In a previous post I talked about the first session of Krav Maga that we did. A good friend of mine, someone who works in politics and is highly aware of the Israeli perception around the world, pointed out to me that some people might misunderstand my post and get the idea that Israel is in fact violent or cruel, even towards her own soldiers. The thought hadn't even crossed my mind until my friend mentioned it, and then it kind of dawned on me - yes, I can see how you would think that from what I said!
"And then, and I am not lying to you or exaggerating, the special forces commander standing in the corner with the wooden beam came over to me and told me to stick my leg out.
"Put your thigh forward!," he screamed.
He slammed the processed wooden stick against my quad as hard as he could, trying to break it in half. It didn't break, but was split heavily down the center.
"Pity," he lamented.
I can still feel where he hit me, and that was a few weeks ago now."
So, yes, that would seem to be a pretty incriminating incident there, but let me be very clear about something, and I'm going to write another post within two weeks about this, the Israeli army is unbelievably humane. To the Palestinians, and to those of us serving. Let me give you a couple examples.
There is a guy in my unit from Germany, somewhat large set, who speaks Hebrew at a fairly low level. Because of his size, he's not really able to perform at the physical level we have to perform at, or at least not yet. Because of his Hebrew he's usually confused on what's going on. He's got heart though, so he never quits, and that typically makes up for any shortcomings.
But, considering the Hebrew and the new surroundings, he's been a little bit spacey. After we received our guns it was made 150% clear to us that if we don't have them on us at all times, if we forget them in our rooms, for instance, we'll be in trouble. Here's how the commanders usually describe this undetermined level of trouble:
"If you mess up... I don't even know what."
That's a real threat. Trust me. If you forget your gun in your room when you go to the toilet, you're pretty much guaranteed to be punished by having a weekend at home taken away. That's a real punishment. Trust me. And to think they could do worse, which is implied in that warning.
So, The German was in a class on the combat radio, a technical Hebrew lesson, of course, and as you would expect he started to feel a little bit sleepy. After about half an hour of battling eyelids heavier than tanks, a commander noticed him in the corner and yelled for him to go outside. He jumped up, ran out of the room, and the platoon commander had him run around the barracks a few times. That's their way of waking us up.
And then the commanders realized that he left his weapon underneath his chair inside the classroom.
That's all they had to say. That's all they said. He got his weekend taken away just like that. No if, and, or but about it. Later that night when we lined up for a formation with our platoon commander, he called out a few names to step to the side. The German was called out, and it was announced to the group just what each person did and their subsequent punishment.
"The German... Shabbat on base."
"That sucks," I thought. "No way I could make it four straight weeks on base right now."
Last night, however, we had our end of the week discussion with the platoon commander. Basically, we sit in rows around the commanders while they tell us what we did well, what we did poorly, what to expect in general from the upcoming week, and then there is a time for questions. Another bit is a giving out of merits. One guy was given a round of applause for really stepping it up and taking charge of his room, essentially being the go-to guy.
The German was the other guy singled out. The commander told the group that The German had lost 2.3 kilos in one week, and we cheered for him for so long that the commander had to tell us when enough was enough. All of our commanders were smiling.
The final element of the discussion is the handing out of punishments. These can range from a warning, to an hour or two delay in leaving base on Friday morning, to having to stay for the weekend.
All of the guys that received the Shabbat punishment were given a two-hour delay and a warning, a stern warning that such a reversal won't happen again. I know it won't, and they only got off because this is the very beginning of our training. Majorly lucky.
And then, to top it all off, this morning at 5am we had to get up and clean around the barracks in preparation for going home. I went to the morning prayers, but then in the middle a guy from my platoon came in and pulled me out. We had to run back to the barracks, and I had 7 minutes to change into my off-base uniform and bring my bag to the platoon commander, ready to go home.
I didn't request it, but the commander gave me and two other immigrants an early release. Usually you only get this if you play up the "chayal boded" card, a lone soldier (no family in Israel). Who was one of the other guys? The German.
Is the I.D.F. bad to its soldiers? Absolutely not. They give out compliments and encouragements and benefits even to those who messed up earlier. So, if you think the Israeli army is some kind of monster to even its own soldiers, you're sorely mistaken.
Watch for another post this week about how the atmosphere of basic training in the Israeli army differs from that of the American army.