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Our sweet soldiers
wanted nothing for themselves.
All they ever asked
was to come home

In this poem, Dahlia Ravikovitch expresses a spontaneous reaction to a political and military event. Her poems are engaged, and just by being an Israeli writer, she is de facto politically engaged and apprehended with prejudices, good or bad ones.

In other poems she uses mythological characters or biblical references (Medea and Abraham, for instance), but in this one she refers directly to two particular things: Shatila and Sabra. Shatila is a camp that was created in 1949, two years after the creation of the State of Israel, by Palestinians who were refugees at the border of Lebanon. Sabra is a Hebrew word used to talk about people who were born before 1947 in Palestine, but it is still used in current Hebrew to talk about any Jew born in Israel. These two terms are used in the same way as the mythological ones in other poems in that the author does not explain them. This absence of explanation can lead the reader to do some research, but it can also mean that Ravikovitch is reacting to something and writes not to be read or at least thinks that people who are reading her work are familiar with these references.

The whole point of this poem is a reaction to what happened with the Palestinian population and what Tsahal did to these populations. She is referring to the soldiers as “our soldiers,” so she is including herself in what happens and takes a part of the responsibility. Yet her position is totally against what is going on; she writes this poem to accuse her state of “killing” people. Even if she doesn’t depict any actual crime, there were, of course, crimes committed at that time. And what strikes me is that the worst part of the poem may be that she describes a scene in which soldiers are chasing Palestinians and especially women and children but not killing anyone. The last stanza is constructed with an oxymoron first — “our sweet soldiers” — and expresses a point of view that is now widespread in Israel about the government and the conflict with the Palestinians. Israelis have to be in Tsahal for at least three years for boys and two years for girls, but for most of them, they don’t want to do it and they don’t want to hurt anybody. They just want to go home, to be safe and to get back to their lives. The title is eponymous to a line of the poem and evokes Palestinian children who don’t have a home anymore and are dehumanized. But it can also apply to the soldiers who are in a way not their own anymore after they join the army. Also, the fact that in the first stanza Dahlia Ravikovitch talks about the Palestinians as Sabra is giving a clear indication of her political vision because they were born on the land of Israel so they are Sabra in the first meaning of the word. But it’s subversive to apply this term to them because since the creation of the state of Israel, the term has changed and only applies to Jewish people.

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