Reserves and Rhodes

On recent volunteer duty in the IDF, it became clear to me why the last year in Israel had been the quietest in a decade.

By DOUG GREENER
January 21, 2010 12:14
4 minute read.
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IDF 58. (photo credit: none)

 
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This year, my wife Trudy and I went on a five-day vacation to the Isle of Rhodes right after I finished my 12 days of volunteer reserve duty in the IDF. I preferred that order, having a restful vacation after sleeping on a cot with four other snoring men in the room. But Trudy says that she would have preferred a vacation from me after being on a vacation with me!



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My stint in the army reserves brought me to the center of Samaria, to a little base manned and womanned by soldiers from the Home Front Command. These young soldiers are primarily trained for search and rescue operations in case of emergencies. But in the meantime, they perform vital security tasks along the Green Line.



I was sent with four other volunteer reservists to help them. Mostly, the pleasure was all ours. These were the best of Israeli youth, doing an incredibly responsible job.



A few brief observations:



• While not fully an "equal opportunity employer," the army is still taking progressive steps. The young man giving out equipment at the reception center was a uniformed soldier with Down's syndrome. He was no less responsive to our complaints than any other soldier in the Quartermaster Corps.



• The integration of women into the army - at least in this unit - is full and complete. On three of my assignments (one involving 48 hours in a very cramped "pillbox" watchtower), the commanding officers were 19-year-old girls. For the guys under their command, their officers' gender was irrelevant.



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• The pillbox watchtower where I stood guard overlooks a military road which is off-limits to all civilian traffic. One morning, I saw a white minibus speeding toward us. When it passed the tower and stopped at a nearby Arab house, our female officer went over to tell the passengers they were not allowed on the road and had to leave. Through my binoculars I saw that some of them started a vehement argument with her before they finally got back on the bus and drove off.



When our officer returned, she was in tears. "It was a group of left-wingers from Tel Aviv." she sobbed. "They said what we were doing to the Palestinians was worse than what the Germans did to the Jews! We sacrifice two years of our lives to serve our country, and that's how they talk to us?"



I tried my best to calm her down, with little success. But I was also thinking, "If this is what the Israeli left has become - a spokesman for our worst enemies, expressing their contempt for young people who exemplify Jewish affirmation, then it's no wonder they collapsed in the last election."



• The figures are just in that 2009 has been Israel's quietest year in the last decade. This was not a decision made by the Palestinians; this was a decision made by Israel to stop them. To do this, we need to gather accurate and up-to-date intelligence on what is happening in the West Bank.



On one of my assignments, we set up a roadblock near the border of an area under Palestinian control. Our job was to stop every car and bring the identity cards of all men to a team of plainclothes personnel. They would then tell us which of the passengers should be "invited" over for a short talk. I don't know what was discussed. But I do know that this was the nuts and bolts of intelligence gathering that goes on continually - and that is why our years are quiet again.



• The privilege of serving in the IDF still moves people across oceans. Within my little group, there was one volunteer from Seattle and another from Frankfurt, Germany, who came here twice a year to do reserve duty. Among the young soldiers on the base, there were two girls who came from the US without their parents to serve in the army. Each one felt the need to help Israel in a tangible way. I stand in awe of such motivation - but I tried not to let them know.



AFTER MY reserve duty, we flew to the Isle of Rhodes. We enjoyed roaming through the Old City and the ruins of the island's two acropolises, and a tavern night of Greek music, song and dancing. One morning I swam in the icy waters of the "wine-dark" Aegean Sea (as per Homer), along with a handful of crazy Greeks who start every day like that.



On a day trip to the town of Lindos, we had a local guide, a young woman, born on Rhodes and well versed in the island's history. Like Israel, Rhodes has had a parade of conquerors. After achieving fame as part of the Greek empire, when the wondrous Colossus was built in the harbor, Rhodes has been ruled by the Romans, Byzantines, Arabs, Crusaders, Ottomans and Italians.



After the guide went through this two millennia procession, she added, "And after World War II, Rhodes was returned to Greece."



These old ears perked up. "Wait a minute," I interjected. "What do you mean,' returned'? The island wasn't ruled by Greeks for over 2,000 years."



"Ah," she answered, "but there were always Greeks living on Rhodes and they never gave up their dream of living under Greek sovereignty someday." With a grin, she added, "And that is why we have to sympathize with Zionism."



The writer works in advertising and direct marketing in Jerusalem. He claims that doing volunteer reserve duty (since 2002) helps keep him young.

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