I have many misty, watercolored memories from my time as an IDF Lone Soldier, back in the 1990s. And there are few memories I can recall as clearly as the feeling of riding the bus home from my tank base, on the Fridays when we weren’t scheduled to spend Shabbat on our base, ‘somewhere’ in the Negev Desert.
On your base, on patrol, on guard duty, on the border, you feel like a soldier. You wear your heavy-duty “bet” uniform that is designed to take a beating – the uniform whose job it is to get anointed with a layer of tank grease and mud, and then ask for seconds.
On the bus, you finally start to feel like yourself – like a kid who only recently was in high school (or in my case, college). You’re still wearing a uniform, but it’s your “alef” dress uniform with the colored beret you earned by completing your masa kumta (one of many long overnight marches), and all of the unit tags and insignia pins you are issued as you gradually earn the right to call yourself a “pazamnik” over 3 long years. Of course you also get to rock your favorite pair of sunglasses, asserting just a little bit of your personality, amidst the soldierly sartorial sameness.
On the bus, you’re not yet home, but in your mind, you’ve already begun to make the mental transition. As you slide into your seat, you can almost taste your mom’s special chicken or cholent/chamin or jachnun or chraimeh or kubbeh soup or shakshuka or sabich or schnitzel or kababim (or in my case, the grilled chicken and Marzipan rugelach I bought for myself at Jerusalem’s Machane Yehuda market on the walk to the apartment I shared with 2 other Lone Soldiers) that she knows is your favorite. As she watches over the simmering pots, she looks up at the clock, beyond excited that in a few short hours, she’ll see her baby walk through the door. She can’t wait to shower you with love. Love in the form of hugs and kisses. Love in the form of a full plate, a full belly, and a full bed.
On your base, on patrol, on guard duty, on the border, your guard is up. You are perma-tense. Awake. Aware. Anxious.
On the bus, you begin to let your guard down. There are weeks during combat training that allow you only a precious few hours of sleep. So when Friday comes and you nestle your head in the crook between your seat’s headrest and the bus window, your body seems to sense that you don’t need to be quite as vigilant as you were just a short time ago. Your eyelids seem to sense that they are suddenly much heavier than they were just a short time ago.
You are bone-weary and finally, deliriously, blissfully, on the way home - just another kid who wants to tell mom and dad about his week. You picture yourself walking through the front door of your family home in just a few short hours, as you’ve done thousands of times in your short life. Your senses are attuned not the sounds of gun or tank fire and the smell of cordite and diesel, but to the comforting sounds of the voices of family and friends, and the comforting smells of your favorite comfort foods.
And then you are asleep – a deep sleep that will only be interrupted by the sounds of the bus arriving at its destination, the sounds of your fellow passengers rising to gather their belongings and get off the bus.
Unless you are Eden Atias (HY”D) of Nazrat Illit.
Eden Atias who was only 19 years old.
Eden Atias who was only 3 months into his army service.
Eden Atias whose alef uniform hadn’t yet had the opportunity to earn any insignia.
Eden Atias whose alef uniform still probably had the crease from the factory.
Eden Atias who never got to walk off the bus under his own power.
Eden Atias who was buried tonight.
Would Eden Atias still be alive if our government stopped letting terrorist murderers out of the prison they earned the right to inhabit for so much longer?
Would Eden Atias still be alive if John Kerry had kept his wishful-thinking, flotilla-supporting, intifada-threatening mouth shut?
Would Eden Atias still be alive if we worried less about confidence-building measures and Palestinian ‘dignity’, and more about keeping ourselves safe?
Would Eden Atias still be alive if we worried less about the ignorant, hypocritical, morally relativist ‘world opinion’, and more about asserting our legal and moral rights to live proudly in our homeland?
As I try to sleep tonight, I will be thinking about these questions.
As I try to sleep tonight, I will be thinking about Gal Gabriel Kobi.
As I try to sleep tonight, I will be thinking about Tomer Hazan.
May G-d comfort the family of Eden Atias among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem. And may we know no more sorrow.
UPDATE: If it seems like I wrote the name Eden Atias a few times too many, perhaps it’s to make up for the fact that so many media outlets either couldn’t be bothered to include it at all, or only deigned to do so in the context of Israeli evildoing. Just another example of the media at its perfidious finest.