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Monday, May 01, 2006

Creating, and discarding, caricatures

[warning:  Those who are bothered, frightened or who become irrational by any mention or discussion of firearms should probably come back another day.  I do not make a habit of talking about guns on this site (less than four treppenwitz posts out of 583 have directly mentioned them... not counting the one regrettable Photo Friday where a tiny bit of my gun was visible in a picture of me making chopped liver), so I sincerely hope that one more post won't give anyone the idea that I have an unhealthy fascination with this topic.  I don't.

One can argue about the role of firearms in personal/home protection... or about the necessary tug-o-war between the right of citizens to bear arms and the government's responsibility to prevent unchecked proliferation of deadly weapons in society.  However, this is neither the place nor the time for that argument.]

When we arrived in Israel I was fortunate (blessed, even) to be hired almost immediately for a job in my field with one of Israel's largest and most prestigious companies.  However, it quickly became apparent that no matter which route I would be driving to work, I would routinely have to travel through potentially problematic areas where stones, Molotov cocktails, bullets and even bombs were sometimes directed at passing cars. 

Add to this the fact that something as simple as a late-evening flat tire on one of the more remote stretches of road could make me an inviting target-of-opportunity for a normally-apolitical Palestinian who, on the spur of the moment, might decide to vent some pent-up frustration against an Israeli.

Not only did I start out wearing a bullet proof vest during my daily commute, but I also made the decision to carry a pistol (a Glock 19C, in case you were curious).   

Within half a year I joined the rotation of residents in my community who stood 4 hours of guard duty a month... and six months later I was asked to join the town's Kitat Konenut (an anti-terrorist emergency response team) which entailed the army issuing me both an M-16 assault rifle and a license to carry it.

In less than a year I went from mild-mannered suburban Connecticut daddy to having more firepower at my disposal than many Montana militias. 

But for all the surreality of this lethal hardware locked up around the house... my basic dislike of guns still kept me from seeing myself the way I would surely be perceived by those who didn't know me; as a typical gun-toting settler.

Rare is the media photograph of any settlers that doesn't include one or more prominently positioned guns. The media has deliberately presented an inaccurate stereotype of settlers who, if not carrying an M-16 slung casually over their shoulder, at least have the ubiquitous pistol poking out from the waistband of their pants. 

Now, I can assure you that while some settlers (including your host) are routinely armed, such armament is far from de rigueur over the green line. 

I'll be the first to admit that, by necessity, guns are a somewhat common sight in many settlements.  But a Haaretz reader in Ramat Gan who has never been to Efrat could be forgiven for mistakenly assuming that every single settler carries a gun... especially if this idea is supported by photographic evidence that regularly appears in his/her paper of choice.

By the same token, a reader of Arutz Sheva could be forgiven for mistakenly thinking that the entire Palestinian population of Judea, Samaria and Gaza was split fairly evenly between active membership in Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the Al Aqsa Martyr's Brigade (with most Israeli Arabs merely rooting for one or more of these organizations)... especially as almost every Palestinian pictured on Arutz Sheva seems to be masked and/or brandishing a weapon.

The point I'm trying to make is that what we see can't help but influence our (mostly inaccurate)personal opinions and prejudices... and each time we see something that reinforces a stereotype in which we've been encouraged to believe... we smile and congratulate ourselves on being so well informed.

It is for this reason that whenever I travel to Gush Dan (the greater Tel Aviv/central coastal region), I usually make a concerted effort to carry my gun in as unobtrusive a manner as possible.

At first this meant simply draping my shirt-tail over the butt of my pistol, or blousing the back of my shirt in such a way that the gun was mostly obscured from view.  But these half-measures usually failed to completely hide the fact that I was armed... especially when the security guard at the entrance to every store, cafe or office building looks at my kippah, waves a metal detector down my back and asks 'Are you armed?' when the magic wand goes beep.

On more than one occasion I have been lectured loudly by Tel Aviv store owners and shoppers about how I (as a settler) am an obstacle to peace... and how my presence in the territories is both illegal and a direct provocation to Palestinian violence.  One such store matron simply pointed at the door and said, "I don't need your settler money and I don't want a settler in my store".

It was after this experience that I decided, aside from the few people who know me personally, I wasn't going to change people's minds about stereotypical gun-toting settlers... so I would try to avoid a 'look' that would confirm stranger's worldview of 'people like me'.

