Friday, 8 October 2010

Scrubbing, Sweeping and Shlepping

I have been in Gaza for two weeks now. I did, however, leave last weekend for a reunion of my garin but, due to an almighty powercut on the kibbutz, I was unable to post a blog. So now I am writing about all that has happened in the last fortnight. I am at home today, my last of four days at home, before I go back to the army for a mammoth 17 days, something that will become routine to me for the next six months.

The first two weeks of being in Gaza is not what you would expect, but it was exactly how I expected it. In the army, everything is decided by 'pazam' (the amount of time you have done in the army), for example, I drafted in Nov '09, meaning I have finished one year but still have two years left. Thus, I, along with the rest of my platoon and Nov '09 draft throughout the army, am considered a 'tsair' (youngster) and duely taken advantage of by all the 'vatikim' (veterans - anyone who only has a year left of their service). I'm describing all this because it explains why my last fortnight was filled with continous duties and labour work. I assumed, having finished nearly a year of intense training and qualification, that I was a fully fledged combat soldier and paratrooper in the IDF. Oh no! In fact, I am part of a 24 hour cleaning service, but I am also available to do painting, cooking and heavy removals. That's right, for the last two weeks in Gaza, I was very busy with endless days of kitchen duty, cleaning duty and other stuff where I broke my back carrying heavy objects. Every time one moves to a new base, a lot of setting up is needed, whether that be unloading literally, tens of trucks containing equipment of the company, or simply cleaning the whole base. Of course all this brainless and exhausting work is piled on the youngsters (while the veterans just sit there on sofas and watch!) because that is just the way of how things work.

A typical view of me from this last fortnight; taking out the rubbish!

I admit it was a very frustrating week. Working from morning to night, being ordered around by barking logistical guys and feeling like a low, pointless labourer who's work does not feel appreciated or meaningful, definitely does not equal an enjoyable time. One would expect that the combat soldiers of the army shouldn't really be doing all this sort of work, I mean we're the ones who are constantly protecting Israel's borders and citizens. You'd think that for all the hard work we do; long periods of time away from home, being pushed to our physical and mental limits as part of the training, and experiencing sometimes horrendous conditions on a regular basis, that we would be rewarded for all this. The least you'd expect is that we would be exempt from this sort of torturous work. That's what you're thinking right, well that's we think as well, but this is all part of the 'kravi' (combat) army service. It is frustrating to think that there are soldiers in the IDF who go to the army in the morning, come home in the evening, never close a weekend, are subject to fantastic conditions, sit in an office all day and never have a hard day's work. I've realised though that everything I've been through; a gibush to get into tzanchanim, all the months of training and everything that it incorporates is all worth it, and one day I'll look back on my extremely challening but totally meaningful service, as an experience where I gained and achieved so much, and was defnitely worth it.

5.30am. 2 hours sleep. Pointless guard duty of the company gun rack. Yep, it's definitely worth it (!)

So my experience of Gaza so far hasn't been ideal. There was one night, for instance, where after working in the kitchen from 6am to 9pm and then doing company duties until 3am, I finally collapsed on my bed. However, the relief was shortlived, as I was called upon to do some guard duty for another two hours! My dream of getting more than three hours sleep was brutally shattered and this incident was one of several last week. Despite this, I haven't felt low at all, in fact I am really happy with my new platoon, new company and the fact that everyone knows me, albeit as the English one. I am quite excited for my time in Gaza, it will definitely been an interesting experience, which will probably mean that I'll definitely need to be a bit more careful what I write on the blog. As much as I love to fill you guys in with a complete and honest account of what I'm doing, there will be some things in 'kav Gaza' that shouldn't be posted on a public blog. I'll do my best to make it a good read though! The only thing I'm concerned about at the moment is the 17:4 schedule, but thanks to my recent purchase of an iPhone, I hope to survive the 17 days on base by keeping up to date with facebook, football and friends.

I apologise is this blog seems a bit lengthy but there was one more episode that I wanted to talk about. When arriving to my base next to Gaza for the first time, I got there a lot later than everyone else (due to living in the Golan Heights), which meant I had to walk around 3km to the base at night. I walked for around ten minutes on this deserted path, until I turned a bend in the road and saw what was ahead of me, the Gaza strip, alluminated by lights. For some reason seeing that place all light up at night panicked me a little bit, it's hard to describe how I felt when I saw Gaza like that, but it was a strange feeling of apprehension. My visions of Gaza is that from news programmes and documentaries, but to see it with my own eyes was a weird sensation; it is a real place, with streetlamps, houses and people inside, some of whom want to kill me. I wasn't scared and I am still not scared of being there or the job we are there to do, but it was just a brief moment of anxiety, where I could see this infamous area up close and it hit me hard that being deployed there is serious stuff. Nevertheless, life on base is like that of any other, with constant jokes and laughs. From inside our base you would never know that a mere few kilometres away is Israel's most hostile border.

