confession / promise
‘The two rules of the ISM’, said Tony as he offered me a croissant. ‘Is that we don’t use surnames, and we don’t talk about specific travel plans.’
Beth and I were the first trainees to arrive at the small community centre in North London. Tony seemed delighted we had made it, and lamented how often people sign up but don’t show up. As it happens, he had nothing to worry about. By the time we’d finished our croissants and helped him Blu-Tack a pile of photographs and teaching aids to the walls, the group was easily fifteen strong.
Tony repeated the rules. He seemed almost embarrassed by them. ‘It’s almost certainly nothing to worry about,’ he offered. ‘On one occasion, in California or somewhere, a radical Zionist took it upon himself to infiltrate a training session, and pass on details to the Israeli authorities.’
A few nervous laughs.
Tony has a 10 year ban from returning to Israel. Hannah – our other trainer – has a lifetime ban. She is officially a ‘threat to the state’. By day two we would be role-playing an interrogative Tel Aviv border control, and receiving tips on how to pack our bags to appear more like tourists.
When a friend of mine asked how the weekend had gone, I found myself breathlessly describing a political thriller. What I didn’t talk about was how enriching it was to spend time with such kind and intelligent people; how humbled I felt during the decision making workshops, the magnitude of the scenarios; the uncertainty of my responses as we practiced communicating with the Israeli Press – and how much I want to learn.
Unable to properly articulate my feelings, and unqualified to lecture, I took the easy way out. I told my friend what I thought would be most exciting to hear.
So that’s my confession.
But I don’t want to do that here. I’m going to write about what I am learning, about the conflict and its history, the humanitarian role and a genuine reflection of my own hopes and fears. That’s my promise. I’ll probably pepper in some espionage too though. After all, I would like you to keep reading.