The Pitfalls of War Tourism

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Ruins ancient and modern

There’s no shortage, in Israel, of Jewish brats from Anglophone countries fleeing broken homes, brace-faced first break-ups and 1.8 GPAs in the hope of attaining the swarthy ethnicity their progenitors’ progenitors discarded so recently and with so much relief. They mostly smoke hash and talk politics, about which none have anything new or insightful to say. Many offer themselves up to the Israeli army in much the same way that young Isaac was so willingly furnished to Father Abraham’s jagged rock. That’s okay with me—such decisions are an individual’s own personal business. Even if I were Hassan Nassrallah, I wouldn’t try to dissuade them. In fact, I’d probably say, “Bring it on, Fonzie!”

Aside from the war tourism of such would-be Hasmoneans, Zion is also a well-concealed dumping ground for rehab drop-outs, nymphomaniacs, teenage homosexuals and the otherwise mischievous offspring of religious families from the tri-state area, sent to seek “healing” at the hands of ghastly old Talmudists in off-the-map locales where the reverence such reeking sadists command is sufficient to deflect civilized scrutiny.

I used to live in off-base housing for Israeli army “lone soldiers” (enlistees with no immediate relatives in the country) in a Galilee kibbutz. The soldiers’ dormitory was on a windy, forested piece of acreage along a country road on one side and the Sea of Galilee’s southern outlet to the Jordan River on the other. There were four of us and we were typically only there one weekend a month: myself and Danny, Shai, and Steve. Steve was a serious sort, tersely caustic, irritatingly sober and fabulously, independently wealthy. A military history buff and military video game enthusiast, to this day he won’t admit that he never actually saw any action.

But I’ll grant Steve that he had one necessary attribute going for him that I lacked: he brought a high degree of conviction to our job, which was the only decent thing any of us could have done in that position (although Danny, who did basic with him, maintains Steve had doctors’ notes excusing him from all variety of hardship). I, on the other hand, learned the game too late and applied my newfound insights in one fell swoop. Toward the end of my service I began employing every trick in the book and managed to finagle forty-five days worth of sick leave (I was a medic) on totally false pretenses. Danny, being less brazenly manipulative than I, was merely AWOL. We passed the time smoking hash, watching DVD movies, growing fat indulging our effete tastes at the local non-kosher Russian grocery and gorging ourselves on Chinese takeout from nearby Tiberias. One day, a couple of newcomers arrived: Dave and his brother, Len.

Now, of all the psychologically damaging features of an orthodox Jewish upbringing, divorce is probably the least common. Yet it was apparently by means of just such a family rupture that these boys had escaped from the depths of Brooklyn and the Ocean Parkway Taliban.

I’ve heard it observed that clannish, inbred communities occasionally distill the entirety of their evolutionarily advantageous traits into a single offspring, leaving his or her eight-dozen siblings to cope with T-rex arms, odd numbers of eyes, and various palsies. That lucky one-off was Dave. Handsome, well built and extroverted, he was a boy scout of a paratrooper but also a ladies’ man, betraying nothing of his origin in medieval Long Island or its debilitating effects, which had apparently been inherited entirely by Len, a moonfaced introvert with a squishy, womanly physique who rarely spoke except to make cryptic comments that only half-made sense if you gave him the maximum benefit of the doubt by taking a good, long minute to think about them, which one quickly discovered was not worth endeavoring. He spent his weekend leave watching television in the commons, where Danny and I verbally pounced on him one afternoon, offering unsolicited our sorry stories of disillusionment, interrogating him as to his motive for enlisting and trying to discourage him, convert him to a cynic and generally break his eerie silence, which we optimistically presumed a personality to be lurking behind. He didn’t really respond, which was just as well, since Danny and I were only thinking out loud, attempting to assuage our self-loathing over squandered years, clichéd dreams and our mutual inability to hack it in the face of Yaweh’s unquenchable thirst for human blood. But unlike Danny and me, Len had barely been a month in uniform.

It generally isn’t until about the six-week halfway point of a three-month basic training regimen that Israeli army conscripts are allowed off base with their weapons. Two weeks after Danny’s and my berating of Len, Steve returned home, on leave from his base, to an empty fridge. Deciding to go trolling for a Coke, he entered the first unlocked dorm room he could find and discovered flies buzzing around an inanimate Len, slumped in a corner, fellating an M-16, brains splattered three feet in every direction across the wall behind him. His pathetic suicide note revealed his unhappiness in the army (big surprise), his declining hope that the experience would relieve him of his sense of physical inadequacy, the fact that he’d never been with a woman, and that all he’d ever wanted was to be a tough guy in the Israeli army and to have a girlfriend.

Upon hearing the news I thought, “What a loser.” I couldn’t have said it better about myself. I mean, the only person who can get a self-esteem boost out of a plump, dweeby 26-year old virgin’s weepy suicide note is an even bigger loser. At least Len had the balls to ice himself—I guess he turned out to be a tough guy in the Israeli army, after all.

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