The worry of any commander is that his new soldiers in the field will freeze when they come under fire, that their lack of experience will render them incapable of being able to handle the shock of combat. This worry isn’t one held by the commanders only. When I finally completed my training for the Orev unit of the Paratroopers in August 2003 I couldn’t wait to get into the action, for a whole year I had been hearing about the activities of the already qualified operators in the unit and I was desperate to join them. When the time finally came the only thing that was on my mind was whether I would go into shock when the shooting actually started, whether I would betray my friends through my inaction or even worse, cowardice.
Once I completed my training the operations we conducted involved actually going into a terrorist’s house and seizing him from his own environment. In these situations he knows the terrain and is surrounded by people who love him and would take any manner of risk to protect him…or her. He has any number of people watching major junctions in his city armed with mobile phones to give him warning of an IDF column that’s approaching his hideout giving him the vital seconds he needs to get away.
In this situation the soldiers in that IDF column need to know exactly what they’re doing, they need to know exactly where they’re going down to the millimeter and they need to have the confidence to divert from the plan at the slightest hitch. This is not work for a soldier just finished training, it takes time to build them up, but how to do this?
One way is to organize training exercises in actual Palestinian villages (also in Israeli Arab villages). These give soldiers the ability to practice under conditions that are as realistic as you can get. There are real houses, real civilians in the area and perhaps there are maps that aren’t up to date calling for soldiers to enter a house that no longer exists. Under these conditions soldiers can train and gain the confidence that they need to operate in conditions that are almost identical, save for the fact that they are going after a real target who will shoot back.
Yesterday Haaretz reported on the legal reasoning behind this training and the defense given to it by the IDF Military Advocate General (MAG). This was in response to a complaint about the practice of training in Palestinian villages made by the NGO Yesh Din.
Based on the robust defense of the practice mounted by the IDF (it is legal) it is clear that this training is not going to stop any time soon. What is interesting are the conditions for such training put forward by the MAG, particularly the fact that the training is allowed so long as the soldiers;
“Avoid putting the population at risk, damaging their property or causing unreasonable disturbance to their daily routine.”
I have enough faith in our soldiers to believe that Palestinians who are caught up in these training operations aren’t at risk. I have no reason to believe that their property won’t be damaged and unreasonable disturbance is rather subjective.
If you’re training and you’re taking your training mission seriously any obstacle you come against you are going to overcome, be that a locked door, a pile of trash or anything that keeps you from achieving your objective. This is just the level of dedication we want to see from our soldiers and certainly the motivation commanders are looking to see from their men. When you’re running up the stairs in someone’s house in full battle kit, weapon in hand, you’re going to knock stuff over, you’re going to break things and when you do you’re not going to stop and pick anything up you’re going to keep on running because you’re on the clock.
For Palestinians enduring a training operation there is no difference to when soldiers genuinely come to make an arrest. This means that civilians who are of absolutely no risk to state security are suffering exactly the same as if they were caught up in a genuine mission. They are powerlessly watching IDF soldiers invade their homes, order them around, force them into one room while they take over their home and generally do as they please. In short, for Palestinians this isn’t training at all, this is the IDF descending upon them and taking over their lives until they decide to leave.
No one is saying these people have committed a crime; they just have a home in a place the IDF is using for training and there’s nothing they can do about it.
Imagine the level of frustration that comes from knowing that you have obeyed all of the laws laid down by the occupying power and still they break into your home and close down your village. They are not invited, they are not wanted and there is nothing you can do about it.
Would you then say, think or feel anything positive towards the state of Israel?