Saturday, May 28, 2011

Al Nakba

Sunday May 15th was Al Nakba day for the Arab world. Al Nakba is the Arab world’s day of mourning over the establishment of the state of Israel. It literally means “the disaster.” In preparation we were forwardly deployed to the area across from Maroun A’ras. Maroun A’ras is a large hill top overlooking Israel (over 400 meter climb) with a large boardwalk around the top and bread and breakfasts. As we got in closer for the day the first thing we saw was a Palestinian flag waving from on top the hill. Within an hour we began to see little dots of people forming up on the top of the hill. Being a sharpshooter and having an ACOG 4x sight was able to see a bit better and we could see the people differentiated by their shirt colors. As the day moved on towards 1300 the crowd began to swell immensely and sporadic gunfire began to pepper the air. Hezbollah was providing free buses and food. They had ordered something to the tune of 500 buses. Since Al Nakba is already a day off, so it was not hard for them to convince people to come out and join.    

At this point we had a quick review for an upcoming operation and when we came back outside things had gone from worrisome to bad. There was a string of people, looking like a string of ants at our distance, moving down from Maroun A’ras towards Israel and the fence between us and Lebanon. At this point Arabs had already broken the fence on the Syrian border and mass deployments and gunfire was reported there. We ran to the secure room holding the screens for the cameras watching the fence and Maroun A’ras and what we saw was scary. There were angry mobs moving on the fence, throwing stones, but not the small ones you skip on the lake, ones the size of cement blocks, at the fence. S they closed in on the fence the Team 1 who was the Tzevet Konnenut (Readiness team or in US Army speak QRF – Quick Reaction Force) were called and within a minute were on the vehicles on their way there. We stayed back to view on the cameras a bit. The mob had now closed on the fence and there was one man in a black tee shirt and army pants on the Lebanese side attempting to hold them back and doing a very poor job. The mob were pushing up on the fence and still throwing blocks at the fence, but now with people in close they were hitting their fellow Arabs with blocks. At this point the man in the black shirt gave up and they Arabs began to climb on the fence. At this point we were all ordered to the bus and to get on vests and equipment. We ran like we ha never run before and were in moments on vests, and I being the radioman had my radio up and running and was getting all the reports from the fence as it happened.

“They are on the fence!” “They are climbing over, OMG!” “Company Commander: Silence, sharpshooters only move up to the tree line (which was next to the fence) and be ready for orders to shoot” “Brigade Commander: Knees down anyone on the fence, at the Company Commanders discretion” “Company Commander: 7,4,3,2, - Fire!” And from the bus we hear the times and simultaneous fire. This happens a few more times and then we get our marching orders from the mem’peh (Company Commander) Within 5 minutes we are on site and in formation to move out.

Now before I continue I will need to paint you a picture of the terrain. On the Israeli side there are rows of orchards running parallel to the border fence, and between the orchards and the fence is a row of tall pin trees. The fence its self is made up of a road for Hummer’s a sand path north of it and then the fence it’s self. On the other side of the fence is Lebanon and immediately after the fence is a land mine field. After the land mines are open fields which stretch back about 200 meters and then begins the rise up to Maroun A’ras for about 800 meters. When we arrive we are east of the major action and begin to move parallel to the fence towards the major action. We realize we have arrived at the center of action when a not so gentle rain of rocks begins to pour upon us.

The Arabs on the other side are going nuts, screaming, ranting, throwing rocks and boulders at us. They even have sling shots are attempting aimed fire, and in some cases succeeding. The hate they are radiating is tangible, it can almost be tasted in the air and the tension is in the air. Every so often an Arab attempts to get onto the fence and a crack of rifle fire sends him backwards and off the fence. (ROE is anyone on the fence will be shot off at knee or lower by order of mem’peh or mafkat’z (Platoon Leader), any one armed, with intention, and capability can be shot at knee if possible and if not then center mass; again only with permission unless there is an immediate threat to a soldiers life) At first my team is put in the orchard in the back as they assess the situation. Then they call for two sharpshooters and I begin to get up to run to be the first one there but my mafkat’z tells me no since I am the radio man I must be with him. So I stay back and one of the two who went comes back with an X or a kill. There is a tradition to place an X on the butt of a weapon when it has been used to kill an enemy.

By this point we are redeployed to be along the tree line next to the fence and under heavier rock fire. I now have a clearer view of the situation and can see the protest or as it can more accurately be called mob quite clearly. I also can hear them quite clearly. While most of what they shout is in Arabic there are a few shouts in English of “Fuck You Israel!” and “Fuck You Jews!” The rage here is ridiculous they eventually run out of throw able rocks so they start to smash large boulders together to create more ammunition to throw. The screams and curses pierce the air over and over. Then on the radio one of the camera observer’s reports a “protestor” has picked up an anti-tank mine and is running towards the fence. I instantly go into my sites and start to search for him, I want the shot. But before I find him I hear the crack of a rifle off to my left. Someone else found him first. About 10 minutes later in the forefront of the large mass of protestors someone begins to light a torch and begins to wind up to throw it into the tree line we are in. A clear danger with intent and ability I try and line up a clear shot but the trees block me so I move a bit right and then crack once again someone else beat me to the shot.  

