Thursday, November 5, 2009

First Mounted Patrol


The most exciting mission one can get at al-Madina al-Muqaddasah, at least on a daily basis, is a vehicle-mounted patrol (VMP - my creation). In order to increase our visibility and have feet everywhere, without maintaining some unruly presence, is to keep an army truck in constant motion throughout the city. Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week (yes, Shabbat too), we are out there, eyes open, ready to prevent, engage, and react. No matter where you are in the sprawling city, various military and police forces are roaming.

My first VMP came quickly after we began operations in al-Madina. My commander, let's call him Ranger since he really should have gone to special forces, came into my room where I was sitting on my bed, whittling away my time on Facebook Mobile. He asked me if I "wanted" to do a VMP. I laughed openly in his face, knowing he was asking me sarcastically. Weeks before we finally got here, I told every single commander, all the way up to my commanding officer, that I didn't want to miss even one assignment. I can guard for 24 hours a day, I told them all. And as a matter of fact, you better try to wear me out or I'll run away to America.

Taking my word seriously, they put me on the platoon's very first patrols. I couldn't have been more excited, just as I was with the previous post's foot patrol. Give me body armor and get me the hell out of the base! Let me loose, I growled. And with that I threw on the ceramic vest, and then my combat vest, chucked my helmet inside the armored Jeep, and told the Russian driver to "hit it already!"

We crossed the wire, Ranger checked the com system, the other soldier with me fiddled with his Camelbak hydration pack, and I stared out at the rolling, house-dotted hills of our operating area. My mind was racing with what could be, what would happen, what it would be like to hear on the radio that Bad Guy X was in Scary Place Y, and was about to carry out Terrorist Act Z. If that call went out, it would be going out to us, and that would mean me. And if-

Obliterating my unrealistic fantasies, the radio blared through the external speaker, echoing off the box interior of the thick metal walled Jeep.

"Patrol, this is HQ."

"HQ, continue."

"We've got a report of rocks being thrown at Fizzeh Junction."

"Copy that. Patrol en route. Over."

Not two minutes in, we had a directive from the radio control room to engage. Rocks being thrown sounds so cliche for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and I thought the same thing at first. But Fizzeh Junction in al-Madina is really the junction of a walkway between two Arab neighborhoods and a high-traffic shared road. Palestinians and Israelis both use the road, and cars travel at about 80 km/h or more. If you hit a windshield with a nice sized rock at 50 mph, you can expect a life-threatening crash.

So off we sped, racing towards Fizzeh. Mere minutes later we were approaching the junction, and amazingly enough we spotted large rocks on the highway. Our driver whipped the back end of the armored truck into the direction of the neighborhood we suspected the rocks came from, and just like a movie I threw the doors open, ducked my oversized frame through the opening, and jumped out of the vehicle ready-to-roll. I glanced left and right, and then up past the barricade blocking the neighborhood from the highway.

As if some CNN production of the Second Intifadah was filming, a conflictual period I watched half-knowledgeably from my cozy high school and college perspective, I spotted the offenders. About seven or eight teenage boys were going crazy nearly 150 meters in front of me, jumping up and down, waving their arms, and yelling unintelligably in Arabic towards my commander, my platoonmate, and myself.

With rocks in their hands. From awkward Virginian Jew to Israeli-American Golanchik, I had transformed into the Intifadah's image: rock thrower versus IDF combat soldier.

Now, you may think that throwing some rocks is just harmless aggression. I hear you. 150 meters for a 16-year-old to throw a rock isn't as dangerous as throwing a Molotov Cocktail. Sure. But let that kid throw that rock, and you dodge it, no big deal. But the next day, and don't think I'm exaggerating here, he'll roll backpack-sized stones on the highway. Give an inch, anyone will take a mile.

And with that we could have shot non-lethal rounds at the obvious law-breakers. Tear gas, rubber bullets, flashbangs; any of those things would have been well within our rules of engagement. These kids were throwing rocks at cars passing at high speeds. Deadly, and deserving of a serious response.

But rather than going in full swing, our first days in the deployment, my commander and I instinctively ran towards the group. We're both sort of... hands on. But the teens had their distance, and we had a clear directive at the time to not enter too far in that neighborhood without at least a squad-sized force. And so they mostly dispersed as two six foot four hulking, trained combat soldiers bore down on them. I dropped into kneeling position as we reached the barricade, putting the remaining rock throwers in my magnified reflex scope.

Red jacket. Blue shoes. Black shirt with gold colored chain. White jeans. Green Nike shorts.

Details to remember. For when? Well, you never know. Who says we wouldn't get the word to go door-to-door?

