I've mentioned this before, but it bears repeating at this point: it's not particularly fitting for me to be a soldier. I have a strong distaste for weapons of all kinds rather than a fascination with them. I had never touched a gun before joining the army, and hope never to touch one again after hanging up my rifle for good at the end of the year. I was raised to believe that the violent solution is usually the worst one - but I was not raised to support my dearest causes from an armchair, and that principle carries far more weight than my own personal distaste for violence.
In a somewhat parallel fashion, on a much larger scale, stands something I believed before coming here but am now convinced of beyond any shadow of a doubt: contrary to a regrettably common perception, Israel is not a warlike nation. It is a nation mired from Day 1 in a constant struggle for existence - and at its core, a peace-loving nation in spite of the blinding hatred inevitably produced by that struggle.
In the past year I've learned a lot about love, but even more about hate. Many of the thoughts and sights with which I've become familiar represent humankind at some of its ugliest, and there are times I feel crushed by the burden. There are times I'm convinced that all this time we've come nowhere at all - mastering nature and technology but still turning to each other as infants in the sandbox fighting over toys. Cain killed his brother with a rock; today brothers kill each other with missiles and tanks and this passes for human advancement.
There's a certain reality to which I've been exposed in the army, one that only grows uglier the more familiar it becomes to me. And that is the reality of hate without reason, of hate that is fueled and fed so fiercely over such an extended period of time that it becomes entirely self-sustaining, at which point people continue to hate simply because that is all they know. Hate cannot begin without reason, but hate that is sustained without reason is, I'm finding, a very real phenomenon, and one entrenched in this conflict to a far greater extent than I'd ever be able to understand without serving as a rank-and-file soldier within it.
I know I can't make a career out of going to work in a bulletproof vest every day, but the army has been one enormously instructive lesson after another. Some of these lessons are new, but some are strikingly familiar - and the one that sits most heavily with me today is, in essence, a vivid remedial lesson on something I first learned 18 years ago on the preschool playground: when my friends skinned their knees on the asphalt, they all bled the same damn color.