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.

IDF 58 (photo credit: none)
IDF 58
(photo credit: none)

This year, my wife Trudy and I went on a five-dayvacation to the Isle of Rhodes right after I finished my 12 days ofvolunteer reserve duty in the IDF. I preferred that order, having arestful vacation after sleeping on a cot with four other snoring men inthe room. But Trudy says that she would have preferred a vacation fromme after being on a vacation with me!
Mystint in the army reserves brought me to the center of Samaria, to alittle base manned and womanned by soldiers from the Home FrontCommand. These young soldiers are primarily trained for search andrescue operations in case of emergencies. But in the meantime, theyperform 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 Israeliyouth, doing an incredibly responsible job.
A few brief observations:
•While not fully an "equal opportunity employer," the army is stilltaking progressive steps. The young man giving out equipment at thereception center was a uniformed soldier with Down's syndrome. He wasno less responsive to our complaints than any other soldier in theQuartermaster Corps.
• The integration of women into the army - at least in thisunit - is full and complete. On three of my assignments (one involving48 hours in a very cramped "pillbox" watchtower), the commandingofficers were 19-year-old girls. For the guys under their command,their officers' gender was irrelevant.

• The pillbox watchtower where I stood guardoverlooks a military road which is off-limits to all civilian traffic.One morning, I saw a white minibus speeding toward us. When it passedthe tower and stopped at a nearby Arab house, our female officer wentover to tell the passengers they were not allowed on the road and hadto leave. Through my binoculars I saw that some of them started avehement argument with her before they finally got back on the bus anddrove off.
When our officer returned, she was in tears. "It was a group ofleft-wingers from Tel Aviv." she sobbed. "They said what we were doingto the Palestinians was worse than what the Germans did to the Jews! Wesacrifice two years of our lives to serve our country, and that's howthey talk to us?"
I tried my best to calm her down, with little success. But Iwas also thinking, "If this is what the Israeli left has become - aspokesman for our worst enemies, expressing their contempt for youngpeople who exemplify Jewish affirmation, then it's no wonder theycollapsed in the last election."
• The figures are just in that 2009 has been Israel's quietestyear in the last decade. This was not a decision made by thePalestinians; this was a decision made by Israel to stop them. To dothis, we need to gather accurate and up-to-date intelligence on what ishappening in the West Bank.
On one of my assignments, we set up a roadblock near the borderof an area under Palestinian control. Our job was to stop every car andbring the identity cards of all men to a team of plainclothespersonnel. 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 Ido know that this was the nuts and bolts of intelligence gathering thatgoes on continually - and that is why our years are quiet again.
• The privilege of serving in the IDF still moves people acrossoceans. Within my little group, there was one volunteer from Seattleand another from Frankfurt, Germany, who came here twice a year to doreserve duty. Among the young soldiers on the base, there were twogirls 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 aweof such motivation - but I tried not to let them know.
AFTER MY reserve duty, we flew to the Isle of Rhodes. Weenjoyed roaming through the Old City and the ruins of the island's twoacropolises, and a tavern night of Greek music, song and dancing. Onemorning I swam in the icy waters of the "wine-dark" Aegean Sea (as perHomer), along with a handful of crazy Greeks who start every day likethat.
On a day trip to the town of Lindos, we had a local guide, ayoung woman, born on Rhodes and well versed in the island's history.Like Israel, Rhodes has had a parade of conquerors. After achievingfame as part of the Greek empire, when the wondrous Colossus was builtin 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. "Whatdo you mean,' returned'? The island wasn't ruled by Greeks for over2,000 years."
"Ah," she answered, "but there were always Greeks living onRhodes and they never gave up their dream of living under Greeksovereignty someday." With a grin, she added, "And that is why we haveto sympathize with Zionism."
The writer works in advertising and direct marketing inJerusalem. He claims that doing volunteer reserve duty (since 2002)helps keep him young.