And we walked back to the Jeep, quietly reflecting on our first contact with the most cliche element of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. 16-year-old kids in the beginning of October, noon on a weekday, not in the school on the other side of the junction. Yes, that one right there! Another 150 meters away from the street! And yes, soldiers trained for an all-out war with Syria fighting what? Kids that don't realize how deadly their actions can be? That's it?

But it's important, and you know it. It's not battling your way to Damascus, but it's good work. If you don't believe it, you haven't been there. You know why I say that without reservation? Because the majority of the Arabs in these areas just do their job, love their families, and move on. We sat at Fizzeh Junction for another half an hour, with many individuals making their way across the highway to a neighboring area where all the schools and universities (yes those too) and jobs are. And we asked about the kids, and they all rolled their shoulders and shrugged their eyes.

"I don't know. Stupid kids. I just do my job and go home. Morning 'til night."

When you hear that sentiment over and over, you kinda start to believe it. And in a strange way, and as a side note you don't have to believe me, you find yourself thinking about that average individual. You see a kid throwing rocks, and you think about that 25-year-old going to his university class on computer science. You remember and see his face because you checked his ID and quizzed him on it. Those of us that care for peace can't help but feel the disappointment when you respond to one of the troublemakers, so misguided, so myopic. When he throws rocks over and over, we increase our presence. And though it's exciting, you know it's not taking the process forward. Over and over.

Cause and Effect. Action and Reaction. Incident and Response. Cycle and Cycle and Cycle and Cycle.

"Patrol, this is HQ."

"HQ, this is Patrol. Continue."

"............."

31 comments:

Rafael said...

Excelent, man! Very good post. I really enjoy reading this. And I envy you...I'm here, in an office, in my chair, desk, computer, wearing a tie...and you're out there, doing what you have to do, armored, gun in hand, ready to roll...that must be great. Keep it up.

d-rose said...

Danny, I love your enthusiasm. Keep up the good work, my friend. I want to ask you something personal. How did your family react when you decided to move to Israel and join the army? I am starting to actually ponder my return to Israel permanently because I just can't find my purpose here in NY.....

Kirara said...

Don't be discouraged, saying that the process isn't going anywhere. For these people, now, what you are doing matters. They'll remember that it was an Israeli who protected them, or who winked at them as a kid. That is the battle that you have to win if you want peace.

Maybe the conflict won't ever end, that's possible, but consider it's a microcosm - the world will always have evil in it, and the only way for it to have good is for people to do what you are doing. All the more important that you make NOW as good as it can be.

And heck, you just saved someone's life, probably. But I'm sure you're aware of that :)

Awesome post as usual.

Anonymous said...

Kol hakavod on your post danny (you write brilliantly, you should go pro with a book on all your experiences!) and thank YOU and all the other soldiers out there for your sterling work in helping to keep the peace in our homeland, long may it reign and continue.

Your closing comments in the post on wanting peace and being disappointed in continuous pointless violence rang out so true and were very poignant indeed, especially just after the recent anniversary of Rabin's awful murder (which I can't believe was 14 years ago, as I remember when it happened like it was yesterday), who during his whole life stood up for peace and harmony. May his wonderful work in wanting, keeping and living in peace with our neighbours carry on through you, as I know it already does.

I know it may be less exciting (as you yourself already correctly related to in your post), but I hope you have many more quiet and eventless days in the future. Tishmor al atzmecha, Rafi

Anonymous said...

very detailed post which is nice to read. i hope you keep safe.

- arkadiy

daniman750 said...

great great post. very KABOOM-like. You should definitely be doing some writing on the side. Youve got some major talent.
btw how do you guys communicate with the arabs there? do yu have a translator along or did you learn some arabic or is everyone speaking english/hebrew?
(I take arabic in school and im joining the army next year so thats why im asking.)

Danny Brothers said...

rafael - don't envy me. My fate is the same as yours, I fear - desk, office, tie, etc. I just decided to dodge the draft of adult responsibility for a while, and joined the parallel universe of army life.

D-rose - well, I have an extremely encouraging family, so there wasn't any arguing. There was certainly some questioning, however. And tears of course, fears, etc. But all in all, they were proud that I had something meaningful to live for.
In terms of your life there in NY, man, look around. Its good there, and there's lots of meaningful stuff to be involved in. I wouldn't mind being in NY for a while!

Kirara - thanks for the comment. I'm not discouraged, but yeah, things on the ground are certainly different.

Rafi & arkadiy - thanks for the comments. 14 years, Rafi? That is nuts.

Daniman - thanks for the compliment. Kaboom is good, though I'd never want his style. But he is a great writer, and I learned a few tricks of military writing from him.
We speak to arabs in whatever arabic you know first (stop, come here, open the door, etc), then hebrew... And english if either person knows it. I've only seen english a couple times though. So, keep taking arabic!

