Sunday, January 11, 2009

Waltz With Bashir

Saw the movie Waltz With Bashir with my dad. My dad was drafted into the Israeli military in 1978, and opted to become a radio mechanic in return for serving an extra year in the military. My mother spent nine months in the military as a psychometrist (the person who performs psychological testing for new tank crews, to make sure that they don't hate each other) before she married him, and was thus given an out from the army.

In other words, my father was still in the military when the war with Lebanon broke out. He didn't have to serve there because he was from the "central" division of the Military (the army was divided into three sections: north, central, and south). Had he been in infantry or tank divisions, he would have been deployed for certain; as it was, he served no more than guard duty once on the border after he was discharged--because after his discharge he was repeatedly called to serve in the reservists. Of course, most of those were one-day summons, and he ignored them with little retribution. Because he ignored the one-day summons', he was never assigned a reservist unit. He finally was assigned a reservist unit when he went to get permission to leave Israel finally, in 1988--so technically he finally served in a reservist unit, although in actuality he came to the United States and finally left the army permanently behind him.

I mention this because after having seen the movie Waltz With Bashir, we talked about his service. His service, of course, is incomparable to the men in the movie--the main character was present in Beirut, and saw the aftermath of the Sabra and Shatila massacre--indirectly aiding, by keeping flares lit through the night of the massacre. But at the same time, it put my parents' decision to leave Israel in context.

For me previously, I had a sort of naive wall put up between Israel's history and the personal lives of my family. Even my grandfather, who fought in one of the freedom fighter groups against the British, risking his life to blow the shofar on Passover, helping to blow up key targets, spending time in a British prison. Somehow there's no reconciling him in my head to the retired accountant with the great sense of humor that I know today. Partly this is because of his own life: he lives shut off from that past. It is incredibly difficult to get him to talk about it, and when he does talk about it, it's as though he's reciting history--not telling his own personal story.

So to think of someone as peacible as my mother--pacifist, with a strong dislike of war in all its forms--being one of the top sharp-shooters in her division in basic training, or to think of my father being lucky enough not to serve in Lebanon--but having his friends serving there. Even when I was there--I was once in Israel at the same time as a double-bus bombing that killed around fifty people, during the height of the Second Intifada, and it seems as remote to me as the violence in Sri Lanka. Just words, concepts, and not flesh and blood in reality. That's the luxury of having lived a life entirely and solely in a peaceful country.

I also remark this because of my father's bitter comment as we were driving home. "Things haven't changed." Considering the scope of the horror, the needless violence, the madness decending into genocidal massacres at Sabra and Shatila, I cannot imagine a more depressing sentiment to take away from it. After all, Ariel Sharon who was i charge during Sabra and Shatila, became the Prime Minister--what's more, he was one of the people who brought us closer to peace with the Palestinians.

My dad shook his head. "I mean that's how it started then! Rockets from Lebanon. And neither side learned anything. Anything at all."

No comments: