Saturday, May 28, 2011
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 …