Its been a very long time since I updated this blog. My last update was after our Tekes Kumta. So whats happened after that? My unit took their position on “the line”. For a few weeks we were responsible for the peace in and around the Arab town of Qalqilya.
Qalqilya is a quiet place. Most of the Arabs there are Israeli citizens. So most of our job was to stop Arabs without Israeli citizenship and didn’t have permission to work in the settlements or in Israel proper from crossing over to work there. Those with permission we allow, those without it, we turn back. Simple.
Of course, those without permission look for ways to get around us. So it’s a lot like an episode of cops. We give chase, we catch, we punish. For example, during a patrol in our vehicle, we caught word of some Arabs trying to enter Israel where the fence between it and the territory hasn’t been finished. We raced to head them off, and found middle aged Arab men, each riding a donkey, pulling a cart behind it.
They looked like they were in a race, or escaping prison. Sadly, donkeys will only go so fast.
We stopped them and demanded they show their papers, they didn’t have permission. We took their identification and their cell phones away from them and left them there with their donkey and cart. The only option they have is to return to the local central processing point, where they can pick up their ID and their phones. Without those two, they will be able to get no further, so there isn’t much need for us to do anything else.
Terrorism is a concern too of course, so we had our share of anti-terror activity. This I wont be getting into, as it delves deeply into matters of security, but it includes ambushes, arrests, etc.
During the time in Qalqilya, we met our intelligence officer who briefed us on the area we would be working in. Both the big picture and the small pictures. We met the commander of the entire Battalion Lavi. We arrived during the Holiday of Sukkot, and we found that food in the Gdud (the combat battalion, as opposed to the training one) is plentiful and delicious.
The commander of Lavi is a religious man. Just another example of how religious Jews are quite proliferate in the IDF today. He is also more aggressive and demanding than any Gdud Commander anyone has ever heard of at this time. I probably can’t share the things that bring us to this very easy conclusion, not on this forum anyway.
He had a large sukka set up in the base of the Gdud, whose welcome sign on the gate read: “Welcome to Gdud Lavi”. When I read that sign, I felt it deep in my bones that all that hard work, the injuries, the trauma, the drama, the unspeakable emotions and tests were all behind me now. And they were worth it. I paid, now I’m in.
The commander of the Battalion gave a “welcome” speech in the Sukka where we sat to eat dinner. I don’t remember all of it. I remember the last bit: “Tonight, eat. Be full, and enjoy yourselves. Tomorrow, we open up your asses” (Israeli army expression for making you work hard). Early the next morning, it was still dark, we had a Masa. It was a symbolic gesture, our ceremonial journey of acceptance into the Gdud.
The Check Point:
During my time in Qalqilya, some of my most favorable moments was guarding some border police at a checkpoint. Their job is to check the ID of Palestinians seeking to pass the check point to enter Israel proper. Obviously, if the Arab is a citizen of Israel, then he just passes through without any fuss. If he is without citizenship, we check if he has permission to work in Israel, its indicated on his ID.
My job was simply to help secure the check point and guard the border police while they do their checks. They check IDs, they check the vehicles, inside and out. We do this all with the driver within arms-reach. A potentially dangerous situation.
Each car that entered the point was usually full of passengers. Probably peaceful people, just looking to start their day. But, potentially one or more of them could be a threat. So I kept my eyes on all of them, and their glances at me as well as away from me confirmed they knew I’m monitoring them closely.
At the same time, foot traffic also occurs. There were points when I was all that was standing in between several Palestinians around my own age, and the Green Line behind me.
For someone responsible for security, a situation in which a lot of things are happening around you at once can be disorientating. The key is control. I messed with traffic, had cars where I wanted them, and had foot traffic how I needed them. Hell, to speed things along, I even checked a few IDs myself.
I was on patrol while doing this job, other soldiers were assigned to the checkpoint specifically. In between moments when the radio would have us get in the car and jump into action, we would help guard the check point. Shmooze with the border police, etc.
During my time there, I saw two shifts of the border police. There were three girls in the latter shift, probably 18 years old. Short, dark hair, loud and with the usual teenage girly presence. They were so obviously just out of high school, the way they spoke and their mannerisms. I was in shock. And that’s saying a lot for someone surrounded by post high school teenagers.