After almost three hours the Lebanese Army finally came on sight. At first the soldiers attempted to argue with the protesters and convince them to leave on their own but the protestors kept going strong mostly ignoring the soldiers. Finally the frustrated soldiers just put in magazines pointed their weapons at a 45 degree angle and let it rip. The protestors started to pack out of there in a real hurry after that. For the next 15 minutes the Lebanese Army shot off something close to 20,000 rounds on automatic as they herded the people back up the hill towards Maroun A’ras and home. We packed up from here and went on back home.

After the day’s events I had some serious material to think about. One is the anger and hatred I saw and felt. One girl stands out in my memory. She was no older than 15 years old and she was front and center and angry. Screaming and cursing in Arabic and English I was shocked and horrified. What was she doing here? What had any of us ever done to her? Who had instilled such hate in her and what parents would let her come to an event like this? I realized that people who say peace is but a moment away in the Middle East are clueless. Peace is generations away as for true peace to exist this hate must stop and it must be untaught. True peace will exist only when people can at minimum respect the other side. I don’t ask to like, love, or even want the other side there only they respect them as human beings and recognize their basic human rights. I also realized I at no moment experienced fear, only an adrenaline high surging through my veins which made the experience quite enjoyable. I am not so sure on what to think on that though …

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

A Celebration of Jewish Independence

 In honor of Israeli Independence day today I am posting a multigenre essay I wrote at West Point shortly before Israeli Independence day 2009. I think it is appropriate for the day and spirit of independence.

Dear World,

            I write back to you because as to date the last letter from Rabbi Kahane went without a response. I hope you received the first letter, and had some time to think about its points. Now some may think Rabbi Kahane’s letter was a bit harsh in the words it used, but my words will be no kinder this time. What needs to be said must be said and someone must be willing to say it. Since we last corresponded, I have yet to see any improvement on our issues. Rabbi Kahane last wrote in 1988, and a lot of time has passed, and we have some more to talk about. We Jews still seem to be bothering you, even after we try to leave you in peace, again. 

Above my head comes forth a shout
A Muslim call to prayer.
From up upon our mount
Comes a scornful looking stare.

In Lebanon, we bothered you, so you slaughtered our boys days and night. The presence of a Jew so near to your home pained you so greatly; we left you no choice but to kill us. So we left you, we left Lebanon and let you be in peace hoping only for the same for our children. We hoped the attacks would stop and our north could live in peace. However, we bothered you by leaving you be, so much so, you had to take some of our boys with you and away from their families. Thus, with no choice on our part we had to go to war, to bring our children home to their families. So upon our women and children you rained down rockets, upon their homes and schools. Not a word was said about it, but every time our bombs fell upon your arms stockpiles, a cry of “war crimes” rose up.

A Scream, A Boom,
Another world gone to black,
Another dead … Jew,
The world turns its back.

A Jew dared to go visit our holiest of sights, the temple mount; the place our holy temple once stood, and how that bothered you. How you screamed and bemoaned over our arrogance, how dare we visit our holiest site, the audacity! For infuriating you wave upon wave of perturbed Palestinians came to blow themselves up in our school buses, our pizzerias, in our streets. We bothered you to the point your life was worth taking just to kill our schoolchildren. We were so inhuman to you as to go to pizza with our family that you could take it no more, we drove you to take your own lives to stop our twelve year olds from offending you. So we said we will leave you be, we will place a wall around our homes and build our self into a ghetto to please you, but this was not enough for you. You claimed we were apartheid for leaving you, and how inhuman we were for letting you be. 

Code Red It Screams
15 seconds to safety, it seems!
The rocket slams down hard,
My home is blown apart. 

And how we bothered you so in Gaza. You just could not stand us there. We drove you to drop rockets and mortars on our homes, and fields, and to kill our children in their beds. Those blooming fields of ours, and those thriving families how they bothered you. The world told us if we leave Gaza and leave behind our years of hard work we would appease them, and all will be fine. So we left our homes, many were dragged out unwillingly. The Israeli government carried out the “disengagement”, even as it nearly drove Israel to the precipice of civil war. Nevertheless, we bothered you still and so for seven years you rained down rockets and mortars upon our civilians living in Sedrot, and the rest of the southern Israel. After seven years we said, enough is enough let our people live free of fear so we struck back, and how our audacity angered you. How dare we defend our people! Out came your worn and weary labels “aggressor,” “war crimes,” and “oppressor.” But we soldiered on till the rockets thinned out, and Hamas was cowering. 

Stand and fight,
For home and land
We will not be beat
Now go disband.