A distant Gaza.

That's about it for now. I go back to the army tomorrow for 17 days straight, which will be a hard challenge to get used to. The blogs from now on will only be one (or two, if I have the time on a weekend or there is a lot to talk about) every three weeks, just so you know, but continue to comment on the posts, as I'll have access to internet now, while on base. Have a good week everyone, and a good three weeks for me!!!

Saturday, 2 October 2010


So today is the start of a new adventure in the army; it is one that I am both scared and excited for and that I'm sure will give me an unforgettable experience, from which I will one day look back as the most active part of my service. Today is the start of 'kav' Gaza!!!

My friends visiting me on base, last Shabbat. That's how I look on base; rough uniform, glasses and baseball cap!!!

First I need to explain what 'kav' is. 'Kav' (literally translated as line) is the act of guarding Israel's broders on a "close-up and personal" level by Israel's fighting units. Throughout Israel there are different 'kav's' that are constantly being secured by the IDF; from the borders with Lebanon and Syria in the north to Hebron and Ramallah in the West Bank. The 'kav's' all have their own dangers, like in Hebron, where a lot of arrests and demonstration dispersions are taken place. However, they can also bit quiet, thankfully, like with the Syrian border, where one can may stay for six months without one major incident happening. One 'kav', though, is very rarely quiet and generally agreed to be the most dangerous of all Israel's borders, that of Gaza. From what I understand so far, 'kav' Gaza involves a lot patrolling on the actual border itself, where meetings between Israeli soldiers and Palestinian terrorists are not entirely rare. From today, I will know how the 'kav' works; the details of the tactics used by Hamas to endanger us and how Israel counteracts this. It is obviously a very dangerous place to be in, I mean it's the same Gaza that you hear baout on television, yet, the actions the IDF take, do not put us soldiers in situations where we are on our own or something like that. So as much as you may be worried for my safety, I'm sure eveything will be ok and, although there may be "hot" incidents, I will be fine.
Standing at the 'tekes sof maslool' this week. I'm on the right side.

'Kav' works on a rotation and it just so happens that tzanchanim are now in Gaza for the next six months, with my battalion, 101, in northern Gaza. Regarding future blogs, I will try and update you with everything I'm doing but I will absolutely keep secret anything that needs to be kept secret! A terrible aspect of 'kav' is how much I am going be to going home. Due to a number of different reasons, we will be on a schedule of 17:4, that's seventeen days on base (practically three weeks) and then four days at home. Although 4 days at home is lovely, 17:4 is pretty awful, especially since in 'kav' there can be 16:5, 21:7 and, best of all, 11:3. This means that I'm going to be coming back to my kibbutz only once every three weekends, and, listen to this atrocious calcualtion, for the next six months of 'kav', I will be home only 9 times!!! I think that epitomizes the mentally difficult aspect of the army; not being home for long periods of time is something people often look past when considering how hard the army can be. It's going to be a major challenge for me to survive for three weeks at a time without internet, that means no facebook, no emails, no blog and no Spurs! I am seriously considering getting a new phone that has internet in order to combat this.
Giving a cheesy grin after getting my new fighter's pin!

Another aspect of 'kav' that will prove to be extremely challenging is just how mentally tough it's going to be in terms of the amount of work we'll have and little sleep we're going to get. My platoon is now the youngest and most inexperienced in the company, meaning all the duties will be piled on us; that's kitchen, cleaning and schlapping duties. These duties will be done in the time when we are not guarding or patrolling, i.e. in our resting time. Since we are the youngest, sleep is going to be scarce and the "oldies" in the company are going to take advatage of us. That's just how it works in the army; the young ones do all the work, since the old ones have been in the army longer, it's a cycle that has been going on for years and can be seen everywhere in society e.g. in schools. The next six months are unquestionably going to be the hardest of my service up until now, not physically speaking (in fact I will probably get fatter as the food is good and we'll be doing very little exercis) but through the combinations of hard work, dangerous mission, little sleep and long periods of time in the army without comng home. The danger is something not to be overlooken, in fact, we have already been briefed on "procedure 112" (don't worry nothing top secret), which involves us keeping a magazine loaded (but not cocked) in our gun at all times and having two live grenades in our vest at all times!!!

The last time my old platoon will be together, smiling at the end of the ceremony.

That's all there is to talk about now, but I'm sure by the next time I write a blog, I'll have interesting stories and things to tell you. I've had a really amazing few days here on the kibbutz with my friends; going out to eat, partying it, playing football, spending time with my host family and watching Spurs come from behind to win. Despite the whole 17:4 thing, I actually hope to be out next weekend, as we have our garin reunion. So, it may only be a week's worth of stories the next time I write. Keep posted and continue to leave comments as it gives me that extra supprt that I need...