Anonymous said...

Where is this West Bank you refer to?

Or are you talking about the regions of Judea and Samaria mentioned in the bible? The same regions that have belonged to the Jewish people since the days of Abraham.

And who are the Palestinians? The Arab migrant workers that have come to enjoy the resettlement of Jewish lands and improve their economic conditions?

Come on Israeli/American! Get your facts straight. Stop using antisemitic terminology. Live like a Jew, Fight Like a Jew and Talk Like a Jew!

Ruanne said...

Hey, Danny, you should try to learn some Arabic too. Hell, you've managed to get fluent in Hebrew in short order, no? What's another Semitic language? The roots are the same, in many cases, it just breaks out into different words and syntax.

I repeat my last bit of advice, keep your head down, look out for your comrades, and keep your weapon and gear close and in good condition.

Danny Brothers said...

Anonymous - thank you for your nationalist, racist history lesson! I'm going to change all my posts to reflect your caveman perspective whereby over a million arabs simply don't exist!

Fight like a Jew? Who are you, Meir Kahane? I guess according to you I should shoot every arab I see. Or at least move into a caravan in Judea and burn arab olive trees. How have you "fought" like a Jew?

Congratulations on being an asshole. I bet people love talking to you.

Pang said...

HUGS!!! I'LL BE PRAYING FOR YOU AND THE IDF! SHALOM!

Anonymous said...

I am so proud of you, Danny. You replied to that racist comment with integrity and honesty. I am a proud zionist but I am not in favor any innocent civilians. Keep safe and thank you for standing up to your beliefs.
-arkadiy

Anonymous said...

i meant to write I don't believe in killing civilans and demonizing the whole arab population. All people want peace and just to grow their families in productive adults. keep safe, danny.
-arkadiy

Danny Brothers said...

thanks for the hugs pang! I could always use more of those.

Thank you arkadiy. Those people are just losers who see everything in black and white.

Anonymous said...

Nice writing though, you have manage to write something that is less discriminating, less faking, and that's what we all need man, the fact and truth, i'm a muslim, and i understand that you are fighting and defending the innocent civilian of yours..i know, i know..its the politician that makes this world go round. but i've seem so many cruelty that your arm force shows.., innocent children being bombed..innocent civilian shooted, damn there;s too much blood spilt..

but i dont blame you though....
you've done a good job in keeping your people safe...i just hope that you don't kill the opposite people in doing so..peace man..

stay safe, and good luck..

Anonymous said...

Good shnizzle.

I see nothing has changed since I patrolled the streets of Gaza & Hebron in 1992-3-4-5.

Don't let the racist tendencies of a few get in the way of clear judgement.

Most of the Arabs in the WB ARE good people just under bad circumstances and bad leadership.

Kind of like the Washington Redskins.

pap said...

Powerful posts lad. I'm proud of your bravery & equally proud of your positive attitude as a peace keeper & not just a Golani badass. Using your power & training to produce a positive contact usually generates a more desired outcome, a better future.
Please heed Ruanne's advice. Keep that cranium on swivel.
You have our love.

Danny Brothers said...

Thanks, Pap

Anonymous said...

great post bro! please be safe. we love and miss you. we worry but we know it will get us no where. always know we are thinking about you!!! love you
Jeff

Mibulbal said...

So there really is a Palestinian nation? And the Arabs of Gaza don't really have Egyptian last names and don't speak the Egyptian Arabic dialect?

And the Arabs of Samaria and Judea aren't living on the ancient homeland of the Jewish People as mentioned in the Old Testament?

And they aren't descendants of the Arab migrant workers that came to British Mandate Palestine (and Ottoman Empire ruled Palestine) to earn a better living for their families, leaving behind abject poverty in what is now Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq?

This is a great discussion, but don't go calling people racist just because you haven't studied your own history.

Danny Brothers said...

mibulbal - your name is very fitting for your racist revisionist history. Don't go assuming I haven't studied, extensively, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict just because I don't agree with you, Kahane, lieberman, and Settler Joe.

PALESTINE! PALESTINE! PALESTINE!

Anonymous said...

Are you planning on doing a brief photo essay in the future?

for the illiterate and such?

Danny Brothers said...

sorry anonymous, no photoessays until I'm released from the army, if ever. The material is kinda sensitive, and we're really not meant to show photos of anything at all.

In regards for the illiterate and those who dislike reading... Just do it!

Jeff Helmreich said...

It's called google. with it you can verify fact, and dispel myths.