I often took to wearing a baseball cap instead of a kippah on trips to Tel Aviv.  I even began sometimes wearing my pistol in a Fanny Pack (the kind worn in the front) with a quick-release zipper, or inside the front of my pants in a device alternately called 'Thunderwear' (I know... giggle-worthy) or 'Smart Carry' that I'd originally purchased for jogging and cycling.

The scary part is that with a Red Sox cap and one of these two concealed-carry methods, security guards mostly stopped asking me if I was armed.  The few that waved their electronic wands up and down my back failed to detect the loaded 9mm pistol sitting against the front of my body! 

This has lead me to lecture more than a few security guards about laziness and ineffective work habits. 

Surely if I can walk into a restaurant, office building or bookstore with an undetected handgun, the possibilities are endless for someone bent on carrying out a terrorist attack.  Likewise, several young women I know who carry handguns in their purses or fanny packs are frequently shocked to note that security guards routinely let them pass without so much as a glance.  Certainly there have been a sufficient number of attacks carried out by the fairer sex to warrant a certain level of gender-blindness in our security precautions, right?

All this obviously boils down to various aspects of 'profiling'. 

Some will say profiling is illegal, immoral... or perhaps simply a necessary evil.  I think I've mentioned in the past how I feel on this subject.  But isn't treating all settlers as 'gun-toting lunatics' in any discussion of their rights and/or actions also a form of profiling?  And to my way of thinking, it is surreal to do so while willfully ignoring or discounting the reason someone might feel it prudent to arm themselves. 

I mean really, I have friends who have told me to my face they are too frightened to come visit me in the 'dangerous area' where I live... yet they find it provocative and distasteful that 'most'* settlers carry guns.  These friends see no incongruity or contradiction whatsoever in holding these two fears and prejudices side-by-side amongst their collected personal wisdom and opinions.

There are so many very real social, ethnic, criminal, security and economic problems that exist in Israel and the middle east today that I honestly don't understand our need to categorize, defame and profile one another in order to feel better about ourselves. 

Yes, I am a settler... but not all settlers carry guns. 

Yes, I carry a gun... but my sincerest hope (a hope shared by most gun owners I know) is that I'll never have to fire a shot in anger. 

Yes, I may look like someone you have been raised or indoctrinated to fear and/or hate, but if you set aside those biases you'd see I am as unique an individual as anyone else in the world. 

If as an enlightened Israeli I'm expected to shed my prejudices and look at Arabs as individuals and appreciate their rich cultural tapestry of opinions, customs, aspirations, fears and feelings... certainly I have a right to ask you to accept the possibility that I am also more complex than the two-dimensional settler caricature the media wants you to see when you look at me.

* I have not seen any statistical information to support my opinion, but my personal observations and experiences tell me that a modest minority of settlers are actually armed.

220_36

Posted by David Bogner on May 1, 2006 | Permalink

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Even better when you have a gun and a kid or baby. That way it looks like you're putting your chldren in harm's way. And all settler men are wild-eyed and bearded, and all settler women are wearing a tichel.

Photographers were swarming around us in Tekoa when one of our members was killed, but they didn't take the picture until I slung my Uzi to my side and picked up my baby. That was the picture that they wanted (and made it into the Post).

Yehuda

Posted by: Yehuda Berlinger | May 1, 2006 3:42:49 PM

I don't know what to say. I never held with the idea of disengaging from Gaza and can't understand why some Israelis are now painting settlers as a deterent to peace.

If the Palestinians had truly wanted peace, it would have been achieved long ago. All I see are constant threats about wiping Israel from the face of the earth.

I am glad that you are armed. I see the beautiful faces of your family and realize the threat to them is real.

I am sad that you have to be armed at all times, even going to shul.

Shalom and l'chiem.

Posted by: seawitch | May 1, 2006 3:46:39 PM

Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't it the case that only men who live in the territories carry guns? I've yet to see a woman resident other than a soldier carrying one. In which case, the rationale for men doing it is odd. Clearly, if a husband and wife or father and children are together, then they're covered. But if not, as is often the case, how do you justify it? And there have been quite a few cases of women getting gunned down, of which Tali Hatuel was perhaps the most heartbreaking.

Posted by: Judy | May 1, 2006 3:48:38 PM

Judy, at least as many civilian women as men carry guns, and plenty of non-settler men and women carry guns, as well.

I used to wait to drive to Jerusalem behind my neighbor (a woman) when I didn't yet have a gun.

