Waiting for the Soldiers

I have found, over time, that life is filled with ironies. Subtle things that are so humorous, if we but take the time to notice them, we will choke from our laughter or drown in our tears. Often, it seems as if God is playing with us, wanting us to see what is so obvious…knowing that we never will. Two items that happen on the same day and yet the world will see only one. Two halves of a truth, hidden and yet obvious.

Yesterday, we were presented with several such incidents. In an ironic twist, Baruch Marzel of the National Union party was set to act as a polling monitor in the Israeli Arab town of Umm alFahm. Meanwhile, the Arab Ra’am Ta’al party sent a representative to monitor the Knesset election in the Jewish community of Beit El. By Israeli “mainstream” standards, whatever that is, Baruch Marzel is often called “an extremist.” Beit El is located in Samaria, often referred to as the West Bank. Its residents, like 250,000 other Israelis are often referred to as “settlers” – usually by those who wish to separate them from Israel and Israelis.

The Ra’am Ta’al is an Arab party, known for its strong anti-Israel standing and its leaders who regularly use their democratically elected position to condemn the very country that gave them a voice and Umm alFahm is often the site of many anti-Israel riots. In short, this is a perfect example of how to set up an explosion waiting to happen. This is also part of Israel’s democracy – that parties are appointed to send monitors to represent them and see that voting is done honestly and fairly.

So yesterday, the representative of the Arab party set out to enter Beit El, a town his party rejects and wants to see destroyed. The representative entered the town, monitored the voting, and left. That’s the end of that story. There was no violence; no threats.

At the same time, Baruch Marzel was prevented by police from arriving because police feared Arab violence and riots. Even before he would have arrived, the Arabs of the town were busy demonstrating not the right to vote, but their right to express their negative attitudes – that too is part of our democracy…until, of course, they threatened violence. The police caved in, fearing what would happen, and Marzel was replaced by Member of Knesset Aryeh Eldad, of the same party.

In the end, MK Eldad was escorted by police out of the polling station after spending a few hours there. An Arab mob began rioting and threatening him. Rocks were thrown at security forces as they evacuated the Knesset member, and shouts of “Death to the Jews!” could be heard.

I find it ironic that a Jew cannot go to a predominantly Arab polling station in the Jewish state of Israel, while a representative of an Arab party can easily and quietly spend the entire day in the Jewish community of Beit El, without violence or rioting. That was, for me, the first irony of the elections that took place in Israel.

The second irony was that much of this election centers around security and as the day ended and the polls were closing, the Palestinians in Gaza launched a rocket against Israel – yet another violation of the so-called cease-fire. Once again, God was merciful and the rocket caused no injuries. And just after the polls closed, there was a shooting attack near Beit El, the very place that a representative of an Arab party watched Israel’s democracy in action. Though an Israeli car was damaged, thankfully there were no injuries.

And finally, I woke to the third irony of the day – this one caused me to smile. The elections were very close. Kadima was calculated to have 28 seats; Likud would get 27 according to the tally. Nevertheless, Israel has moved to the right and it is clear that only Netanyahu and Likud will be able to form the next government. Over 99% of the votes have been counted. The last 1% belongs to the soldiers and Israeli diplomats abroad. These votes are held aside and must be counted and checked against the roster of those who voted to confirm that they didn’t vote twice. Technically, a soldier could have voted on his base and then gone home and voted locally.

In the last election, six Knesset (parliament) seats changed hands as a result of these last votes. What this means is that the final rests with the soldiers, and there may well be enough to change the final tally enough to push Likud over Kadima. In practical terms, it means little. The right wing already carries enough votes to determine the composition of the next government.

But I like the idea that it is our soldiers who have the final word. In the last few months, they fought for our citizens but even more, they fought for our democracy. They fought for our right to live in this land, as normal citizens of our country. They protected our citizens against an enemy that hid behind their own. Several years ago, the Palestinians voted for Hamas and got the government that even they don’t deserve. Now, our soldiers went to the polls to help pick a government that will hopefully be worthy to lead our land.

There are great challenges ahead. Social, economic, and educational tests will be faced by this government. But as with all Israeli governments since the founding of the State, this next government will be faced with unprecedented security issues. Hamas, Hizbollah and Iran threaten us. What they decide to do will determine the path our government takes, and the demands it makes on our soldiers.

It is so incredibly just that the nation now waits for the soldiers’ votes.

02.11.09, 19:14 Two mortar shells fired from northern Gaza landed in Eshkol Regional Council limits. No injuries or damage were reported.

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