CHATTING WITH YOEL
by Pierre Gingerich June 6, 1997
I'd seen him previous days while watching the clashes--a big energetic Israeli soldier, dark complected, Arabic speaking, with a take-charge attitude. He might be a squad leader. He saw me picking up a rubber bullet (they look like 1 cm test-tube corks), and demanded that I give it to him.
"Why do you want the bullet?" he asked.
"Why are you spraying them around the neighborhood?" I countered.
"Well you see the kids? Imagine you were a soldier, and they were throwing stones at you. What would you do?" I liked the question, because war is in some sense about a lack of imagination, a lack of empathy. I was pleased that he was asking me to imagine, rather than calling me a Nazi or assuming I should instantly understand his situation. I told him that I had refused military service in my own country (I'm a non-registrant) and I would likely do the same thing here.
"But the people here [the settlers]-- they need to be protected from these stone-throwing kids. And they are defending the homes of their ancestors who were killed here in 1929."
I'd spoken two weeks before with Yona Hassun Rochlin, an actual descendent of two leadng families of the pre-1929 community, and I knew how much the settler presence upset her. She had told us that the old Jewish community's prestige and security were built on good relations with their Arab neighbors, not on aggression against their neighbors from behind the high wall of military protection. I told Yoel that the actual descendents of the old Jewish community felt the settlers were doing a disservice to their ancestors.
We returned to the settlers. "But what would you do if you were them?" he insisted.
"Well I wouldn't be a settler..." and then more to the point,
"--Thebest protection is to be good neighbor. You know, most of the Arab adults don't want their kids throwing stones. So if they do, you go with them to their parents and get their parents to get them to behave," I said.
"You're being incredibly naive. But we have to deal with reality," Yoel said.
"Is it realistic to think these"--I pointed to his gun--"will solve the problems here?"
"No, but we have no alternative. We just have to deal wiith it," he said. Yoel checked out another sniper angle.
Christian Peacemaker Teams is an initiative among Mennonite and Church of the Brethren congregations and Friends Meetings that supports violence reduction efforts around the world. CPT P. O. Box 6508 Chicago, IL 60680 tel 312-455-1199 FAX 312-666-2677 email email@example.com WEB http://www.prairienet.org/cpt/