Friday, 5 March 2010

Purim in Hebron

Once again am back home again after 2 straight weeks in the army. It was a really unusual fortnight, I only spent one night on my base in total; the first week spent at Michve Alon, the weekend in Hebron and last week on a base called Bislach. I did get another 'hamshoosh' (thursday weekend) and I'll explain why in the second blog.

Last week my battalion went to Michve Alon for the week, in order to have an educational week. Michve Alon is the central base for education in the army and also the place where I would have had to have gone to for three months if my Hebrew was not good enough. The Hebrew course that goes on there, which five people from my garin are participating in, is a melting pot for Jews from all over the world who are about to enlist in the army; Europeans, Americans, Russians, Ethiopians and even Indians. It was amazing to think that people are coming here from every inch of this world in order to join the army and do their part.

One of the many strange sights from Hebron!

We had four days of lessons there and was generally a really interesting week, and also a nice break from the all the running of a normal week. We learnt about the history of Israel, what it is to be an 'oleh' (immigrant, but translated as 'going up') and the current enemies of Israel. What was most interesting though was 'dilemnas in combat', two of which I want to talk about. Firstly, we discussed the dilemma of whether to put a soldier, who's Hebrew may not be so good and his potential misunderstanding of orders, which could cause people to die, in combat. As my platoon starting talking about this it started to be directed at me rather than a 'soldier' in general and I felt very weird and sort of guilty that my Hebrew could be a problem in times of war. At the end of the discussion I decided to speak and I said that if there are no risks in war then maybe I shouldn't be allowed to take part. My 'samal' (commanding officer) came up to me in front of the whole class, slapped me ferociously on the leg and said "don't worry Sam, you're going in!", I could only smile at that. There was another dilemna that caused much controversy; whether it is acceptable to take a lemon from the tree of a terrorist you've just captured. I'm sure that in times of war not all the rules are kept to, but I want to explain to you how incredible it is that the IDF strongly teaches its soldiers that it's completely against the ethics of the army, to take as a little as a lemon, as it is morally wrong and not the example that we want to set. We, as a platoon, concluded that it is ok to take the lemon if it has already fallen on the floor!!!

That's how you would look after 3 hours of sleep a night.

The weekend came and, once again, we went to Hebron to help with the guarding there. Coincidently, you may not have heard about it on the news, but Hebron has been a really dangerous place in the last month, with a lot of 'balagan' (trouble) and many incidents. The reason for all this craziness is because the Israeli Prime Minister had put the Cave of Machpelech on a list of construction sites, it was Purim, it was also a Muslim festival (and the Palestinian Prime Minister went to Hebron to pray) and because of the whole Dubai thing. Anyway, it seemed crazy that us lot, who have not even finished basic training yet, were being placed in this hotbed for Palestinian attacks on Israeli soldiers, for the weekend. I guarded at a couple of different places within Hebron, some of which were rather dangerous, for example, I had rocks thrown at me by some Palestinian kids, who were on there way to school!! It is insane to think how last Friday night I was at guard point on a road between a Jewish settlement and a Palestinian village. I was standing there with a loaded gun in my arms, stab-proof vest on my body and some newly learnt Arabic on the tip of my tounge (yes that's right, I can now say 'stop or I'll shoot' and 'go home' in Arabic)! I've come a long way, while my friends are waking up late after a night of partying at university, I have been physically defending the Jews of Hebron and I really feel that I have contributed, even in a small way.

Me (far right) with some of my friends in Hebron.

While the rest of garin apart from me were in Ortal having a Purim party, I, of course was in Hebron, but Purim actually happened to be quite a memorable experience there. During one of my six thousand guard sessions (!) one of the religious guys whose house I was guarding gave me a 'humantashan' (Haman's ear, the cake given on Purim), just one of the many moments when you feel appreciated as a soldier in the IDF. On top of that, we also received Purim gifts that had letters in them, sent from kids in New York; all the guys in my platoon quickly handed them over to me in order to read and translate what was being said. Purim in Hebron was completed when we all heard the Megillah and then danced the night away, which was a fantastic opportunity for us to subtlely break distance with the commanders. In short, although I was disappointed initially to be closing again and missing out on the fun with my garin, it turned out to be a really fun and, also meaningful, weekend in Hebron. To be continued...

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