Monday, December 31, 2012

Guns and Israel: Why what you think is probably wrong

Two weeks ago, I turned on my computer after Shabbat to discover what everyone in America had already been grappling with for a day: Newtown. And in the days that followed, in the news--well, you all know what you read, about gun control, the NRA, mental illness, and gun control. And every so often, Israel would come up, as a place where people are all armed to the teeth and ergo these things do not happen. A school massacre could never happen here, because we have armed security guards, and, well, people here are armed.

Well, no. School massacres like the ones in Newtown haven't happened here, because mentally unstable teenage boys here don't have access to guns, and the Arab terrorists who would very happily shoot up a classroom full of children aren't given the chance to do so.

Rates of gun violence in Israel are not low because everyone here has a gun. Rates of gun violence are low because guns here are very tightly regulated, and because the guns that are out there are in the right hands.

In  Israel, there are 7 privately owned guns per 100 people. In the US, there are 89. The US rate of firearm deaths per capita is five times as high as the rate in Israel. Even though we have, you know, this terrorist problem.

Guns in Israel are ubiquitous. Yes, this is true. You see guns everywhere. You see guns on the bus, guns in the bus station, guns on every policeman and security guard. You see soldiers in uniform carrying guns, and you see soldiers on leave, not in uniform, carrying guns. So the sight of a 19-year-old boy with an automatic weapon slung over his shoulder, eating a hamburger, doesn't get a second glance.

It's easy to see this and think that Israel is the NRA's version of paradise. Actually, this is pretty far from the truth, because when you get down to it, you cannot have a gun in Israel unless the government specifically says you can--and unless you have a very good case to own a gun, they're going to tell you no.

Guns in Israel exist for a very clear reason. They're there, to be blunt, to keep Arabs from killing Jews. There: I said it. That is why we have guns on the streets here: so that when a terrorist gets on a bus with a bomb, or walks into a pizza restaurant with a bomb, or starts mowing down passersby with a stolen bulldozer, or climbs through your bedroom window to murder your family, you have a chance to kill him before he kills you or anyone else. It's pretty straightforward. We have off-duty soldiers, policemen, and security guards carrying guns for this reason, and we have the guns visible for this reason.

Attitudes toward gun ownership in Israel are completely different. Gun ownership is not a right. It's something you avoid if you can. There is nothing cool, exciting, or sports-related about guns in Israel. You do not use them to go target shooting for fun or, for the most part, to go hunting (although I'm told some people do hunt here, it's nothing like deer hunting in, say, upstate New York). Military service is mandatory, for the most part, because Israel is constantly fighting for its own existence. You learn to use a gun with every expectation that at some point, you will be using it in a situation where you might die. Guns are large, smelly, greasy, heavy, awkward and dangerous. You do not collect them, you do not show them off. They are a necessary evil. And because of the mandatory military service, people understand this, they understand guns, they respect guns and they know how to use them. There are very few gun accidents here; people do not accidentally shoot their own kids in parking lots. Stolen guns are rare, because if you have a gun, you have to keep it behind two locks at every moment it is not on your body. If someone steals your gun because you were negligent, you--yes, you--can be held responsible for crimes committed with it. It's a pretty strong disincentive for being negligent.

In Israel, you cannot just walk into a store and walk out with a gun. You have to have a reason to own a gun, and you have to demonstrate that you have a need for a gun, and you have to prove that you are capable of owning your gun responsibly. If you live in the West Bank, if you are employed in security, if you transport valuables, if you travel in the West Bank--these are reasons to own a gun. Usually, they are reasons to own one pistol, which you plan on carrying. One pistol. Not a Bushmaster.

If you apply for a gun permit, you stand a 40% chance of being rejected. If you have a gun, the police check up on you regularly, to make sure you haven't done anything you shouldn't have. And you have to reapply, at least annually, to demonstrate that yes, you still need your gun.

We live in the West Bank, within a literal stone's throw of lots of Arabs who would very much like to kill us. We are not allowed to have a gun, simply because we haven't been here long enough and, I would imagine, the Israeli government doesn't have confidence that we are Israeli enough to handle one safely. My husband looked into it when we moved, and was told, sorry--not for another year. If we'd stayed in Jerusalem, we would have been refused even after that time. Because we didn't have a good enough reason.

But it doesn't matter, because we're not going to have a gun in our house. With a houseful of curious little kids, we're much safer without one. And unless you live in Givat Assaf, or Efrat, or Afghanistan, or Yemen--so are you.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Kid chronicles

On Friday night, a few of the kids were not sick, exactly, but under the weather. Avtalyon fell asleep on the landing of the stairs at about 4--just lay down there and conked out. Mr. Bigfoot moved him to his bed, and there he stayed, until around 11 PM when the three of us (me, Mr. Bigfoot and Alisha) suddenly heard the dulcet sounds of Avtalyon belting out birkat hamazon (grace after meals) at about 200 decibels.

"Avtalyon? Are you up?"

"I'm benching!"

"We can hear that. Do you want to come downstairs and eat something, so you'll have something to bench on?"


He came downstairs, a little flushed but not feverish, eyes the size of dinner plates and the color of tar pits. He traipsed into the living room, stopped short, and then, with the full-body, arm-waving expressiveness that is his peculiar provenance, exclaimed, "Imma! Do you know what? It's the middle of the night! It's not morning anymore! Do you know how I know?"

