Relatively Speaking / Eitan and Gal Bronstein
A father and son bond over left-wing politics, but sometimes a son's got to go his own way.
Eitan and Gal Bronstein
Eitan was born in 1960, in Mendoza, Argentina; Gal in 1992, in Tel Aviv.
Eitan lives in a housing project in the south Tel Aviv neighborhood of Yad Eliyahu; Gal lives with his mother not far away.
Eitan's parents, Yael and Shmuel, pensioners; his brother David, 50; his son Leandro, 24, and his son Gal, both of which he had with his first partner, Mara; his daughter Yasmin, and son Noam, 8, from his second partner, Nivi.
When Eitan was five his family, beset by economic difficulties, decided to immigrate to Israel from Argentina. His father is a Jew of Russian origin, his mother is descended from an atheistic non-Jewish family in Spain. Her grandmother left Spain during the Franco period. "She did not want to be there, because she did not want her son - my grandfather - to serve in the fascist army," Eitan says. They set their mind on Kibbutz Bahan, in the center of the country, which had a large Argentine population. But the kibbutz assembly decided not to accept a family most of whom were not Jewish. "But after my mother converted on the way to Israel, in Marseille, and studied Judaism for a month, the kibbutz accepted us as 'kosher' Jews."
Eitan served in the artillery, teaching squad commanders at Shivta, in the Negev. Gal refused to do army service and received an exemption.
When the first Lebanon war broke out in 1982, Eitan was called up for the reserves. "I was against the war from the word go," he says. "I was always politically aware, but I think that I objected to that war because it was the war of [Menachem] Begin and his pals. When Likud came to power, in 1977, I remember thinking that they had stolen the country from us. I am not sure that Begin's war was less just than other wars, but because it was prosecuted by the wrong side politically, it was easier for us to object to it, and I refused to do reserve duty. I called it selective refusal. I was sentenc|ed to 28 days in Atlit Prison. It was a formative event in the development of my political consciousness. Suddenly I met a large group of conscientious objectors. It was absolutely great to discover so many people think like me. That was the first rift in my relations with the state; I decided I would not do everything the state wanted. In 1988 I did prison time again. In the second intifada it was clear to me that I would not suppress it."
Argentina vs. Brazil:
On Bahan he met Mara, a volunteer from Brazil, who underwent Reform conversion to Judaism to be with him. In 1987, the whole extended family left the kibbutz. Eitan and Mara moved to Kiryat Ono, where their first child, Leandro, was born. "It's a Brazilian name that his mother liked."
Eitan obtained an undergraduate degree from the Open University and a master's at Bar-Ilan in the hermeneutics program with the finest left-wing teachers. Eleven years ago, he founded Zochrot (Remembering ), an association which, as its website states, aims to raise public awareness of the Palestinian Nakba, especially among Israeli Jews. "I have always made a living from various programs of political education."
"I was present at his birth, and as at every birth I cried and was moved. He was a beautiful baby with lots of hair, which in time became long and curly."
Gal in school:
"Things started poorly," Gal says, because his parents decided to separate when he was in first grade and he took it very hard. He was expelled from two schools for unruly behavior. In second grade, the authorities transferred him to a school for children with special needs. He returned to regular schooling in the seventh grade, attended Ironi Aleph High School in Tel Aviv and obtained a matriculation certificate as a philosophy major.
Rebel with a cause:
"As an adolescent he had a hard time with my [second] partner, Nivi," Eitan says, "and when Yasmin was born the relations became even more difficult. The complexity of the new family made him angry, and he was hard on Yasmin. Afterward it all worked out, and today they are fast friends."
"When Leandro got his preliminary draft notice he surprised me by saying he would not serve," Eitan says. "He understood that to serve a state that does very bad things through the aegis of the army, though not only that way, was not for him. But he didn't want to turn it into a political thing or be a standard-bearer for some cause. I helped him find a psychologist who wrote an opinion that the army should consider carefully whether to draft him, because he might have a serious problem dealing with pressure. He received a year's deferment and then a complete exemption after he stated unequivocally that he could not do army service. That made me very happy."
Psychologist for every child:
Gal received his preliminary draft notice in the 10th grade. "I knew immediately I was not going to do army service - it was deeply rooted in me - and besides, I couldn't show up at the induction office because I had a flight to Brazil that day. After that, I met with a psychologist. I told him I thought entering the army was 'herd' behavior, and he very much identified with that. At first I told everyone that it was an occupation army and I was a pacifist - I was influenced by Dad." Gal was supposed to be drafted last month. At the psychologist's recommendation he dropped the political element of his refusal and emphasized the vulnerable aspects of his psyche. His father was not allowed to be present at the interview with the mental-health officer. "That was lucky for me," Gal says, "because it improved the atmosphere. The officer formed a poor impression of me, and said a few times, 'That's sad to hear.' I told him the truth, maybe I was a little outspoken, but I have real problems and because of them I can't do army service. Over time, I realized that for me not to serve is not because I am a pacifist or because it's an occupation army. The reason is that it's not suited to my personality, which is a pity. It could simply destroy me." Three weeks ago he was informed that he was being exempted from service. He now works in a convenience store and as events manager at Enav Cultural Center in Tel Aviv.
Something never said:
Eitan doesn't know what was said in the interview with the mental-health officer, and Gal isn't telling. "I think there is a very important message here," Eitan says. "Gal knows he has problems, and he did not set them aside so as to serve the system. He did not say, 'Everyone does what has to be done, so I will suffer a little, I will pay the price and do what the system demands of me.' I very much admire the way he made that choice."
Eitan and Gal transcribed a dialogue they held about Gal's desire not to serve. They will make available, via the Internet, a possible prescription for draftee-objectors. "A friend of mine was trying to decide," Gal says. "He went to a psychologist and mental-health officer. I let him read the conversation I had with my dad, and that convinced him. I thought it would be like a cookbook."
And if everyone decides not to serve:
"We don't need everyone, it will be enough if some serve, even a small part," Eitan says. "If more young people refuse, like Gal and Leandro, and turn it into a political, educational and public issue - that will be enough to change the policy. With Israel as it is today, as long as there are enough people who serve in the army without questions, the occupation will continue forever. For that, we are all needed as soldiers, or at least to be committed. If there will be enough people like Gal, a change will occur in Israeli politics, and then maybe the leadership - and the nation - will understand that we do not want to pay this insane price of war and they will start to think about a different solution."
Eitan thinks Gal is too lazy. "It bugs me that he lives close by. I miss him, but he is lazy and doesn't want to come over." Gal is irritated by the brainwashing Eitan gives his children: "His young kids are walking around in Zochrot T-shirts and singing songs in Arabic, just like I did, as though there is no other choice."
Eitan thinks his list of parental regrets is endless. Above all, he feels that he is not attentive enough, not as sensitive as he would like to be, isn't heedful and doesn't give his children the attention they deserve. Gal regrets not helping out enough.
I will never be like my father:
"[He is] a parent with a lot of children who at the age of 52 is still trying to find himself."
Reflections in the mirror:
Gal feels he received inner serenity from his father. He speaks slowly and calmly, does not shout or raise his voice. "Mom shouts at me and I tell her, 'I will talk to you only if you speak quietly.'" Eitan thinks he transmitted a lot more than that to Gal: "His preference for Maccabi Tel Aviv and his love of philosophy."
Gal doesn't look far down the line - three years at most: "There is a World Cup tournament in Brazil, and my fantasy is to be at the final with all my Brazilian friends and my mom's family which lives there, as Brazil takes the cup at home." Eitan has a slightly more complicated fantasy: "To be a better father and to have more children."