These three had only just met me and my patrol partners an hour or so before, but as soon as the radio had us jump, they hugged us as if we all went to school together. The line of cars could wait, they were saying good bye to close friends. This was a moment burned into my mind, how quickly relationships form.
And also how a very high amount of responsibility has been placed on the young.
My unit is now stationed in Shechem, or Nablus as you might hear it called by Arabs. The city was always known as Shechem, even before the Jewish people first settled in it thousands of years ago. When the Romans took over Israel, they renamed major cities to remove the memory of Jewish independence so as to take away the will to fight from new Jewish generations that would grow up under Roman rule in Israel. Hence, Shechem was renamed Napolis. Later, when the Arabs conquered the area in the 620s C.E., since the Arab language turns Ps into Bs, they Arabized the Roman name into Nablus.
So, honestly, it seems the Italians have a better claim to Shechem than the Arabs…
Its important to know one’s history in this land, because the name of the city is Shechem. The name Nablus is merely the continuation of an erasure of Jewish heritage. A lie started by the Romans to keep a subjugated country in subjugation.
However, the city is a place where the Jewish people are not allowed to live today. Shechem is only for Arabs, as agreed under the Oslo Accords. A few times a month Jews are allowed to visit for a few hours to pray at the grave of Joseph. As I’ve learned, the visitors must come under very careful guard, very late at night, and always a different time of month from the one before.
The city has many more people than Qalqilya, and chances are that not one of the people who live there carry Israeli citizenship. They prefer Hamas to Israel. We have plenty to do here. On any given day, we have emergencies to respond to and in 11 days we had three battalion wide call ups.
In other words, aside from the people placed on alert with their gear ready and a vehicle ready to take them wherever the trouble is, the rest of the battalion if called on an emergency will have to make do running to the needed location.
Imagine watching a battalion of soldiers running down the highway? Group of four here, group of three there, everyone runs faster than someone else. You watch them go by one by one. Each determined to arrive and act, and none know whats wrong until they get there.
And let me tell you, nothing gets you running fast like knowing there is an emergency somewhere, happening to someone, and maybe its critical you get there ASAP. The questions are many, the answers are non-existent till you arrive. I’ve never run so fast, for so long, with such determination to make a difference immediately. I’ve consistently been the lead runner each time this has happened.
However, its when you are on rotation with the vehicle that you have a good chance of being first to respond and first to deal with a situation.
The Poorly Guarded Settlement:
My first such call up was when I was part of the emergency team for my first time. After quickly donning our combat gear, we sprinted to our ride, and loaded ourselves inside. The driver, drove quickly and like a certified maniac, as close as he could to where we were needed. He swerved all along the winding roads of the hills of Samaria, and then went off the road onto the rocky paths of a small, unsecure settlement. He finally came to a stop at the edge of a cliff, where we would have to sprint downhill.
All of us jumped out of the vehicle, I was first to take off running. I couldn’t help but notice that the driver stopped just outside the front door of a white house. Outside the house was a little girl, probably 2 to 4 years old. She was standing next to a woman I imagine was her mother. For her, the scene unfolded much more slowly than for me, because she found the time to cry at the sight of heavily armed soldiers run like the wind by her into the hills outside her home.
This confirmed for me that children are a lot smarter than I thought.
I didn’t like that I made a little girl cry with my presence.
When I finally arrived at the spot, I found I was standing outside this small settlement I just ran through. It was a quaint 10-20 houses, dispersed along a few hills. For the sake of the security of the place, I will not give its name. About 500 meters from it is a large Arab town, with a very large population. Between the two is nothing but an open field. And there, standing before me, I found the soldiers of the patrol and the escort soldiers of a Brigade commander. They’d arrived before us, which is the normal procedure.
They all jumped to this problem. We were probably 12 soldiers. At the bottom of the hill stood something like 15 Arabs. One was a woman, a few were between the ages of 10-14, and the rest were young adults like us. They were throwing stones, and approaching the settlement. The settlers were responding in kind, and even when we arrived three of the bolder settlers were still returning the taunts and stones of the Arabs downhill. One of three was 12-14, one was around 15, and one seemed not less than 20 years of age.
I took a ready position, crouched, with my gun pointed down so as not to antagonize the Arabs downhill. But at the ready, so that they feel the army is here now. The settlers couldn’t help but notice my scary helmet, as it appears with the same colors as a very intimidating terror group. The settlers asked from the distance if I’d picked up this helmet from Gaza.