Pause while he waits for an answer.

"No! How do you know?"

"Because I can see the bookshelves!"

I will cheerfully give myself full credit for figuring this one out. He was talking about seeing the bookshelves reflected in the windows. During the day you see the backyard; at night, it's dark out and light inside, and so you see the bookshelves. Of course.

Mordechai is ten months old. How crazy is that? He's got two teeth on the bottom, two on the top, and two more coming in on top on the sides. He just started waving bye-bye, crawls everywhere, loves to climb ther stairs but can really only do it with two adult hands right behind him, because he doesn't have the balance to not fall over backward every so often. He still has that insanely hilarious cackle when he laughs. He just started eating food, and has gone pretty much directly from gagging on half a teaspoonful of pureed carrots to eating cheerios and matzo balls and noodles and demanding four square meals a day plus snacks. If you put him in the high chair, he howls until he sees the box of Cheerios come down from the cupboard. Then he's happy. He's getting much better at navigating them into his mouth, too.

Marika turned three a few weeks ago, and had a lovely birthday party at school that was the culmination of nearly a full year of "yom bodedet" fantasies. She went to an upshearin for a friend's little boy last December and has been kind of obsessed with birthdays every since. She was very very attached to the crown she got, for days, and still refers to any cake or gift or birthday-associated item as a "yom yom bodedet."

I pick the kids up from gan most afternoons, and usually what happens is I pick Marika up a little early, at 5-8 minutes till 2, and she and I and Mordechai in the baby wrap go up and get Iyyar and Avtalyon (whose ganim are right next to each other) and then all three of them play in the gan playground for an hour or close to it. This works out well for everyone. Iyyar gets his OT in by swinging hard on the swings, which I insist on as a prerequisite of playtime; Avtalyon also gets his playground time in, which his OT also suggests for his gross motor delays. But really, what most of them do is sit down in the sand and dig. And dig. And dig some more. Twice a week Barak comes home as I am heading up the hill, and I take him with me, and then they launch major works of civil engineering, with connecting tunnels and bridges and what have you. All the other kids have long gone except for Oded and his sister, the daughters of the assistant in the big gan that is between Avtalon and Iyyar's little ganim (since Iyyar and Avtalyon are both in gan safa, with only nine--NINE--boys in each, they're in smaller spaces. Iyyar's in a side room, Avtalyon's in a trailer.) Today I saw Oded's little sister, who is four but very tall for her age, strike up a friendship with Marika. She has only just begun to really have friends, so it was really fun to watch the two of them settle into the sandbox, collect their toys, take turns and so on.

Iyyar's doing well. He's in a good phase right now, seems happy at gan, is doing less of the weird behavior, isn't too hard to get out the door in the morning, isn't pounding on Marika quite as much. But it's day by day. Some days are great; some days, not so much. I'm still hoping to see him in a regular kita aleph (first grade) class next year, but if he's in a kita katana, and that seems like the best place for him, then that's OK too. He's gotten kind of amazing with mental math. And he's gotten really affectionate, in a way that is a little bit clingy but not alarmingly so. He just likes to sit next to me on the couch and cuddle. Obviously, I don't object to this. I'm all about cuddling on the couch.

And Barak just got a 107 on his Torah test. Homework continues to be a struggle and I've completely stopped trying to get him to daven on days he doesn't have school. I don't need to make it into a fight. He's steadily turning into a yishuv kid; goes all over by himself, although I insist on knowing where he is and exactly when he'll be back. But last week I ran out of eggs, and after wrestling with myself a little bit, I handed him money, sent him to the grocery store, and told him I needed 30 large eggs and he could also buy some parve chocolate for us to share. Half an hour later, he was back, mission accomplished and only two eggs broken. A new era, to be sure.

Sunday, December 09, 2012


1. Avtalyon: "Ooowwwwwwwwwwwww!"
    Abba: "Do you want me to kiss it and make it better?"
    Avtalyon: (through sobs) "It's not going to make it better! It just shows me you wuv me!"

2. Barak: "Imma? I feel that you should be aware that the parve chocolate coins in the cupboard have been mysteriously disappearing. There used to be a whole lot and now there's only one, stuck down behind the box of crackers." Useful information for me to have, but not in the way he thinks.

3. Mordechai:"WAAAAAAAH!" Translation: "I want to talk to the management! I want a new room! Why do I always get stuck in the crappy room with the cold little bed and the thin mattress and no room service? I want the room with Imma, with heated bed, down blankets and in-bed minibar.  GET ME THE MANAGER!"

4. Iyyar: "Imma, do you know what we did today? We made soup with pitriyot [mushrooms]. The ganenet took us all outside and we went and looked for mushrooms and picked mushrooms. Then we went back to the gan and made soup. But you can't do it yourself, only with the ganenet. Otherwise you might get sick."

5. Marika: "Iss my yom yom bodedet! I hadda yom bodedet in my gan! Inna chair!" Translation: It's my birthday! I had a birthday in my school! I got lifted up in a chair!

6. Mr. Bigfoot: "I hope you're still blogging. Are you still blogging? You need to write some of this down.