Yehuda

Posted by: Yehuda Berlinger | May 1, 2006 4:08:52 PM

Yehudah... Yes, I've seen this kind of thing first hand. Although, in fairness we don't make much noise when someone takes a picture of a Arab holding a gun near a kid since it reinforces our preconceptions about their callousness. Much of the news really is about what we are allowed to see... not what's really going on.

Seawitch... It bothers me that the sight of guns has become commonplace to my kids. There are obviously a lot of places I could go with that thought... but I think you know what I mean.

Judy... I know many women who are licensed to carry both small and long arms (pistols and rifles). I think there are probably more men than women who carry guns... but there is certainly no legal barrier or social taboo against women being armed... at least as far as I've observed. Although, it makes sense that you wouldn't notice as many armed women as men as they would tend to keep their guns in their purses and fanny packs.

Posted by: treppenwitz | May 1, 2006 4:11:22 PM

not counting the one regrettable Photo Friday where a tiny bit of my gun was visible in a picture of me making chopped liver

That pictures has provided endless amounts of humor for me. I know, it shouldn't but simple minds need simple pleasures.

I am still waiting for the picture of you fishing. ;)

Posted by: Jack | May 1, 2006 4:23:09 PM

Two things:
1. re: Women and guns -- this may be an issur d'oraisa (Biblical Prohibition) against women wearing men's clothing. The Halacha identifies a sword as a man's "garment," and, as such, not to be worn by a woman. The only modern responsa that I'm aware of, however, permits it in a case of security (i.e., to carry a gun for protection, but not for a job (soldier or cop)) (R' Moshe Feinstein, Igros Moshe, but I don't have the exact cite handy)

2. I often took to wearing a baseball cap instead of a kippah on trips to Tel Aviv.

Are you serious?! Rachmana L'Tzlan. In America, many of us would wear a Yarmulka no matter what and where. What kind of state are we in (that's state=situation, not state=country) where a Yid cannot wear a Jewish garment!

And I thought Chareidim who didn't like serugies were bad...

~sigh~

Posted by: Mike Miller | May 1, 2006 4:50:00 PM

Oh, and re: Montana militias -- I don't know what kinda hicks you know, but growing up, my father definitely owned more than this. Granted, until I was in my late teens, I never knew he kept an (illegal) automatic rifle and several sawed off shotguns (he used to own a liquor store), as they were kept with locks inside the ceiling... but that's just us.

I did know how to shoot a rifle before I learned to ride a bike, though. (note: I only learned how to ride a bike at 12)

Now I'm a good law abiding (read: disarmed) Israeli (unlike this guy)

Posted by: Mike Miller | May 1, 2006 4:55:09 PM

it's sad that people, especially children, get used to the sight of guns but in those areas where trouble and attacks are unfortunately not unusual, then for self defence (of yourself, your family and home) it's a necessity.

but it is disconcerting to people who aren't used to seeing weapons. when i stayed with my family in israel I understood the gun in the car from tel aviv to the settlement but having a gun placed (it'd be weird having it strapped to you while making kiddush, not to mention uncomfortable) in the same room as we are having shabbat lunch, that took some adjustment! but if you choose to live there then you have to be prepared.

Posted by: Sarah | May 1, 2006 4:59:07 PM

I visited with the breen and zierler family in teaneck nj at thejewish center great people!!!!

Posted by: sgreenblatt | May 1, 2006 5:38:16 PM

My female friends were always pleasantly surprised when security guards would ask them, too, if they have nesheq. When I started getting asked I just assumed that i was finally able to pass for Israeli ;-)

Posted by: Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) | May 1, 2006 5:59:32 PM

Steg: maybe they were asking about Neirot Shabbat Qodesh? Were the guards Chabad, by any chance? ;)

Posted by: Mike Miller | May 1, 2006 6:18:55 PM

"Thunderwear?"

... and you a nice Jewish boy, married, with kids.

Thunderwear?

Posted by: Ben-David | May 1, 2006 7:23:38 PM

You'll climb ANY mountain won't you?

You might as well walk into an Iranian mosque and explain yourself to the Ayatollah.

Everybody has certain things their mind cannot be changed regarding. One of mine is child mollesters. They should be put to death. Even better ... they should let me be the executioner.

Well anti gun people are as nutso over guns as daddies are over protecting their little girls. Fugetaboudit!

Personally I wouldn't waste my breath on em. They're like (and usually are) peacenik moonbats. A threat to humanity and a waste of oxygen.

