You can literally drop me off anywhere on the globe and all I need is the relevant Lonely Planet guide book to make sure I have a peaceful, hassle-free, insightful journey. I learned this while travelling in South Asia back in 2001-2002, and that’s why upon returning to Israel I also purchased the Lonely Planet guide for Israel, as I knew it would be interesting to read about my own country from the point of view of a backpacking foreigner. Following is one ‘boxed’ nugget for your enjoyment written ten years ago:
Boys, Girls & Guns
[singlepic id=211 w=320 h=240 float=right]Israel is still technically at war with more than a few of its fellow Middle Eastern countries. This, in addition to being enmeshed in battling Palestinian terrorist groups and struggling to contain the sporadically violent extremist factions within its own society, means that wherever you go you’ll see armed soldiers. Bus stations, in particular, are filled with soldiers in olive green uniforms either arriving home on leave or heading off back to base. Having an occasion to ask, “Excuse me, could you move your gun so I can sit down there”, is an accepted part of bus travel.
What takes more getting used to is the prepubescent appearance of some of the soldiers. Unlike most standing armies, the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) is a citizens’ army made up of draftees – both men and women – plucked from civilian life at age 18, fresh from high school. With the conscripts out of adolescence, it’s an army were fatigues are supplemented by RayBans, and M16 rifles double as crucial fashion accessories. Nor is it always necessary to wear a uniform to carry a gun. Any soldier who loses their weapon (though rarely are women assigned to the weapon-carrying infantry units) is liable to seven years imprisonment, therefore off-duty, jeans and T-Shirt clad soldiers sometimes haul their rifles around if there’s no secure place to leave them. We once spotted two young men attempting to groove on a Jerusalem dance floor encumbered with machine guns slung across their backs – although we suspect this may have had a lot more to do with narcissism then security.
The initial spell of compulsory service in the IDF stretches for 3 years in the case of men and 18 months in the case of women. Once this has been completed, every male is assigned to a reserve unit to which they are recalled for about 30 days service each year, until the age of 35. Single women are also liable to reserve service up until the age of 34, but in practice they’re exempted once they’re about 25 years old. Presumably once a person hits their mid-30s they’re assumed to have finally grown out of teenage things such as guns.
Update: Ido Kenan from room404.net just sent some visual proof: