Sins of omission

In the Catholic church there are two kinds of sin. Sins of commission cover off the things you did and oughtn’t to have done. The sins of omission are briefly, everything else. Specifically, the things you ought to have done and didn’t. Which as a get-out-of-that clause is comprehensive to the extent that you have to wonder if insurance policies are the ultimate proof of a Divine plan.

Every bad thing is a sin. Even some good things are sins if you do them for bad reasons. Probably. I’m not too clear on this. But things you might think are good are almost certainly sins, or one kind or another. But it’s the ones of omission that are the real Gotchas. You don’t get away with saying ah yes, but I didn’t do it. Because that’s the whole point. No, says God. You didn’t, did you? Get out of that.

The biggest one I ever experienced was a lie. It happened in Israel, a long time ago. It altered the entire way I think about the place and the people who live there. The ones I knew told lies. They lied habitually, as a first response to anything. They lied about being able to borrow a car whenever you felt like it, which I was told would be happening before I even left England. They lied about the pigs they kept on the kibbutz. They kept the pigs on wooden pallets so their feet, or more specifically their cloven hooves didn’t walk upon the earth, to make it ok with God to eat bacon. Which we did more than once while I was there, but as the pigs were called turkeys it didn’t matter. The sad part is I’m not making any of this up. This happened, it was lied about and everyone seemed completely happy with the arrangement.

As they were the night we got machine-gunned. There were quite a few lies and sins of ommission that night, as well as some committed too, given we were all in our teens and early twenties and away from home and it was a warm night. I wasn’t committing any sins myself, you understand. Not that night anyway.

It was probably about 1am when those who were asleep were woken by a burst of automatic gunfire. I’d grown up near Warminster, the army officer training base in England, well within hearing distance of the gunnery ranges on Salisbury Plain. I shot every Thursday night at a local club. I knew what gunfire sounded like. And everybody who hadn’t had heard it on television anyway. Being young and stupid we all piled out of our beds and wandered outside to see what was going on, which looking back, isn’t the best response to a terrorist attack. We were lit up by bright lights floating down out of the sky; parachute flares shot off to spot the incoming invaders on kibbutz Revivim, which always saw itself as the front line, not least because it was one of the southernmost kibbutzim but also because it was Golda Mier’s kibbutz for a while. Some of us wondered if we were going to get shot. More of us just watched the girls in their underwear, softly lit in the pink and white glow of the descending lights.

After a couple of minutes of this an older man from the kibbutz turned up carrying an Uzi submachine gun. He got everyone out of their huts and marched us all off to the tennis court, where what we thought was a toolshed turned out to be the top of a set of stairs leading down to a brick-built shelter underground. So we sat there. Someone asked what was going on. Were we under attack?

No. Ok, so what’s going on?

Nothing was going on. It’s just a precaution.

Against what?


And that was final. Nothing was happening. Nothing had happened. Nobody had heard any gunfire. We must have imagined it. Nobody had shot off any parachute flares. We must have imagined those too. Whatever they were, which they weren’t, because nothing had happened. None of which explained why we were sitting in a bomb-shelter under the tennis court, which we didn’t even know existed yesterday evening.

It took about two weeks to worm the explanation out of several different people. Because it always thought of itself as a frontier kibbutz, they used to use fifteen year olds to guard it every night. They gave them all an Uzi and a bicycle. What could possibly go wrong?

There isn’t much happening on a kibbutz at night. Nothing that needs a submachine gun, anyway. So if you’re fifteen and standing under a palm tree you get bored. But they’ve given you this 9mm gun, just like your heroes. Just like in the movies. You could, I don’t know. Take the magazine out and put it in again. Unfold the stock then fold it up a couple of times. Slide the bolt back just enough to see if there’s a bullet shining in the chamber. Or .. I know! Check to see if the safety is on by pulling the trigger.

Not by looking at the indicator on the side. Not by feeling which way the lever’s pointing with your thumb. Not even by holding the gun without your hand on the grip, where there’s another safety which has to be depressed, so the gun won’t fire if you snag the trigger on a branch or something. No. By holding it cocked and pulling the trigger, like a bored fifteen year old who some idiot gave a submachine gun.

Different person, same gun. Exactly what a bored 15 year-old needs.
                  Different person, same gun. Exactly what a bored 15 year-old needs.

Which obviously never happened, because like the turkeys with curly tails, there was one version of the truth on kibbutz Revivim, and that was whatever the kibbutz council said it was. Anything else didn’t happen. And anyone who said it did was an enemy of the kibbutz, so they must be lying anyway. That’s what enemies do.

I lived like this for three months. I have no intention of ever going back.

Over twenty years after I’d banged the dust of Revivim off my boots someone invented Google Earth. I looked-up the kibbutz, just to see how it had changed. The map showed me the names of two Arab villages I’d never known were there for the simple reason that they weren’t. There was no trace on the ground that there had ever been people living in houses where the peach groves were now. It was called the nakba, and it’s something else that didn’t happen. The villages aren’t there on Google Earth any more. We’re not even allowed to see the names of them any more, as if they were never there at all. I emailed Google to ask why they were obliterating history, when they’d used the names in the first place. They emailed back to tell me my comments weren’t helpful. I’m glad they weren’t. I don’t want to help Google tell lies.

The nakba is where Palestinian refugees come from, the ones who were such a threat to Israel in the 1980s that it was fine to bomb them or drive a tank through their tents on the BBC News most nights without a single word of explanation about how or why or when all these refugees had suddenly materialised out of nowhere.

Except refugees don’t.  They exist because of people’s deliberate actions. And pretending they’re just one of those things, or some kind of natural event, nobody’s to blame, nobody is responsible and hey, they’re economic migrants anyway, because nobody was trying to kill them except when they were, trying to blot them out of nice people’s history is a huge sin, whichever religion you believe in. Including none.






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