I let the helmet speak for itself.
The commander asked the three settlers who were throwing stones to stop, and to get back. Two of the three complied. The third, the oldest, refused.
This created a feeling of disrespect for the army. How can someone we put our lives at risk for, decide he can refuse our simple request to stop throwing stones? Its not as if we wouldn’t take care of the situation. This isn’t the entire picture, as he must have felt powerless if he’d stop, but this is how I perceived it and I’m sure everyone felt the same.
The soldiers around me did nothing about this. They simply stood and waited for an order, in the meantime, they simply watched. The commander found himself in the same awkward position the rest of us felt. On the one hand we could simply arrest him, and move on to the Arabs. On the other, here was a person we came to protect, so how can we in good conscience arrest him!?
I had enough watching people scratch their heads. I spoke to the man.
Me: “My brother, I understand what you are trying to do here. But we are here now, and the sooner you relax, the sooner we can do our job. Until you stop, you are bothering us from our work.”
Settler: “I don’t need you. We could handle all of this ourselves once and for all, if you would stop showing up.”
Me: “Does it really seem that way to you? How many of them live in that town? Hundreds? Thousands? How many are you here? In the whole of Samaria live nearly two millions Arabs. You number below three hundred thousand.”
“I really do understand you, I myself am a volunteer here from NY. I recognize what put you here.”
Settler: “If I had a gun I could do more with it than you could.”
I was in shock. This man obviously hadn’t received the training I had, or he would know better than to think that. I put this same thought to him rather bluntly:
Me: “You think so?”
His response was a quiet moment of silence. He no longer threw stones. His silence was now added to the silence of all of us there, except for the Arabs a few hundred meters away. Still pelting stones, still shouting taunts.
Arab crowd: “Are you soldiers!? I don’t think so. Are you a soldier? I don’t believe it. Show me, come and show me if you are a soldier…”
A few moments of silence later, the commander spoke again his request to the settler to stop and get back. The settler acquiesced. The commander and this settler obviously have history, as the commander actually recognized this man saying “You are the same guy from yesterday! What is your name…?” He asked it in a threatening manner.
The settler ignored the question, and asked instead “what is your name!?”
Dan, replied the commander.
The settler went away, the commander was not finished with him. But I, and the rest of us, were.
The rest of us went off to deal with the Arabs. The idea was to have them go back to their town. So we charged forward 50 meters, and formed a line in front of them so they could not think of advancing any further.
As we charged, they retreated. I found myself in the middle of the formed line and observed some of the Arabs run to our left flank, for what purpose no one could know. I ran to head them off. They stopped their 100 hundred meters away from me. They saw I was serious and began to throw stones in my direction.
The stones are large, and since they get a lot of practice throwing stones they have become good at it. Still, the distance is such that the stones fall in front of me. I advanced forward again. After me the whole line formed on my advanced spot. The Arabs went back. This continued again and again, until the Arabs were off the hill entirely, and were standing on the road leading to their town.
They were still taunting, they were still throwing stones. I was still in shock about how the woman in the group was the most vocal. And not because the men were not very vocal at all…
At this point we fired tear gas into the crowd until they ran into the town. The taunts stopped. They ran inside.
During the entire confrontation, the town mosque was sounding the usual “God is Great”.
At this point, that too stopped.
This settlement is a place we often return to. The Arabs haven’t caused any trouble ever since our response, but due to the location of the settlement (so close to the town) and the lack of fences or gates or guards, we usually go there and watch just in case.
The last time I was there, we laid around in between two of the houses of the settlement. At the end of our shift, a settler was kind enough to give us a ride back to our base. I couldn’t help but ride shotgun so I could talk to the man.
I just had to ask him what brought him to live in this settlement, doesn’t he feel insecure and in danger every moment?
I knew if I asked the question right, I’d get some answer I didn’t expect.
Basically, the man looked at his location as just another location in a country he felt at home in. This is where he has made his home. He mentioned something about how they know how to take care of themselves, and that the Arabs don’t bother the settlement as they are aware of certain settlers that don’t take kindly to that kind of thing.
I of course, took all that with a big grain of salt. Or else, why would I be here?
