October 27, 2005
The Officer’s Grin
Gaza 1995. Though my tank brigade is stationed in the Jordan Valley, I am deployed to Rafiah. Rafiah lies in the southern Gaza
Strip, on the Israeli-Egyptian border.
Together with some of my colleagues, I am charged with the mission of delivering weapons to the Palestinian Authority. Some of my fellow soldiers refuse this job, but I volunteer for it. Recently immigrated to Israel from Switzerland, bedazzled by "Oslo" and soaked with hope, I try to comprehend the logic of acting Prime Minister Shimon Peres, or at least not to question it. Weapons, lots of weapons are to be handed out to the Palestinians, so that they can provide quiet and order in the territories. OK then.
I try to ignore the fear that these weapons, handed out to the Palestinians in the course of the "peace process," might be used against Israelis -- as history would evidence later on.
So I travel to Rafiah in winter of 1995. Upon our arrival, I see Israeli officers and representatives of the Palestinian Authority. I am guided to a huge container that is opened. And I do not believe my eyes. Inside the container there are hundreds of guns, all Kalashnikovs, sent from Egypt.
"Foreign aid for the little, suffering brother," flashes through my head. The brand new "Kalashim," as they are affectionately named, are of Russian origin, most accurate in hitting their target. My duty is to count these guns, lubricate them and hand them over to the newly appointed Palestinian "officer" waiting next to me.
I start my work, and my hands turn black.
"What doesn't one do for peace?" I say to myself.
After several hours of counting, cleaning, lubricating and, most of all, perspiring, I deliver the last gun to the Palestinian officer. And just then, something happens that I will never be able to erase from my memory. The man looks at the gun, then lifts his head and looks straight at my face. And then, all of a sudden, he starts to grin. It is a brutal grin, full of malice. My blood runs cold; thoughts flash through my head: How long will we Israelis play this naive game? In the reflection of his teeth I see the raped innocence of the Jewish people and those Arabs who really want peace. It almost feels to me as if sympathy for our naivety, for our foolishness resonated in his grin. In my head it echoes: "Israeli! You know very well that this very gun one day will be pointed against you and your people!"
Paralyzed, I watch the man as he -- still grinning to himself -- walks to his container, "my" last Kalashnikov in his hands.
On our journey home I cannot speak a word, the following day I cannot eat a bite. In the course of the following months and years there will be nights when I wake up drenched in sweat and see the grinning face of that Palestinian officer in front of me. Especially on those days when Jews are shot like ducks in the streets of Israel by murderous Palestinian terrorists, a thought keeps running through my head: "Perhaps this was your gun? One of your well-lubricated Kalashims?"
Gaza 2005. Over the last years, and especially after living through the second intifada, I, as well as many other Israelis, have become aware of the fact that weapons must not be given into the wrong hands. Specifically in view of the recurring mad cycle of giving weapons to the Palestinians, waiting till they are misused, and confiscating the same weapons some time later in the course of a military action unnecessarily costing many lives. And then, later, we return these weapons as new "endeavors for peace" to the Palestinians -- with the next "date of confiscation" probably nothing but a matter of time. Is the handing over of a potentially explosive strip of land perhaps not too different from handing over a weapon?
There is a serious apprehension expressed by many leading military experts that now, after the total pullout, Gaza will become an unprecedented hotbed of terror, just a few kilometers from Israeli towns. Shouldn't certain preconditions have been imposed on the beneficiaries of this territory prior to a risky handing over of land? Is it reasonable to deliver a gun to a man who publicly threatens to use it against him?
Thank goodness I was not mobilized as a reservist for the Gaza evacuation. I could not have gone there. Not that I am against any pullout from the Gaza Strip (though I considered the plan to evacuate it without any Palestinian reciprocity disastrous and a reward to terrorism), not that I do not appreciate Israeli democracy, not that I have personal feelings against Ariel Sharon. None of that. I simply could not stand to see that grin again.
Emanuel Cohn was born and reared in Basel, Switzerland, and moved to Israel 12 years ago. In his army service he served in the Israel Defense Forces tank corps. He now lives in Jerusalem with his wife, Naomi, and their two children.