Only In Israel

Saturday, October 18, 2003

Report 5

Well, here it is. Boot-camp is finished, and moving on to the training course, which will train us how to operate the MLRS system. The first week of the two I spent in the military was spent in an anticipation to the second one. We were all anxious to "get there". To get to the course, to advance to the next level. In an unceremonious speech our Sergeant told us last Sunday that we're now in the course, and explained us that other than a few, cosmetic differences, basically, we're still stuck in the same discipline, with the slight difference that instead of running around all day, we'll have to share our time between that and studying for 14 hours a day.
Most of the enthusiasm melted right there. The rest disappeared the moment they announced that the teams will be changing and, basically, every single friend of mine who was with me will be moving to another commander. So there, back to square one, beginning from the top. We had to create new team dynamics, new bonds, get used to new commanders (which was certainly none of my worries, as I got stuck with the same sucky one).
I spent the remaining time of the week feeling bummered. Nothing especially exciting didn't happen. Basically, it sucked.
The next two weeks are guaranteed to be hard, as now, that we've moved to our course, the discipline and the responsibility got rougher, basically meaning harder punishments. Not even speaking about spending 14 hours a day studying (with tests every now and then, to check we've got it all down). Anyhow, atleast I've got plenty of time to think about this weeks post in the blog. Here's something I wrote one of the nights just to distract myself from the bummerish feeling (called "shvizut" here... will explain about it another time).
One of the things that is the most problematic in the military, is the lack of communication with the outside world. You don't have TV. No radios either, newspapers are rare, and when they're there, you hardly have time to read them. This is why, when you get the time to phone home, you're always surprised to hear news from your parents.
To me, ass a former news-junkie, it was especially hard. I was addicted to news 24/7. Radio news, TV news, Internet updates. Moving from that, to not having news at all was pretty hard. It hits me especially on Sundays. I follow a story through the weekend, and when I get back to the army on Sunday, I never hear about it. Takes me quite a while to find updates or read about it later on.
Another aspect of that disconnection is the music. You never get to hear music in the military. You really don't understand the great part music takes in your lives. When you walk on the streets, you hardly notice the music coming from the shops around you. Well, after returning from the military I do.
everything, on Friday when I get on the bus from the base and hear the radio, it strikes me I've never heard music in two weeks. Other than being weird (hearing people singing ETC), it's refreshing in ways you've never thought possible. You know how you feel about a new cool song coming out from an artist you really really like? Imagine listening to the radio for a few hours feeling that exact sensation.
Those are all hardships you don't feel on a day to day basis, but only realize it when you encounter the things you've missed.
Anyhow... See you in two weeks (or less, if they'll let us out to vote on the local elections).

Sunday, October 05, 2003

Reports 3 and 4

The recent weeks passed so quickly, I'm amazed I'm home reading a post I wrote a month ago, it seems it only happened yesterday.
The last month made me feel like a real fighter, other than learning to throw granades, we practiced shooting in various forms, kneeling, lying down, standing, at night, at day.
Probably the coolest part of it all was wet-practicing attack formations (shooting live fire and all). My platoon commander made it slightly more interesting by shouting "Allah Akbar", and "FALASTIN!!!!" at me while I was storming. Also, the part where he kicked sand and threw small stones at my helmet while I was trying to hit the target weren't too helpfull. All in all, I had good fun, the journeys got harder though
The journeys are part of a tradition in the IDF. A tradition based on "anything in the military has to be earned". We have a journey every week. When journey means, putting all the gear on, the flack-jacket, weapon, magazines as well as jerry-cans, stretchers, and radio communication devices, and half-walking half running a number of kilometers, eventualy arriving back to the base, where usualy you recieve something. First journey we got our boot camp tags (yellow and black), second journey we god our name changed from "A2" to our brigade's name "The Thunder Brigade". The journeys keep getting tougher and tougher. Longer, quicker, more demanding. It's getting harder and harder to keep up with the pace.
The first week ended with our swearing into the IDF. Vowing to do all we can to help defend Israel, it's citizens and it's democratic institutions, other than being exciting, and meaningfull, the ceremony was finished with a show of strength. A fire show by the Israeli artillery, the regular self-propelled gun, and our system, the MLRS. Till that time, the other platoons disregarded us as unserious, unused weapons... they used to call us MLR-Gays, ETC (while we used to call them "dahpazim", a hebrew acronym for "shell pusher", basicly because all they do is lifting heavy shells and shoving them into a cannon). After the fire-show, everything changed. MLRS regained its honor. copmaring the "boom-boom"s of the self propelled guns to the white stripe of a launched MLRS missle is just impossible. The effect, not just the damage it causes, but the psychological and visual effects are incomparable. MLRS became the most respected guys in the base after that one.
Moving on to our next week where we learned how to disguise ourself in the territory around us. Crawling, hiding, and surviving from the nature were taught, I think the highlight of it was when our commanders snatched a guy from the tents and made us go to "rescue" him in the middle of a night (crawling up a hill, for a couple of hours, while the commanders are standing on the top with flashlights telling everyone they saw to start over). The next week in the army was called an "education" week.
People might think it was boring, but it was all about educating us to be better soldiers, teaching us what an illegal order is. Which orders to follow (no, you don't shoot kids with rocks, yes you do shoot people who endanger your life), which procedures we take before shooting (how to arrest someone, if the arrest fails, first shoot to the legs, not the upper body), ETC.
Basicly, it made all the criticism and mud thrown at the IDF by various human rights organisations claiming Israel teaches its soldiers to kill kids look libelous and ridiculous as it should've. The lessons finished with the story of Kfar Kassem, the only case so far in the history of the IDF where an illegal order was followed. 43 arab civilians were massacred, The soldiers who conducted that terrible crime were tried, and mostly jailed. Some of them being shamefully released from the IDF, or lowered from high ranks to "private". Basicly, we were tought about the moral obligations of an IDF soldier, and what rules of molairty and humanitarian aspects we need to follow.
The next week will be some more target practice, and then we're gonna start our MLRS course, which will be a brand new thing for us all. See you all then,