I’ve been biting my tongue all day. There’s a line I’ve being dying to try out on an Israeli just to see how they would react: “We didn’t let our children play with toy guns”. There, I’ve said it and I feel better already.
The moment you arrive in Israel you’re living a little boy’s dream. There are guns absolutely everywhere. They are carried casually down the street, hung off backpacks, worn on a variety of straps. And not just one sort of gun: there’s little ones, big ones, shiny ones, black ones and, most importantly, scary ones.
It started when we got off the bus on the Israeli side of the border with Jordan. The first line of defence is a casually dressed Israeli – jeans, trainers, checked shirt rolled up over tanned, bulging biceps, movie-star looks and a very large gun. I remain uncertain if he’s really there for security or just to advertise the healthy lifestyle of the Israeli Defence Forces.
On the bus going into Jerusalem, our passports were checked by a young Israeli woman in fatigues sporting a gun that was almost larger than her. I was amused when she casually apologised to me because her gun kept bumping into my leg while she leafed through our papers. Like I was going to complain about the woman with the big gun…
Today we strolled through the Old City to the Western Wall and the Dome of the Rock. There were groups of soldiers all around sporting weapons. Local style seems to dictate wrapping various parts of the weapon in electrical tape; and there’s no denying that this makes them look very used and real.
Amazingly with this array of weaponry surrounding us, and in the hands of people far closer in age to our children than ourselves, we’re not feeling unsafe. Israel has a rate of 3 firearm related deaths per 100,000 population. That’s only marginally higher than Australia and significantly less than the US. One reason could be that the vast majority of guns being carried about are rifles of one sort or another. The bulk of deaths in countries with high firearm related death rates are from handguns. The rifles may be more serious, but perhaps the corollary is that they are less prone to casual misuse.
Doing a smidgen of research for this post did lead me to the somewhat more disquieting fact that the bum-bags favoured by many Israelis are less an indication of poor style-sense and more a handy way of carrying a pistol without being obvious. So perhaps the rifle theory is rubbish.
The sight of even one person walking down the street in Sydney toting a sub-machine gun would give rise to Hitchcock-like scenes of mass hysteria. Here, you get the feeling that walking into a room and saying that you’ve kept toy guns from your kids would give rise to hysterical laughter.