Last week, I doubled back in horror at this image: a fetus in a womb, with an army beret meticulously photoshopped on his little, soon-to-be baby head.
It was not some sharp political commentary; instead, it was an ad for a hospital in the Israeli city where I and many of my relatives were born. The text read “Recipient of the Presidential Award of Excellence, 2038.” As Mairav Zonszein of +972 Magazine, who first reported about this in English, states, it’s an especially harrowing ad to publish at a time of violence and unrest at the Gaza border.
I’m a few weeks away from my due date; the little child who my ultrasound tech calls a “tiny dancer” is probably not dissimilar in size from the baby in the ad (which has since been pulled). This baby won’t be born in an Israeli hospital but in New York City. He’ll be an American, like his father. But his mother will always be Israeli.
Growing up in Israel, I was surrounded by military symbols. Soldiers in cafés and malls, the pictures and names of the fallen on memorial plaques which adorned the main halls of schools. Whenever I asked (usually filled with trepidation) if I, too, would have to serve in the army, I was often met with a sheepish “maybe when you grow up, you won’t have to” or “maybe when you’re 18, there’ll be peace.” I grew up at a time when leaders, like Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Rabin, dared to talk about peace. During the Oslo Accords. So many of the songs of my childhood were about peace. As a child, I wanted to believe them.
— Asaf Hanuka (@RealistComics) May 20, 2018
But there wasn’t peace. As scheduled, I received my military summons at 17. I spent two years in uniform. My younger cousins and my brothers got their summons, too. We didn’t (all) have a horrible time. Some of us learned a lot, got into prestigious army units, and then some of us just gritted our teeth and got through. Many of us served in times of active war. We all survived; some of our classmates and friends did not. Was this what our parents dreamed of when we were growing in our mothers’ wombs? I doubt it.
Looking at this ad, 9 months pregnant, I wonder if things have changed. Do Israeli mothers now dream of their kids placing in elite military units instead of peace? After the ad was pulled, the hospital spokesman told Zonszein that the hospital received “only a few complaints.” It’s hard to know what to make of that.
I am grateful that my child, who will most likely grow up here in the U.S., will (hopefully) not have to look at memorial walls fearfully and ask if he too will have to don a uniform one day. But I’m also profoundly heartbroken. I want to share with my child the language and the culture of my birthplace. But what do I tell my child about the country his mother is from? What do I tell him about peace?