“Where are you heading?” he asked in Israeli slang, with a friendly smile.
“What direction are you heading in?” I replied. They taught us this in the military: never give information about where you live; if someone wants to kidnap you he will just tell you he is going there anyway.
“Haifa,” he answered.
I remember looking at him carefully. He was shaved, with short fingernails, and wore Israeli military uniform, just like me. He had an old blue Mercedes car – the type soldiers usually drive (we don’t have a big budget!). Another soldier was sitting in the back, behind the passenger’s seat. I, stupidly, didn’t think there was anything wrong with that.
“Close enough!” I answered, and got into the passenger seat. I placed my rifle between my legs, elbow on the door’s latch, underneath the window. Following exactly what I was taught.
As the car started slowly driving, I noticed the guys exchanging looks between them in the mirror. I felt with my elbow that the doors were being locked. Something was wrong. My mind started to race. Why would they lock me in? Why was there a guy in the back seat? What if they weren’t really Israeli soldiers? Uniforms can be fake. I’d never asked for their military ID. I felt my guts seizing up, my heart beating faster, and I began to sweat. There were two men against me, and my rifle wasn’t charged. Rifles are too long anyway… I needed to think – and fast. I moved my hand quickly, opened the door (luckily I hadn’t put my seat belt on yet) and rolled out of the car. We were still driving very slowly, and I moved so fast that I wasn’t hurt. I immediately stopped another car with an old lady inside, told her I needed help, and she drove me away.
I never told anyone what had happened. Not my parents, not my commander, no one. I’m not sure why. I suppose I was scared, or worried that maybe I was making a big deal out of nothing. I also knew I shouldn’t be hitchhiking, and getting out of the base was so rare in my job that I didn’t want to risk any repercussions.
A few weeks later, a dead soldier was found not far away from my base. A girl. In a plastic bag. The suspicion was that she’d been hitchhiking too, in the same direction as me, and “fake soldiers” stopped for her.
My intuition might have been wrong. I might have been reading too much into the situation. But I also might have saved my life (and not for the first time) by paying attention to details, listening to my instinct and having situational awareness.
And this is what I want you to take from my story:
Training and knowledge are great, but without an awareness of what’s going on around you, they’re worthless. You can’t let your defences down, ever, unless you are safe in your home. I know it sounds like hard work, but you get used to it – and you’ll be grateful for it, as it helps you to live a safe and happy life. Look at people around you, walking in the street: 99% of them are on their phones or have their heads down. You can walk behind them, beside them, in front of them – sometimes even touch them – and they won’t realise! These people are all easy victims for criminals, vulnerable to mugging, shooting and raping. But if you are constantly AWARE, scanning and paying attention to your environment, it is much less likely you will be a victim. Some call it being paranoid; I call it loving your life.
You don’t need to be Jackie Chan to be able to defend yourself. Most of the time, all you need is your awareness.