Posted by: Scott | May 1, 2006 7:32:54 PM

Are run-flat tires a popular choice amongst drivers in Israel faced with similar situations? Not that it would be a guaranteed solution to the problem. I know they're very expensive, but I could imagine that the peace of mind afforded to the drivers of such vehicles might be worth it to some.

Posted by: tnspr569 | May 1, 2006 7:44:47 PM

Although I understand the extent of the stereotypes of the settlers, it is honestly *very* difficult for me to understand why is it that people so often have such an *irrational* hatred of firearms and people who carry them. I mean, I understand if it's your enemy who's trying to kill you - of course you're going to react angrily. But if it's someone, who's obviously a rational person and is ONLY using the gun for protection, why is it such a big deal? I know that this sounds very childish given the complexity of the situation and the examples of the horrible treatment you've just cited, but it's very difficult for me to come to understand such mentality (especially in Israel), probably because the people I usually associate with have nothing against guns if proper gun safety laws are obeyed. Thanks for writing this post; it's very frustrating, but has given me a lot to think about. I should be used to such type of thinking by now... but for some reason, it's one of those things that ALWAYS raises my ire.

Posted by: Irina | May 1, 2006 7:47:44 PM

Interesting and thoughful post. Thanks for the window into life where you live - we get comfortable here in the USA and forget what Israelis face every day. Thanks for the balanced insights. I have such mixed feelings, and not enough knowlegde to support an actual opinion! Food for thought. Shavuah Tov!

Posted by: ezer knegdo | May 1, 2006 8:33:10 PM

Re: Steg's point: whenever security guards at Jerusalem cafes ask me if I have nesheq, I answer, "od lo", or "not yet".

I would suggest submitting this post to the Carnival of Cordite, but considering your recent post about "nice to be noticed but...", I'll refrain from making the suggestion until your next gun-related post. :-)

Posted by: Mich | May 1, 2006 9:00:23 PM

Wow...what an amazing post! Thanks David.

Posted by: jaime | May 1, 2006 10:16:25 PM

You would indeed feel at home in Texas. I'm one of only a few persons in my department at work who does not have a "concealed carry" license. It's a stigma, but I can bear it.

Posted by: Bob | May 1, 2006 10:25:13 PM

yeah i get also get asked all the time if i have a weapon.

mich... i also say the "od lo" line to that question sometimes.

i dont get it either, why would they care, if you're trying to protect yourself?

Posted by: Tonny | May 1, 2006 11:02:45 PM

Scott - I think you're comment is phrased in quite an offensive manner, and you're obviously totally unable to do what David suggested in the first place; open your mind and accept (or at least consider) different opinions.

In the same way as David expects to be seen as a real, complex person, not as a 'caricature setter', you need to be able to accept that it is a valid opinion to be 'anti-gun'.

The people you're insulting here are probably more similar to you than you can possibly imagine. Also, you'll be pleased to know that your insulting manner has certainly made me feel more closely aligned with the 'peacenik moonbats' than with you!

Just so you're clear; even though I disagree with your point of view I wouldn't be bothered by it if you had been capable of expressing it calmly and intelligently. In fact, if you, like David, were able to write sincerely and convincingly about these matters, I would not only listen, but possibly change my opinions.

(If your comments were meant to be a joke (which judging by your past comments, I doubt), maybe you should consider improving your humour!

David: Thank you for the thoughtful and eloquently written post. I hope that I'm not out of order in expressing my views on Scott's comment.

Posted by: zemirah | May 2, 2006 1:41:20 AM

David: You forgot the Sukkot posting "one of these things is not like the other" -- which I parodied.

But who's counting.

And the 19c is a great weapon! I'm happy to own as well...

Use it in good health (yours, not thris)

Posted by: Jameel @ The Muqata | May 2, 2006 2:12:53 AM

It's easy to stereotype people, and difficult to put our own assumptions and judgements aside so that we can walk a mile in the other guy's shoes.

I've grew up with guns - hunting rifles and shotguns - and learned early on that they kill. Safety was drilled into me all the time. What worries me now about people who carry guns are whether or not they were trained well, how safely and responsibly they use their gun, and if they have the self-control to act responsibly when emotional. It is a huge responsibility to carry and use a gun.

Posted by: Steve Bogner | May 2, 2006 5:02:53 AM

whatta golus were in. may hashem (continue to) Protect you, david, while you are protecting His children.

(went back and checked out the friday photos. oh the comments are just so hilarious! i do wonder when ill get over the 'shock' of seeing guns. its been nearly 2 years now...)

