The only place in Israel that you never find soldiers in uniform is the departure lounge of the airport, since there’s nowhere in the world that they can fly to in their military dress. Nowhere except Poland that is, where – as part of the reparations agreement between the two countries – the Israeli military is fully entitled to sweep into town in full combat gear. Whatever the man on the Polish street may feel about this mock invasion is irrelevant, since the deal was struck in the upper echelons of the political system and has been adopted with gusto by the Israeli army.
At the same time, the group of students I was flying with had taken the decision not to sew Israeli flags onto their bags and clothes during the trip (as many other groups do), since they felt it was “too tactless and brazen”, according to their leader, Orli. “People know why the tour buses are in their town,” she said, “and we don’t need to rub it in further by waving the flags in their faces.”
When it comes to the Israel Defence Force (IDF), however, no such sensitivity is shown for the locals’ feelings. They perform mass ceremonies at the camps, replete with military music and speeches, and clearly feel that they have every right to do so, given what took place there 60 years before. Jeremy, the historical educator accompanying our group, said that he understood their actions completely, “as long as it’s done in an orderly fashion and not obnoxiously”.