’t think there was a period long enough that made me feel differently about Israel. Israel and wars go together. In periods where there are no wars, you think about when the next one will be, and when there is a war, you think: Well, this is Israel.
One of the biggest self-criticisms I have is the fact that I don’t have a lot of connections with Palestinian women. When I worked in a café in Jerusalem, I worked mostly with [Palestinian] men from East Jerusalem, but I don’t know a lot of Palestinian women.
I’ve been to the [Palestinian] territories but in places like Ma’ale Adumim. I’ve never been to Ramallah, Bethlehem or Hebron.
I grew up in a protected childhood in Herzliya.
It saddens me. Part of me makes me feel bad within this conflict. There is a disconnection, unless you try to break it, and in principle I think that Palestinians are not too different than us. I think that there are many who are critical about the Palestinian Authority, and I think that there are many who aren’t, like the majority in Israel, who aren’t critical about the ruling authority or even justify it – whether that be Hamas or the Palestinian Authority. I think there are also those, who just wish to live in peace and not to think about politics, so my concept about Palestinians is that they are like us but with different kinds of lives.
I do think that they have a more patriarchal culture there. I think that there are many Palestinians who are feminists and are changing things, but I also think that there are more traditional roles for women. I would be happy to meet more Palestinian women.
In the U.S., we know people who are Palestinians or Arabs, but they are not our age. I don’t have Palestinian peers in my social circle, and I feel bad about not having reached out, but I would have had to work in a NGO and to be very active [in order to reach out].
It makes me feel bad, because I think it’s a positive thing to get to know people who are different than you. It’s a positive thing. It would have been nice if I knew more people.
I don’t have many political discussions here. If I was my brother, who really likes to talk politics, I would probably have more.
When it comes up, I do get into discussions, but I won’t go into debates voluntarily. I won’t look for those things, and the discussions I have had here were mostly with Americans, local people, and that’s the reason why I don’t get into it, because who has the patience to talk to Americans about Israel?
They don’t really understand, and it feels like I’m teaching them something, when it’s complicated, and I want them to show them the complexity of it. I don’t have a black and white perspective, so to talk to someone, who isn’t updated would make my head explode. It would be easier for me if I had a one-sided opinion about this.
I feel that the lack of security was always part of my life, but I think that people react to a lack of security differently.
Personally, I’m not an anxious person, so I usually think that things don’t happen to me, although I would be carful if I saw a suspicious person on the bus. Statistically it’s a lot more dangerous to drive in Israel.
So I try not to be anxious about these things, even when living in a city like Chicago, one of the most dangerous places in the US. I think it’s a thing that has to do with someone’s personality as well, and you get used to it when you live in Israel. So it’s an interaction with your personality in terms of how you deal with it.
I think it was always like this with me.
If I’m in a dangerous situation I’ll get scared. If there is a siren, I will go and seek shelter, but there is a difference between this and looking for danger all the time. If it’s not in my control, I won’t think about it. That’s generally a positive thing.