Posted by: the sabra | May 2, 2006 7:03:18 AM

Obviously, I'm not in the yishuvim as often as you are, but from my own experiences the smaller ones were more likely to have people with guns. When I was in Neve Daniel, just about everyone had one; when I was in Efrat, a strong minority.

Posted by: Ezzie | May 2, 2006 10:24:06 AM

If I can get over the need for guns, anyone can. You just have to put it into perspective.

Posted by: westbankmama | May 2, 2006 12:04:38 PM

I'm not convinced of the case for individual gun-carrying by choice. It seems clear from the discussion that sometimes a high proportion of the men of a given settlement carry them-- and sometimes not. Sometimes the women carry them--and more often not.

Is there any evidence that those who carry them (and who aren't in some particularly directly risky situation) are safer, and have less often been the victims of terror attacks in incidents like drive by shootings and attacks on homes than those who aren't?

Someone carrying a gun could potentially even be a target for terrorists who want the gun--or could provide those terrorists with a bonus of capturing a weapon in a hit.

Of course there needs to be organised armed security, either by the army or by community defence groups. But that's different. Yes, I know that armed civilians have occasionally shot fleeing terrorists, but it still doesn't seem a justification.

Posted by: Judy | May 2, 2006 12:22:56 PM

I find the saddest thing about this post not that you have to carry a gun- anyone who has spent time in the Shtachim knows that it is an unfortunate part of daily life- I am upset with how the shopowner spoke to you. Upset, note, but not surprised (I've heard much worse said in Left Wing circles- and equally disgusting things said about/to "Leftists" by "Settlers"- ok here we go again with the labelling) Anyway, rest assured that she obviously has no head for business.

Posted by: PP | May 2, 2006 2:10:35 PM

First of all I think it's cool to carry a piece... Trep and Jameel @ the Muqata are the only bloggers I've known to do so But my point is if it's a necessity to do so then why not?

If I can remind anyone who thinks it's wrong;

"Grafted to an ancient homeland that had achieved statehood only a few decades earlier, the soldiers I patrolled with knew their country was surrounded by enemies. They knew those enemies wanted Israel driven into the sea. They also knew that their forebears had fought a series of blistering albeit successful wars against those enemies, and they themselves were battling domestic - sometimes foreign - terrorism." W. Thomas Smith, Jr.

You didn't choose to do so, they force you to.

Posted by: pk | May 2, 2006 4:27:38 PM

Wow, I am completely out of sync...where's the Photo Friday post? Oh yeah...(g)

David-your post warrants a serious comment and the only thing serious I can think to say is when people say that settlers are an obstacle to peace, maybe it would be worth reminding them who exactly decided to raise the settlements in the first place. It also truly saddens me that you find it necessary to "disguise" your appearance in order to avoid confrontation, but it also gladdens me that you're the type of person who would point out to a security guard that they are being lax.

As far as gun-totting females, one of my former knitting guild members lives in a settlement and not only does she tote her pistol openly on her skirted hip, she's also a small firearms instructor.

When asked by security guards if I have a weapon, my standard answer is "only my mouth". G*d willing that someday it would be enough!

Chag Atzmaut Sameach!

Posted by: jennifer | May 2, 2006 4:48:42 PM

BTW, I hope that shopping in Israel is not this creepy.

Posted by: pk | May 2, 2006 4:50:58 PM

One final comment. If anti-gun people were honest they'd be even more anti-car/truck/motorcycle for motorized vehicles kill far more people. I just cannot stand senslessly/irrationally prejudiced people.

Posted by: Scott | May 2, 2006 8:56:57 PM

While I think Scott's first post above was insulting, I nevertheless agree with his oppinion.
Child molesters should be put to death, and those I've met who are anti-gun really do seem irrational.
I'm not saying that everyone should be forced to own a gun, but to somehow insinuate that people who do own them are somehow acting against the good of everyone around them is ludicrous.
I believe that people who are out to harm you and get shot in the process deserve whatever they end up with.
If someone breaks into a house, and gets shot to death by the home's owner, then so be it.
The thief took that chance, and lost out.
At least there won't be a next time, and one more piece of human debris has been removed from society.

Posted by: Amanda Rush | May 2, 2006 10:39:49 PM

Come on, Efrat can barely be considered a settlement.

A real settler would set up a caravan in Arafat's compound, really provoking some violence.


Just kidding on that last part.

Posted by: Seth | May 5, 2006 12:12:20 AM

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