It should be no surprise to anyone who reads this blog or listens to the UTKM podcast that I spent sometime in the IDF. For me, it was not a positive experience, but I learned a lot about myself and picked up a few skills along the way. Though most of my experience was uneventful there was a particular event that stuck in my mind. An event which due to my actions, I like to think, managed to narrowly avoided turning into an unwanted international incident.
If you were not aware, Israel is constantly under the microscope, either due to anti-Semitism, anti-Zionism, self hating Jews, or just general scapegoating, people still don’t like Jews or the nation of Israel. This should be obvious by the amount of “human rights violations” voted on against Israel at the UN compared to countries like, oh, I don’t know, North Korea, China, Turkey, Iran, etc… You know, countries that have committed, or are currently committing, genocide, and seem to like or stirring up violence and terrorism everywhere. But, you know, Israel is the worst offender according to the “oh so wise and moral” international bodies…
While I was there though I witnessed or was told about goings on that, as a Canadian, I wasn’t exactly thrilled about, but those were few and far between and nothing that I would consider a serious violation. In fact, compared to the actions of other Western armies, like the US or England, Israel is often the best kid in class.
This means, however, that any little thing that those who hate can find they will use to spin a negative view against Israel. (My favorite was the one that said IDF soldiers are racist because there was no recorded rapes of Palestinians. Assessments this are very hard to find online still, as most of the links were quietly taken down. I know, right? “Such an immoral army because there soldiers don’t rape…”) Anyway, you get my point. The fact is, Israeli soldiers need to be very careful because any bad decision they make, may become international news, or get them killed. Add on to that stress the burden of no sleep and insane management skills of the Israelis and it makes for a fun time indeed. So with out further adieu, I would like to share one of my favorite stories, in which I am fairly certain I avoided an international incident.
It was around Nakba day or “the great catastrophe” as the Palestinians put it. You can think what you want, but it’s a day(s) every year where Palestinians gather to protest (usually peacefully for the most part), against the Jewish village or IDF base nearest to their town or village. In this story I was stationed on a mountain top next to a Jewish settlement next to Nablus, one of the three major Palestinian cities. The city itself was basically a “no go zone” and we never much ventured into it for both safety and jurisdictional reasons. Our main concern was the three or four smaller, Arab villages surrounding us. Usually they were more of an annoyance, with kids or teens coming out to harass us on the weekly; it wasn’t risky for them since we usually just told them to go away. As up until this point we didn’t have much in the way of riot or crowd control gear despite the fact most of what we did was police work or crowd control. Go figure…
But on this day, as expected, things would be a bit more interesting. I was on the “quick response team” which constituted myself and four or five others soldiers, my Sgt. and a newer Second Lieutenant. None of us had seen any major wars or serious combat action. We were called out as a group(mob) of 100+ was quickly encroaching on our position. It happened to be a weekend, which at this time meant fewer soldiers on base than normal and any form of back up or assistance would probably be 5-10 minutes away. All we had was ourselves, our vests, and our Tavors.
At first we figured this would be like any other day; we yell at them to go away, they come to a certain point, they stop, they scream at us. Sometimes these protests (usually not this big) included foreign individuals, who seem European, also screaming at us (who knows why, misguided souls perhaps). In this particular case the mob was expressing a particular type of hate and anger, as they were not armed with just words, but slings as well.
Have you ever heard the story of David vs Goliath? Slings, with rocks and some training, can in fact kill. There is often a belief that because IDF soldiers have guns and Palestinians have rocks it’s not a fair fight. Except, in my experience, IDF soldiers, outside of a war or a live fire incident, are usually very, very, very reluctant to shoot at anyone, thought it does happen. This comparison, while true, ignores the fact that both gun and rock can be deadly. In fact, if I recall correctly, a few weeks earlier a soldier had been hit in the face with a rock from a sling and was in still intensive care as a result. A deadly tool is a deadly tool, whether its a rock or a gun, and believe me, when rocks started flying past us at speeds that would have been enough to put us in the hospital or worse, the fear was at a significantly higher level as compared to our normal, silly cat and mouse games.
I was certainly scared, as we only had our guns and were greatly out numbered; I image it was the same for all of us, including our commanders. At this point we were standing in a line across the hillside, probably 10 metres apart from each other to form a loose line. The radio was abuzz in Hebrew, much of which I still found difficult to understand.
Our Lieutenant, whom was out of sight, had told our Sergeant to fire in the air as per the standard policy. Shooting in the air was an indication that we were serious and to BACK OFF. I had never even heard of this order being given directly. For the record, assuming there was time, the proper protocol, as we were taught, was to scream in Hebrew (or Arabic) “back off or we will shoot,” rack the gun multiple times, shoot in the air, then, and only if our lives were imminently threated, to shoot on target. This, of course, is contrary to global popular belief of IDF protocol, which is usually something in the realm of aggressive fantasy.
More rocks fly by. As we couldn’t hear the command properly I asked my commander what he said. The commander replied, “He said I should shoot in the air. I said something to the effect of, “Just you? Sir? I think it wise if we all did it!” Though at this point it was some, panicked, incoherent statement; luckily he spoke English. He hesitantly agreed.
We all fired multiple shots in the air. With no ear plugs or hearing protection I might add. (OW! My ear balls…)
The mob decided not to press further and to stay where they were. Eventually more individuals arrived and both sides just stood their ground.
The Lieutenant was annoyed that we had all fired in the air, as his order was only for my Sergeant to do so. I thought “what a douche,” he was the senior in command so he should have simply done it himself, but I guess that shows a lack of experience. Luckily it’s the IDF, and as nothing immoral or unreasonable was done, no harm, no foul.
After this encounter I was understandably quite pissed and scheduled a meeting with our Company Captain. At this time it was a large, muscular individual whom I recall being half Russian or something and whom had previously served in the famous Duvdevan unit (known for undercover, urban, anti-terrorism). I railed at him in broken Hebrew (in my typical fashion) about “why the hell didn’t we have any riot control gear, tear gas, or riot shields, and how this whole thing could have gone sideways fast, and turned into a international disaster!”
I don’t know if he was amused or annoyed, it was hard to tell as my Hebrew was crap and my emotional state was never great during this period.
I like to think it was because of me that things changed, as I would be shocked if anyone else complained, but eventually we got some basic riot control gear, in the form of various tear gas grenades and rubber bullets to disperse crowds. From then on we at least had non-lethal options to avoid international incidents which, to my knowledge at least, my squad and platoon had managed to do.
Quite shocking I know, one of the best armies in the world without proper riot control gear! I don’t entirely know why that was an issue at all, but I am glad we got it because for the next few months, though this was a relatively peaceful region, it turned out to be one of areas most frequently experiencing active engagements compared to the rest of the IDF. I felt it at least, with constant sleep deprivation. The most notable event in the area during that period was the murder of the Fogel family in the Itamar attack, which occurred while I was at Mitkan Adam (Israel’s Counter-Terrorism Warfare School) learning to be a sniper. But it certainly was representative of the increasing tensions at the time.
Though I certainly didn’t do this story justice, it shows that no matter how much you train or how much training you have, not everyone is able to react quickly and intelligently under duress to avoid a worse situations. For most, there is no substitute for experience. For me, for some reason, under extreme duress is when I excel, unfortunately it is in normal, day-to-day interpersonal skills that I struggle. Come on, Zombie Apocalypse…
So, I seriously, ask you, “do you know how well you would perform in a potentially violent confrontation?” Unfortunately, the only way to know is to experience it, and in may cases this may be far from learning to walk in peace.
Written by Jonathan Fader
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