Image shameless stolen from Rachel Papo’s gallery

Sometimes diving around in the polluted ocean of Digg nets you a rare surviving coral or two. The frequency of this rare occurrence is inversely proportional to Digg’s user base. And so the dance between culture and counter-culture continues on for eternity.

But anyway, someone recently posted a picture from a photo album of female Israeli military conscripts by Israeli photographer Rachel Papo. Little things on the net like this really help to expand one’s global outlook. This reminds me of an interesting experience I once had in Osaka.

I visited Osaka and Kyoto last December with my Japanese language classmates. We stayed at J-Hoppers Osaka, a budget hotel for cheapskates, hippies and students.

On our last night there, we stayed up late to play cards in the common room. After my companions went upstairs to rest, I struck up a conversation with the only other person left in the room. He was reading an old copy of Weekly Young Jump he found on the coffee table and he couldn’t understand a word of it. I translated the chapter for him, which turned out to be a recent chapter of Gantz. (Something about a girl who has a crush on a classmate who looks just like Kei who is supposed to be dead. My Gantz knowledge stopped with the anime…)

He was rather grateful for my translation and we ended up chatting. Apparently, he was a Jewish-Australian traveling alone in Osaka to meet up with some friends, his final vacation before he enlists in the Israeli Defense Force in a few weeks’ time. As he was not an Israeli citizen, he was not actually obliged to serve. He volunteered for military service so as to become an Israeli citizen (via the Law of Return), because only citizens can travel in and out of the country without restrictions and he wished to visit his relatives in Israel more frequently.

Image shameless stolen from Rachel Papo’s gallery

It is hard for people like myself who grew up in peacefully boring places like Singapore to comprehend just how much emotional turmoils such a decision entails, but nevertheless I felt something in me ineffably changed that night. At the time of that conversation, close to Christmas 2008, a fragile six-month ceasefire between Israel and Hamas was coming to an end. In fact, it was not another two weeks before conflict resumed with Israel launching Operation Cast Lead. Not to mention that it had been just over one year ago when Israel had fought and won (militarily but not politically) the 2006 Lebanon War against Hezbollah.

This guy who grew up in Australia was volunteering to serve in the IDF in Israel, a country that’s pretty much fighting a low-intensity war 365 days a year and was in fact fighting Hamas militants at the time of his enlistment. He was not gungho about it, and in fact he came across as a thoughtful individual with his own hopes and aspirations that were put on hold for this undertaking. If I were in his shoes, I’d be contented with just an Australian citizenship. I don’t know if that makes me more practical or less human.

As much as I hate the ethnic tensions, nationalism and violence that drive the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, I can’t help but feel that there is something admirable in his decision. There is a sense of honour in there that has nothing to do with mongered fear, vengeance or hatred. I certainly find it difficult to imagine many people doing the same thing for Singapore if the shit ever hits the fan.

It’s quite sad that I forgot to ask the guy for his contact information. I gave him my name card, but he never did drop me an email. My friends and I took the Shinkansen to Tokyo the next day and I never saw him again after that night. Hopefully he is doing fine in the IDF.

On a side note, Singapore should extend its national service to girls too. D;

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