Sunday, December 9, 2012

120 Hours of Darkness

I had just finished the last sip in my Goldstar beer bottle and extinguished the night's final Winston blue cigarette. I entered my room and locked up. The clock read 22:55. Not bad for a Saturday night (with work the following day at 5:00). My phone rang and the number was blocked. I was pretty sure that when I would answer I would hear the voice of my friend at his grandma's house who has a blocked phone number. Instead there was an automated voice message informing me that I had been summoned in accordance with "Order 8" (Tzav 8). Israel was pretty tense the days before 60,000 reserve soldiers were called up (myself included). I knew there was a chance that I would be called up but I didn't think that it would actually happen. Whatever buzz I may have gotten from the 3 beers that evening was immediately washed away when the robot's sobering voice on the other side of the conversation told me to arrive at my Miluim (Reserves) base at 10:00 am the next morning. I felt like I was levitating and I had trouble focusing as I rounded up clothes and supplies that I would need. The thought that "these could be the last items that I see on earth" resonated with me several times that night as I filled up my bag to its fullest. I got to bed around 3:00 am and woke up at 5:45 am. The Ben as of late would have been perturbed by this lack of sleep but I was in army mode again and on my toes. I got to the base and braced myself for the bureaucratic bullshit bound to entangle me many times that day. I did not have an immediate placement when I arrived; however, that got straightened out after a few hours. I was placed in an Evac. platoon and I knew a few of the guys from my enlisted service. After several hours of waiting in line we signed on to our weapons and equipment. The rumors were already whistling around like bullets through the air. One guy had heard that a rocket had landed in an area with children and that a few were hurt. The guy's friend waved it off as nonsense and everyone seemed pleased with this since a direct hit on children would mean that the infantry would definitely be sent in. And that meant us. And that meant that death was possibly closer than we had anticipated. It was kind of funny how during the entire week no one would admit that he was scared or hesitant to enter Gaza. Everyone was hoping out loud that we would be sent home but no would openly say that he was scared. The caliber of the men I was with was impressive overall. A lot came from special forces and many were commanders. The ages in my platoon ranged from 22-55. I was talking with a friendly, religious guy in my platoon that Sunday night before bed and it suddenly occurred to me that he was 30 with a family and a full-time job with heaps of responsibility. For me it was a paid-vacation from the Avocados but for others this was really difficult. What would you say to your 4-year-old daughter before you leave the house for reserve duty? The entire week was exhausting. Not so much physically (although there were some refresher drills) but more mentally and emotionally. It seemed that every night before we went to bed things were looking up and there would be a cease-fire the next day. Then the next day arrived and, voile, no cease-fire. By Tuesday, most of the guys had grown tired of this stressful yo-yo game the media was playing with the public and stopped talking about the situation. The situation escalated on Wednesday and everyone was noticeably more skiddish. We were heading back from urban-warfare drills and my friend sitting next to me on the bus said to me, "You know how we just went over the Matador and LAW Rocket weapons?" I responded in the affirmative. "Well, I heard that they always go over those things right before they send you in. You know what that means." I knew it sounded like rubbish but that's not something that you can shake so easily when your life may be on the line. My iPod battery died in the middle of "Welcome to the Jungle" by Guns n' Roses and I slept the rest of the way back to base. The rumor started as a one-sided cease-fire. Guys were saying that apparently the IDF would stop firing and Hamas would continue. People were cursing and pissed off. I didn't really know what to think at this point. I very badly wanted to go home and chill for a few days and watch movies in the solace and comfort of my humble apartment on Kibbutz
but at the same time what does that mean for the future of the South of Israel? While the damage the IAF inflicted was gargantuan and crippling it was not even close to what would have happened had the ground forces moved in. I was talking with Elisha (my boss in the avocados) before the whole ordeal and he explained things to me this way: The IDF's advantage over its enemies is its technology and weapons and training. Hamas and Hezbollah's advantage over the IDF is their "absorption" capability. Hamas and Hezbollah can endure many more casualties than the IDF. If the IDF were to incur such losses on its side there would be mass public outcry and protests. Martyrdom is considered an honorable option in their societies. I think ultimately the solution to this whole ordeal lies not in more ground operations. If a more open-minded curriculum were introduced into these Martyr breeding grounds' systems then things may change. I recognize that Israel has to be on edge since madmen like Khaled Mashaal and Ismail Haniyeh still rule in Gaza. Especially when Mashaal yesterday was quoted as saying that, "We will not give up one inch of the land of Palestine. Palestine from the river to the sea, from the north to the south, is our land and we will never give up one inch or any part of it. Jihad and armed resistance are the right and real way to liberate Palestine and restore our rights." Well, at least we know what Hamas really brings to the negotiating table. My week of reserve duty was another stepping stone for me. I learned an important skill that is integral in Israeli society with men (and some women) after the army. It taught me that even as a citizen with an earring and long hair and a bit more of a belly, you are still only a few hours away from war at any given time. The Saturday night I was called up I logged onto Facebook several times. People's statuses seemed so shallow and inconsequential. Who cares about how bad Justin Bieber is? Is this research paper actually going to kill you? Then I realized that I'm exactly the same way. Getting called up was kind of like coming to a moral stoplight -- as Tom Waits once put it. You hit a red light and you're forced to stop and look around you. When the light turns green and you keep driving you might have a different perspective.


Joseph Ben Dov said...

Was it really 120 hours? Did you count?

Michael Rowell said...

Thank you for sharing.

Michael Rowell said...
This comment has been removed by the author.