June 12, 2003
Indiscreet in the IDF
I recently joined some 30 volunteers from a dozen countries as part of Sar-El Volunteers For Israel to work with the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF). As a Christian Zionist on his third visit to Israel this year, I was mostly united in purpose with the others who came at the outset of the war against Iraq.
For my first weekend, while most of the others headed for Tel Aviv, I went up to Jerusalem. When we returned on Sunday, I told my volunteer friends about my weekend: the story of my lost passport, my visit to the Temple Mount and my patriotic plans while in the Old City.
When I was in Jerusalem, a security guard asked me for my passport, but I must have lost it on a crowded street. They then asked me if I had a weapon inside my guitar case, and asked me to open it. (When telling this story to the other volunteers, I quipped, "If I did have a gun, I'd like to shoot Yasser Arafat with it.")
I told the soldiers why Americans appreciate and support Israel. They were grateful, and let me through.
When I was meandering through the dark streets of Old Jerusalem, I inadvertently came upon an entrance to the Temple Mount right in front of the Dome of the Rock. Dressed like a tourist, I thought to get as close as possible. As I approached the quiet steps, neither the two policemen to my left nor the guard at the door seemed to stir, so I ascended to the door. The guard spoke in Arabic; when I said, "I only speak English," he told me I had to go back. I was content to have been one step from the Temple Mount and seen the Dome of the Rock so close. The Arab policemen never moved from their seats, and no one asked to see my passport. I then went to the Kotel.
Then I told my friends that I had brought a few American flag stickers. I only had four of them, each half the size of a postcard. Muslims in Israel have burned American flags and openly showed support for Saddam Hussein, so I hoped to offer a symbolic gesture on lampposts near the north gate. But these areas were crowded, and I did not have an opportunity to apply a sticker. Furthermore, while walking among the Arabs, I developed a deep sense of how they are their own worst enemy, and decided not to do it.
When I arrived back on the base, I let them know that my passport was probably stolen. I was brought to a tightly secure military compound in Tel Aviv to talk to the commander.
"You have been planting American flags in East Jerusalem?" he asked me.
I told him I had a few stickers.
"Stickers?" He was surprised, but continued, "I understand that you tried to get onto the Temple Mount," and "Didn't you say that you wish you had a gun so you could shoot Yasser Arafat?" and "Mr. Griffin, what involvement did you have with the police in Jerusalem?" and "What happened to your passport?" and "Did the police take your passport?" and "Were you arrested?"
Then the commander delivered a beautiful oratory, beginning with, "We greatly appreciate the courage and dedication of anyone coming to help the State of Israel at this time," and ended with, "You represent the Israel Defense Forces every minute you are in this program."
I was in shock. I could clearly see how I had been indiscreet by discussing these things in public. I realized that I did compromise the integrity of the unit, that military concerns are very different from civilian interests. Unlike politics, nothing is a game -- especially during wartime. I understood the commander was responsible for something bigger than my problem.
The next morning, another officer asked me how I lost my passport and if I had been arrested. He then told me, "Regrettably, you have crossed some red lines, so we must dismiss you from the program."
I deeply regretted if I brought any disgrace to those responsible for me in the Sar-El program, and that I was disqualified to work alongside the IDF.
As I prepared to leave, I also regretted that I never saw the flag go up on the base. During the week that I had been there, the flagpole was waiting for repairs. But on my last afternoon, the army was testing the restored flagpole. I caught a glimpse of the soaring Magen David, and I gave a shout of joy.
The next morning, I left to Jerusalem, on the beginning of a great weekend and personal journey.
It's not hard to appreciate being alive in Israel.
About my passport: Miraculously, it was found and brought to the U.S. Consulate.
Dutch Griffin is a CAD/CAM programmer and attends Calvary Chapel in Southern California.