When I brought up that their settlement is without any fences, no gate, its far too undeveloped to be so close to this potentially hostile town…
His response wasn’t surprising to me, but at least it was representative of his way of thinking. He said that when Moses sent the spies to scout out the land of Canaan, he gave them a specific instruction to take note of whether the cities of Canaan were surrounded by walls or if they were open cities. A popular commentary of this instruction was that walled cities indicate the people are weak (I disagree with this man’s retelling of the commentary, nevertheless this is what the settler said). An open city, he continued, would indicate a strong populace that doesn’t fear battle.
So is his settlement. Open, and unafraid.
Open, yes. Unafraid, yes. But I am sure that is because of the work we do. How many nights have I spent standing in the cold, in silence, and in complete focus on my sense of hearing for any person trying to cross from the town to the settlement under cover of darkness?
The people of the settlement will never know.
How many prayers have they offered for their safety? I’ll never know.
But we aren’t just tough on Arabs like these. Any confrontations are prevented and put down where ever possible. This includes if settlers try to go over to Arab towns, or to cause trouble in some way. A group of them is known to cause “price tag” attacks. The same night as this story with the settlement occurred, I was sent to stop a group of settler teenagers from confronting Arabs near an Arab town.
We waited in ambush, not visible to anyone. And I was surprised to find a large group of settlers making their way to the entry point to the Arab side of the area. There was already a line of soldiers stationed there, for this very reason. My unit quickly charged forward to reinforce the position.
I remember being in pure shock at the loud ruckus and intentional disobedience of the people that arrived to confront the Arabs. I mean, think about it, here stood the Israeli Army. The people charged with the protection of the citizens of the State of Israel. An army of the people of the State of Israel. And here, the people we put everything on the line to protect are refusing to go back home when the commander of the line tells them to do so.
I’ll admit, I became disturbed. It angered me. On the other hand, these are the people who live in the area. They have long standing histories with the populace, both Arab and Jewish. And if something happens that day, including the common stuff like a rock throwing, these hotheaded youth on both sides are liable to get fired up.
Live here or not, I expect Jews to be just as obedient to the IDF as Arabs. Israeli citizens, and non-Israeli citizens in Israel must all respect the IDF.
I arrived to take the final position on the far right of our line, I learned flanks are more interesting than the center. I rushed to take my position, and I found I had a lot of room to maneuver. I paced left to right, several meters back and forth. Very quickly. Like a bull looking at red before it charges.
I was not having this scene at all. The settlers were visibly afraid of my conduct. One of them was heard saying “whats with this guy!?”
I then stopped, and turned to face the group. I watched them, standing completely still, just as with the Arabs. Then the crowd started moving this way, then that, I matched its moves. I wouldn’t let the line prevent me from matching them.
I soon saw the ballsiest guy of the group. He would sometimes stand at the very front trying to squeeze past a gap between soldiers before they close it slowly. Or he would hang back, and get people together in some plan to pass us before trying again.
Ultimately, I saw that most of the people there found their morale to fight us completely broken upon their own closure of proximity with us. They looked just as disturbed by the situation as I was. Here, stood the IDF, in opposition to them if they choose to proceed with the ideas we don’t like.
The ballsy guy, finding it easiest to get around a line by literally going around its side, tried to go on the side I inhabited. From the moment I understood his prevalence in the group, I did nothing but try to meet him in the eyes. From a distance, from up close, from anywhere and at all times. Not because I wanted to see his eyes. What I wanted was for him to see mine.
Exactly the same thing I do with any situation like this, regardless of the people involved. Its important people understand you are serious. Because if they think its just fun and games, then I will have to show them just how serious things are in ways less subtle than my eyes.
I moved directly in front of him, and kept my body in his way. He stood and moved just centimeters from me, left and right, my movements quickly cutting him off each time. Just me and him, as the room I took was large, the gap not filled by the line. Lack of people, or maybe lack of will, I don’t know.
After a few tries, I grabbed him by the should to keep him near me. He shouted:
Settler youth: “You can’t touch me!”
Me: “I will touch you if I want to!”
He stopped all his funny business from that point on.
A quieter person in their group, looking desperately worried about what was happening around him asked me the simple question we were all wondering:
Other Settler Youth: “Why are you here, with us, and not with the Arabs on the other side?”
Me: “If you would all just stop this stupidity and go home, I would right now be on the other side doing exactly that!”