So many Jews have died since Rabbi Kahane last wrote to you, and his words only ring clearer today.  We give land for nothing, we have seen no peace only a lull in the slaughter of our youth. Well enough is enough and in the words of our new foreign minister, “Concessions won’t bring peace (Sofer ).” Israel will not be pushed around anymore. If you want to get something from us you had better have something in hand to give. Our blood is no longer cheap and easy to take, if that bothers you then tell it the muzzles of our victorious Tavor’s, Jewish built weapons. No more empty promises, no more empty peace talks, no more giving away our land. Israel is not our land, it is not your land, it is G-d’s land granted to us by G-d in a covenant with Abraham (Genesis 15:18). “Rabbi Kahane was right” is how the phrase goes in Israel. He warned the nation giving away land would not bring peace, establishing a second Palestinian state will not bring peace, and talking to terror organizations will not bring peace. Only a strong Jewish state in the Jewish land observant of the word of G-d will bring peace. So while we may bother you world I would like to proudly take up the banner of an independently thinking Jew and say “here is one Jew who could not careless (Kahane).”

A dome of gold
They strut out so bold
Till come forth our boys
To martyrdom, they send their souls 

So to you G-d I ask, "May He avenge the blood of His servants which has been shed, as it is written in the Torah of Moses, the man of G-d: "O nations, make His people joyful! He avenges the blood of His servants, renders retribution to His foes and atones for His land and His people...And in the holy writings it says: "Why should the nations say, Where is their G-d? (Kahane).” Let those who fight and assault us be driven away, let our temple mount be set free, and their abominations razed from upon our temple mount in preparation for the rebuilding of your holy temple. Let not your children be subjected to the rockets of those who profane your name, and let our nation prevail, again.    

-          Tsvi Mark

Memorial Day

The Walls of the Old City All Light Up
Yesterday was Israeli Memorial Day where we memorialize all 22,000+ soldiers, and other security personal who have fallen in their duty protecting this country. It is a very sad day in Israel beginning at sundown with a minute long siren heard across the country; with everyone stopping, and I mean everyone. I was on a bus when the siren sounded and the entire city just came to a stop. Nothing budged everyone on the bus stood up and the world looked like someone had pressed pause. Lights changed from green to red and back again but not one car moved; not one person crossed the street, not one step was taken. Then the siren wound down and slowly the city same back to life. Our bus pulled into the bus station and we got off. By this point every store is closed the station is nearly deserted and I dont stay there long my self.

I was rushing to try and get to the kotel (Western Wall) where the official government ceremony kicking off memorial day was happening. Along the way I had a string of run ins with friends, which only served to remind me how small this country can be at times. I unfortunately got to the kotel too late and missed the tekes (ceremony) for the most part.

Graves on Mt. Hertzel
The next morning I was up bright and early to head over Mt. Hertzel (The Military cemetery and memorial) to locate the grave I will be standing by for the ceremony. The IDF sends a soldier to the grave of every soldier who has ever fallen in the line of duty. This is done by Unit or Battalion with each unit sending soldiers to the graves of those who have fallen from their unit. I fought to and got the grave of Nachshon Waksman. He was a warrior in our unit back in 1994 when on the way home he was hitchhiking and 3 Arabs dressed as Hassisidm picked him up and kidnapped him. They put out demands that the terrorist mastermind Ahmed Yassin be released from Israeli jail long with 200 other terrorists, and Israel refused to deal with them. Instead a rescue operation was  mounted, but the mission did not go as planned and Nachson was killed along with the rescue teams commander and 10 other soldiers were wounded. I had the honor to stand by his grave along side his family, friends, and those who were in his team in the army. Its amazing to see how 17 years latter people still remember and care to come and remember him. One of the most moving parts is to see the love a mother showers upon the grave. Be it the absent minded brushing off of dust or simply to arrange the flowers several times, the grave really becomes her last connection to her son and its care her last place she can care for her son. (As a note Jews bury with a full body grave marker over the person, not just a headstone as seen above.) And then came 1100 and the siren went off for two minutes; the nation stood still, silent, and solemn.Even the fly sitting on the grave did not move.

After the siren the memorial ceremony commences and in addition to several prayers traditionally said for the dead as well as Kadish the Prime Minister, Bibi Netanyahu, spoke. He opened up by saying the day is one that touches everyone in the country and he is right. There is scarcely an Israeli who does not have a relative, friend, or acquaintance who has not been killed or hurt in the line of duty or by a terror attack. Bibi himself lost a brother in Operation Entebe who is buried on Mt. Hertzel as well. When the ceremony came to an end the family asked me to go back to the house with them and I happily agreed. His family really is a special group of people. They have had to deal with such loss and pain yet they did not waver a bit in their love of either Israel or in their faith in god. His younger brothers did not shy away from combat and they too went on to serve in combat units and even to attend officers school. The whole story is really moving, and it was one of the greater honors in my life to be able to stand at his gave side on Yom Hazikraon (Remembrance Day).