Most Americans visiting Israel for the first time are caught a bit off guard by all the weapons carted about by IDF troops, many like this oh-so young woman in civilian clothes. It all seems so alien to the way we live our lives in the land of the free and the home of the brave. In the Jewish homeland it’s part of everyday life!Soldiers are responsible for their weapons, even when off-duty, and often have nowhere to stash them. So they carry them on errands, when visiting friends or out for a casual drink. It’s not at all uncommon to spot a guy or girl in a bathing suit, strolling along the Mediterranean with friends, an M-14 slung casually over their shoulders.
If you happen to be at one of the central bus stations in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv or Haifa on a Sunday morning – the beginning of the work week in Israel – then you’ll have a chance to see just how much weaponry is actually in circulation in this tiny nation. I wasn’t around in the 1940s, but I’m thinking the coming and going of youngish troops, armed and smartly decked out in an array of colorful uniforms, is a mirror image of what the U.S. probably looked like during the dark days of World War II.In Israel, troops returning to their duty bases can be spotted with Dror light machine guns, Uzi pistols and submachine guns; Galil assault rifles and the occasional high-powered sniper rifle; a wide range of handguns and, of course, the ubiquitous M-14s.
At first glance it might seem like the wild and wooly west has been reborn in the Middle East. And yet, after a moment or so, the weapons and soldiers seem a natural part of this place, just another interesting ingredient – along with Sabra wit, falafel, serpentine streets and mystical secrets – that makes Israel special.So snap away at the teens and their assault rifles. You’ll find them most everywhere. They don’t seem to mind the candid camera hijinks of tourists and, truth to tell, all those weapons make Israel one of the safest countries in the world for visitors.
A final note: Here’s hoping that one day soon the weapons will disappear, along with all the reasons that make them necessary!