"It’s confusing. Your whole life you try to understand good and evil."

Guy Vatman

Location: A rooftop apartment on Reines Street in Tel Aviv

Residence: Tel Aviv

Age: 30

The encounter: I met Guy went I went to look at a rental apartment in Tel Aviv for a friend who was coming to Israel. Guy was showing the apartment for a friend of his who was abroad. He had set up his computer at the apartment so he could work while waiting for potential renters to come by. He offered me a cup of tea and asked me what I was doing in Israel. When I told him about my interview project and asked if he’d like to be interviewed, he hesitated. “I’m not much of a talker,” he said, “I’m afraid I’ll bore you.”

What are you doing here right now?
I’m showing this apartment for a friend and business partner of mine.

What is your occupation?
I am a programmer. But I’m also trying to set up a business of vacation rentals, and I’m building the website for that. 

Where is your family from?
I’m originally from Moldova. In 1991, when I was almost six years old, my whole family – all seven of us – immigrated together to Israel: grandma, grandpa, my parents, me, my brother, and my uncle, who is blind.
Only now do I understand how hard it was. We were seven people in a three-room apartment. A year after our arrival, my grandmother’s sister and her husband arrived as well. My parents didn’t speak any Hebrew, but they felt responsible for everyone.
We lost everything when we moved to Israel: our piano, our family jewels... At that time, criminal gangs used to break in to the shipping containers of new immigrants as they arrived in the harbor. They’d go in and steal everything of value. The only valuable thing that wasn’t stolen was my father’s accordion. It was made in Germany, so my father had hidden it very well, thinking Israeli customs would confiscate German products.
I have some memories of Moldova, though I’m not sure what I remember and what I make up. I remember our house, in Kisniev, and the yard where my grandfather used to grow grapes for wine. My grandfather had a hard life. He spent several years in prison in Siberia. He used to work at the Soviet Ministry of Interior Affairs and helped Jews escape by giving them false identity papers. When he was caught, he was sent to Siberia. He’s ninety-four now. I should ask him about our family history before it’s too late. But I don’t know if he’ll respond. He went through a lot in his life, and he doesn’t want to talk about it. He’s very introverted. I inherited his personality.

Can you tell me a bit about your family?
My father used to be a musician in Moldova. But here, he’s a musician only on his immigration papers. He didn’t succeed in becoming what he wanted to be. He now works in computer-chip manufacturing. As soon as he gets home from work ­– before he even greets my mom ­– he picks up his accordion.
He wanted me to become a musician. Now, I regret that I didn’t. I used to make music, but I was into electronica; not the kind of music my father wanted me to play.
My parents have managed all right. I mean... my mom has worked for twenty years in a mental hospital. She has accepted that this is what it is. They had the choice of coming here or going to New York. This patriotism of theirs, the decision to come here – I don’t know if it was a mistake or not. But they are modest people. They don’t expect a lot.

How do you describe your religious or national identity?
I’m secular. But I went to a religious school. No other school wanted me. I was a troublemaker. In 8th and 9th grade, I didn’t attend school at all. In those two years, I spent maybe a total of forty days in school. I didn’t do anything. Those are years that are just gone from my life. I was messed up. I’d get in trouble: shoplift; hang out with a bad crowd.... But in 10th grade, I calmed down and in the end I did graduate. The principal of that school – a rabbi – he really straightened me out.  I don’t know what would have become of me without him.
Back in school, I’d always argue about religion and tried to turn all of them secular. I’m stubborn that way. But, in fact, I love the wisdom of religion – of all religions, not just Judaism. The people who wrote religious texts were not stupid! I actually did really well in Bible study in high school. I found it more interesting than most other stuff.

What are your hopes and expectations for the future in this land?
Only after I traveled abroad, after the army, I started appreciating how much I feel connected to this land, despite the terrible mess.
I never used to watch the news. I didn’t care. But now I’m starting to take more of an interest.
I hope for peace. I want to stay optimistic. I don’t want to be negative... But, you know, for so many generations parents have been telling their children they won’t need to fight anymore... and in the end nothing changes.
I’m not in favor of a Palestinian state. If they’d get a state, and suddenly Al-Qaida sits on our border, what do we do then?
But I’m not sure of anything I say. My opinions change. I’m influenced by the people around me. I used to say: “Death to Arabs!” But now my thoughts are evolving. I try to understand and accept other viewpoints.
It’s confusing. Your whole life you try to understand good and evil. It seems simple. But it can actually be very difficult. Our government often puts us in situations where we don’t know anymore what’s right and what’s wrong.
It’s like this experiment I read about: researchers told participants in an experiment to administer electric shocks. The participants didn’t know the shocks weren’t real and their victims were just actors. But most participants were willing to keep increasing the voltage to a lethal level, just because they were told to do so. [Guy is describing the Milgram Experiment]. It’s what happened with the Nazis. I’m sure they were not all evil people. They just did horrible things because they kept following orders.
I mean, last summer, during Operation Protective Edge, think of all the crimes we committed in Gaza! Don’t get me wrong: I’m not a lefty. I think we had a right to defend ourselves against Hamas. But... all those naive nineteen-year-old soldiers... elsewhere in the world they are considered murderers because of the things they did.
For instance, during one of the operations, they killed more than fifty Palestinians to try to prevent the capture of one Israeli soldier. And those were not fifty terrorists! They were civilians: women, children...! They must have dropped quite a few bombs to kill so many people. To me, it seems unethical. But the court won’t convict the pilots who dropped those bombs because, supposedly, they acted for the good of the country.
As much as you think you understand the difference between good and evil, you don’t really know. Through manipulations, they can easily turn you into what they want you to become.