Thursday, 1 September 2011

From Lebanon to London

I don't think I've ever been more excited than I am right now. After a hard two weeks on the 'kav', I am home now in Tel Aviv for the weekend as I prepare for my month-long trip back to my other home in London on Sunday.

Concerning these last two weeks, it most certainly was not a gradual winding down of the army lifestyle before my upcoming trip. I returned to my company on the 'kav' (the general guarding and patrolling of Israel's borders), having been away for a month following my job as a commander on the 'Bach'. It wasn't the first time I had been on the current 'kav', which for tzanchanim at the moment is Israel's northern border with Lebanon, but this time I was now there for more than a couple of days. Although I did 'kav' in Gaza for nearly six months earlier this year, it was a little bit difficult for me to get used to the routine of being on 'kav', having not done it for so long. While the rest of my friends in the 'mahlaka' (platoon) had already been there a month (of which they had to close 24 consecutive days before going home!), I had missed out ('oketzed' is probably the more suitable word) on the end of the 'kav' in Gaza, due to commanders' course, and the majority of this 'kav' because I was in my recent 'tafkid'. All this accumulates to a lot of time that my friends were suffering and closing on the 'kav', while I was having the time of my life as a commander! To top it all off, last weekend was the first Shabbat that I have closed in ten weeks (!), which for a combat soldier is ridiculous, hence my unrivaled reputation as the master 'oketz'. My friends in the 'mahlaka' were obviously not impressed by this little statistic and they made up for it by making me a 'toran' (kitchen and company duties) for a highly unproportional amount of days compared to everyone else. This explains why this last little period for me in the army was rather difficult and tiring but I probably deserve it.

Working hard at the 'shin gimmel' (main gate of the base).

Back on the 'kav', things returned to how they were for me when I was a 'hapash' (regular soldier), the period before I went to commanders' course. By the way, following my recent role as a 'mefaked' last month, I am now back to my platoon as regular, non-commander, combat soldier and am, once again, attached to, (more like the "property of"), my battalion as opposed to the 'Bach'. Being a 'hapash' on 'kav' has its advantages and its disadvantages. On the up side, there are a lot less responsibilities than that of a commander, meaning when a patrol is finished I can go off and be lazy, while my 'mefaked' always has errands to run and sleeps less than us, without exception, almost every night. However, being a 'hapash' means kitchen duty, more guard duties and in general, we are the manpower, sort of manual labour, of the 'gdud' (battalion). So while it is less of a headache to be a commander, especially on 'kav' where one has the responsibility of real operations, like border patrols, the 'hapash' probably works harder overall. I definitely put my fair share of hours in during this last fortnight on base; washing hundreds of dishes when on kitchen duty and guarding for countless number of hours. I was only in the army for a total of fourteen days (which is about half of what platoon will eventually close for) but it did feel like a bit of a marathon and the countdown of days to when I was getting out was blisteringly slow. Still though, I am out now as I sit here in my apartment in Tel Aviv and can look back on the last two weeks with ease now, knowing that I'm not there anymore!!!

Taking a break from the kitchen to check out the anti-demonstration-tear-gas-grenade launchers!!!

The transition from going back to the army after being home on leave for the weekend is never easy but this time it was harder than usual. Partly because we had just been on 'regila' (a five day holiday), partly because we were going back to a lot of hard work on the 'kav', but mainly due to the fact that we went back to the army on a Friday, meaning we were back on base at the start of the weekend while everyone else was going home (including my friends outside the army). On that first Friday night, I saw how the transition from being at home to going back to the army, can really take you from one extreme to another. On the Thursday night before going back, I walked home to my apartment in Tel Aviv after a night out clubbing, on Friday night I walked back "home" to base under very different circumstances. After finishing guarding at a checkpoint near the border, we then walked a few minutes along Israel's northern frontier, in order to go back to base. It was an overwhelming experience; to our left was southern Lebanon, a stone's throw away, and to our right, the not-to-distant lights of Kiryat Shemona were visible. To think that I was comfortably walking home after a night out in Tel Aviv and then a mere twenty four hours later, I was actively safeguarding over the residents of the north. It is crazy to comprehend the quick contrast one can go through when going back to the army. However, more than that, to see the lights of Kiryat Shemona and know that we were watching over the Jewish people was a very rewarding feeling. It's those sorts of moments that caused me to pack up my bags in England and come to Israel and join the army as a combat soldier.

Translation: Military area - no photography allowed!!!

As much as the army does its upmost to guard over Israels' hostile borders, terrorists sometimes find a way in and two weeks ago, another unprecedented attack on civilians occurred, killing seven. I don't want to use my blog to talk politics, although there is nothing political about terrorists, but I do want to touch upon the reaction of the world to what happened. Innocent people were murdered on a bus but for the rest of the world this is still not good enough. There were many examples of the double standard that the world media sets upon Israel, like how BBC's headline was "Israel pounds Gaza" (military airstrikes targeted specifically at terrorist organization), despite the early massacre. From what I understand, Hamas' recent bombardment of rockets on the Negev didn't even make it into the news at all and the fact that young children were injured and over a million people had to sleep in bunkers for a week was simply ignored. I'm sure that many of you who are reading are equally disgusted as to the way Israel is represented and, as an ardent Zionist who is physically fighting for Israel, I too am just sick of it all. We seem to be alone in this world, as we always have been and despite things heating up slightly in Israel, I know that we will overcome everything, as we always have. I don't like setting this sort of tone but I was simply disgusted by the recent events and Israel's subsequent portrayal, that I needed to mention something in the blog.

Learning a bit about tanks.

On a much more positive note, this Sunday I am taking my 'meyuhedet' (the annual 30 day trip a lone soldier receives to go home). The last time I was in England was in August, last summer, so it's been over a year now that I haven't been back home in London. I am so excited to go back again, I can't even begin to explain. So many good things are happening during the time that I'll be back in England, like my birthday and Rosh Hashanah. I've also already got a trip planned to go to my friends' university for a couple of days and several Tottenham games to go to as well. Simply though, to see all my family and friends and be back home for a month, doing all the things I miss doing is something that is truly priceless. Being away from the army for a month is also hard to put a price on, despite having it considerably easy in the army during the last couple of months (in terms of the amount of time I've been off). Not having to worry about getting up in the middle of the night to guard, having the luxury of not putting on uniform and boots every morning and not cleaning one plate in the kitchen (sorry mum!) is going to be wonderful. I did have a lot of trouble trying to get the full 30 days of 'meyuhedet' for a number of reasons (the fact that I'm not a commander means I was able to take time off however) and I appreciate all those who made sure that I got this time off. While my new 'mem pey' (commander company) has truly disgracd himself in his attitude and concern for a soldier, my new 'mem mem' (platoon commander) has shown himself to be a great guy and someone I look forward to carrying on with upon my return. I fly to london on Sunday morning and just thinking about going home gets me all excited; thirty days back in England is something I've been looking forward to for such a long time now and it's finally arrived.

That's it then. It feels like I've reached the end to another chapter of my aliyah journey and army service; having started my third year in Israel and finising 'makim' and, consequently a job as a commander, I now take the second trip back home since making Aliyah. I'm interested to see what I'll be like on my return (there are things to look towards once I come back from London, which I'll talk about when relevant) but I just hope that it'll be easier to come back to Israel than it was last year. I will try and write a blog from London, that is if I have enough time from all the fun I'll be doing. Waited so long for this now; London here I come...