The problem with blogging, I’ve learned, isn’t so much the starting as the maintaining. In my last post, I told you about Elie’s friend Re’em – and have left many people hanging by not updating you. The problem is, as with many medical situations, it takes mere seconds to get there, and months or longer to get out.
Re’em is stable. Where he is now, isn’t a very good or comfortable place, but for now, it’s a day-by-day battle. He is still in intensive care and the doctors don’t yet know, or at least aren’t saying to those outside the immediate family, what any long term prognosis is.
For now, it seems we take it day-by-day and wait for his body to heal, praying that it be as complete and speedy a recovery as possible. The good news is that they have moved the breathing tube from his mouth, so that he is more comfortable. There are small signs of progress and many prayers on his behalf. More than that, there is not much that we can do.
As for Elie, he’s back up north waiting for his unit to be transferred to another location. It might happen next week…it might not. Elie has learned a little lesson himself. He hesitates to tell me if he is coming home because he doesn’t want me to be disappointed. I heard from a friend that their son might be coming home this weekend and since he is in Elie’s unit (one of 6 other units loosely bound into this division), I asked Elie if he was coming home too. He’s still waiting to find out.
When the transfer comes through, it is another milestone in his service. It means training has ended and he is part of the regular army. For the next 9 months or so, he’ll be patrolling various areas on Israel’s borders and at various checkpoints. Then, assuming we aren’t involved in war before then, he’ll go back into training for a few months to keep them comfortable with the artillery equipment.
What does it mean to man a checkpoint? That’s a post in and of itself, but the short version is very simple. Elie and his group will have 2-3 seconds to decide if the person who is approaching them poses a threat. Is there a chance this person is armed, carrying explosives, or someone who simply wants to support his family? Will the ambulance that wants to take a patient to the hospital have been altered to provide shelter not for the ill, but for those who wish to attack? All this, must be decided in the two or three seconds it takes for the person to pass through the checkpoint. Elie and his group will be all that stands between one person intent on murder and innocent men, women and children who, even as those seconds tick away, are unaware of any threat.
This is the way it was on August 9, 2001, when a young Palestinian couple crossed through a checkpoint on their way into Jerusalem. He was carrying a guitar case, and inside the innocent looking case, there was a massive bomb, and screws and nails to magnify the devastation. He was from a well-to-do family; she was part of the image they would present. Ahlam Tamimi was 20 years old when she accompanied Shuheil al–Masri and years later was quoted as saying, “I’m not sorry for what I did.”
Think of the soldier who let al–Masri pass through the checkpoint that day. He had only seconds to decide and he made a tragic mistake. What are our options? Can we give our soldiers more time to evaluate each person? Can we check them more carefully?
On the other side of the argument are those who say checkpoints damage the quality of life of the Palestinians. This argument was made to Arnold Roth, whose 15 year old daughter Malki was murdered in the Sbarro bombing. Roth’s answer was very simple – we have no right to speak of the quality of Palestinian life…when his daughter was denied life itself. If the Palestinians didn’t bring their threat and their violence to our cities, the security fence and defensive measures would not have to be taken. The bombings came first; the security fence is a reaction to it. Stop the bombings – the attempts at bombings, and the fence can come down.
Would a few more seconds have made the difference? We’ll never know. But there are many, many cases where the checkpoints have saved lives, caught a bomber or someone carrying a weapon and so the checkpoints become a necessary evil that will go away when the Palestinians stop trying to bring weapons through them. Now especially, when much of the security fence is in place, Palestinians must cross into Israel through the checkpoints.
The result is a 90% drop in terrrorist attacks and a much higher rate of catching those who attempt violence. The flip side of that is the tremendous burden it puts on our soldiers at the checkpoints – to be constantly aware of who is passing in front of them. Friend or foe? Innocent civilian or someone who wants to harm innocents? Unarmed or carrying explosives, guns, knives, any weapon meant to harm?
Soon, Elie will learn a new reality. He will learn to judge, to evaluate, to determine, to quantify and qualify, to analyze and understand each of thousands of people who walk and drive through his checkpoint – all in two or three seconds.
From the age of 6, Elie has passed through checkpoints thousands of times. Starting next week, he will be standing there, between Israel and those who would do her harm…and between Israel and thousands of innocent Israelis and Palestinians who just want to get to work or school. It will be Elie’s job to tell the difference – in two or three seconds.