by Dr. Stephen Wachtel, PhD @ Mystical Paths
Friday morning we rode by jeep to an (Israeli) army outpost only a few hundred meters from the Gaza Strip. This is a dangerous area, and on our way in, we passed an open field within sight of the expansive slum that Gaza has become. Now ruled by Hamas, and peopled by a teeming multitude bent on the destruction of Israel, Gaza is still firing rockets into Israeli cities, but my concern that morning was sniper fire (we were too close for rockets). My driver, a dear friend who lives nearby, noted that Israeli farmers who worked in the fields were also concerned about sniper fire, but most local residents have held fast since the recent Gaza war and the continuing threat of fire.
Whether anyone had us in his sights I’ll never know, but we got where were going, and I had a chance to meet some amazing Israeli soldiers, among them, two “lone soldiers,” one from Boston and one from St. Louis. Lone soldiers are young men who serve in the IDF (Israel Defense Force) without any family in the country. So we spoke to these men in English and to the others in our halting Hebrew. Although Druze Arabs and some Bedouin serve in the IDF, the soldiers that we met were Jewish. Some were religious, some were not. Some were Sephardim, Jews whose families came from Spain and the Arab countries, some were Ashkenazim Jews whose families came from Western Europe, and some were Falashim, Jews from Ethiopia. But they shared a common cause -- abiding love for the Land of Israel and its people.
The locals, including our friend, regularly provide sandwiches, snacks and soft drinks in mobile kitchens, and check in from time to time to make sure the soldiers are comfortable -- as comfortable as one can be under such circumstances. This is a lonely and isolated duty. The hours are long, the work is dead serious and there is little to do by way of entertainment. Even in late October, the desert is hot and arid and the local area is devoid of human habitation except for a few secluded hamlets, and of course, Gaza. This is one of the places where the Arabs built tunnels into Israel through which they came and killed Israeli soldiers in 2014, and though the mood seemed light during our visit, there was an underlying sense of “strictly business.”
These brave young men understand well the significance of their job. They are the first line of defense against an incursion from Gaza, and by their very presence at the border, they are putting their lives on the line every hour, every day, for the protection of their fellow Israelis. For me, this was a deeply moving and uplifting experience. We let our chayalim (soldiers) know that we honor their courage and their commitment.
A note on Gaza: The Gaza Strip is home to 1.8 million Arabs, most of whom would rip us apart, if they could. Israel does not occupy the Gaza Strip. Gaza was ceded unilaterally to the Arabs in 2005, after which it was transformed into a launching pad for rockets and mortars aimed at Israeli civilians. Egypt and Israel maintain a blockade of Gaza, to limit the importation of rockets and other weapons, but not of foods and medicines. In fact, Israel supplies water and electricity to Gaza. I would guess that’s a little known fact. Here’s another little known fact: A few Gaza residents have work permits allowing them to hold jobs in Israel. My host pointed out some Gaza Arabs working on a farm as we left the outpost.
Picture – Approaching Gaza