By 1864, a clear-cut Jewish majority emerged in Jerusalem - more than half a century before the arrival of the British Empire and the League of Nations Mandate. During the years that the Jewish presence in Eretz Israel was restored, a huge Arab population influx transpired as Arab immigrants sought to take advantage of higher wages and economic opportunities that resulted from Jewish settlement in the land. President Roosevelt concluded in 1939 that "Arab immigration into Palestine since 1921 has vastly exceeded the total Jewish immigration during the whole period."

There's more but you can look it up yourself. (http://www.jcpa.org/jl/vp507.htm)

Who's the revisionist now?

Danny Brothers said...

Nice way to quote the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs (JCPA). I used to work there. And what kind of pompous self-promoter quotes their own article from a semi-respectable think tank without mentioning that it's their own words?

Idiot. Don't try to tell me what you think I don't know. You're a racist, and if you think the Arabs don't have a place here, and if you get so worked up by the use of the word "Palestinian," you might want to close your ears eyes and mouth when Palestine is eventually created in the West Bank. It's coming, brother.

You can know facts, like what I just typed, and you can have opinions, like what you typed. And between facts and opinion, many fools speak.

And still you don't know my opinions, but will forever guess my knowledge.

And moreover, if you're at the point in your career where you cowrite papers with Dore Gold, a former ambassador to the U.N., and you yourself have written numerous published articles, but still feel the need to call some kid blogger names in a comment section, you clearly missing the big picture.

Ruanne said...

Palestine! Palestine! Palestine! :)

Jonathan said...

DBro, you are the man.

This guy doesn't even seem to understand common decency and respect for fellow man. Who is to say that those other than Jews can not live and work and prosper on Jewish land? Without migrant workers, no modernized country would be what it is today.

According to this fool, the U.S. should deport all Latinos and close the borders for good, because it is our country and not theirs? Power shifts innumerate times throughout history. If I'm correct, "Americans" as we know them today did not even exist less than half a century ago.

Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness (or property if you prefer Locke) are unalienable rights that we all deserve. You can not prevent someone from attaining those just because of race. Especially if you wish to be viewed as "civilized".

Come on man, grow up.

Jonathan said...

And who the fuck quotes themselves?

Seriously.

Anonymous said...

Hey

i completly respect you for doing what you do, but why arent you looking at this from the military prospective.. they have Shomrom..they have Israel meaning they can launch rockets into practically any part of our country.
Am also a bit schocked that you dont agree that it is part of our homeland as you are an orthodox jew..agreeing its our homeland dont make you racist

BTW i do agree that they should have land just land that doesn't cause us more blood shed. Finally I'll think you'll find that people don't like the word palestine because of its root word (Jews like finding roots in everything, Chumash :P ) When the Bet Hamikdash was destroyed Emperor Hadrian wanted to wipe away any jewish history and desecrate it because of the Bar Kockba revolt so he sacrificed pig on the alter.. murdered thousands and changed the name to Syria Palestinea (not quite sure of the correct spelling) So that word to our ancestors and religious people is quite sour..but its a small price to pay for true peace

Danny Brothers said...

I do agree that it is part of the ancestral Land of Israel, as well as Gaza and parts of Jordan. But I believe in realpolitik. We can't very well hold onto the West Bank with such a tiny minority of Jews and continue to have millions of humans residing in political limbo. Everyone deserves to be a citizen of some state.

I understand why some Jews get so upset over the use of the words West Bank and Palestine/Palestinian. But if you're so offended by the use of the essentially unchallenged, internationally recognized terminology for a place and people because 2,000 years ago an empire that hasn't existed for 1,500 years defiled our holy place and religion... well, that's the kind of person that will never be able to compromise on a peace agreement. That's why I mocked the above posters. I find them as out of touch with reality as any group has ever been.

I believe we should negotiate a peace where Israel retains the Gush, but hands over the rest of the WB. Then Palestine can be formed from Gaza and the WB, with some future plans of a land bridge or corridor connecting the two. Once the state is finalized and in their hands, assuring that they have fresh water access and resources, Israel will no longer have war with them. And if they do want to launch rockets or perpetrate terrorist acts even then, Israel will have the support of the UN, NATO, and any reasonable country to engage in defensive actions.

But as long as we have politicians in power that deny the legitimacy of either group (Jews aren't from the Land, Palestinians don't exist and are Egyptian/Jordanian imports), there will never be a compromise.

Anonymous said...

Hey
thanks for the reply always nice to hear a different viewpoint

I completely agree with you that the people should be free and do as they will

Just my hope for peace is slowly going down due to rocket attacks and pure hatred but i genuinely do hope for peace as thats what we pray for everyday :)

but then again theres the whole big megilla of are we allowed to give away the land (torah prospective) which would take hours to discuss lol

But anyway Kol HaKavod for serving your a true role model and hero in my eyes