The call up, when it came was inevitable. Once Bibi had announced that a massive 75,000 reservists had been called I guess that just about everyone in a combat unit was wondering if they would hear from their unit. I got the message on Saturday night and reported to base at 08:30 the next day, by 09:30 I was in green and carrying a rifle.
The next days were an emotional roller coaster ride. I was prepped to go in and then stood down, only to be prepped to go back in again and stood down again and again. We did what training we could in the circumstances, shooting, practising moving from an open country into an urban zone and some close quarters combat but most of the time was spent hanging around waiting for something to happen, waiting for the final decision to get us moving.
Then the bus blew up and I was sure that we would be going in. My certainty was confirmed by the company commander who told us all that we would be in that night, which then became within 24 hours, which ultimately then became a ceasefire. We talked about it constantly and then got sick of talking about it and then talked about it some more. We drove the officers crazy asking them questions about what was going to happen next and then made coffee and then did some kind of infantry exercise and then started all over again.
In my team there are a couple of lawyers, a mechanical engineer, several students, a DJ who came from a religious family but shed that skin for the Tel Aviv life, a professional musician, a copy writer, a medical supplies salesman, a mean Spanish guitar player and our officer (a Captain) is a gardener with a degree in business management. The guys in my team are the same guys I served with during my regular service, they are my best friends.
The company I serve in consists of guys who have known each other for years, who served together and fought together over many different campaigns. There are veterans from Lebanon 2006, the Al Aqsa Intifada, there are guys who spent their whole service in Lebanon before our withdrawal and many who served in Gaza. These men have been tried and tested in the field, they are veterans one and all.
Some were convinced from the outset that there would be no operation, some that we would be going in, some wanted to go in and others didn’t. The arguments and banter over what would happen or what would not happen continued throughout the week we spent waiting. The banter became inseparable from the training and as much a part of the process of turning us from civilians into soldiers as anything else. In between training exercises we worked on our equipment obsessively. Every strap was tied away, every bullet that could be found was hidden away in one pouch or another, every magazine was tested and then taped up in the same way that we had been taught during boot camp. Guys argued over what kind of flack jacket to take with them and just how much warm clothing they’d need.
Then word came down about the ceasefire. Though there many who were angry that we wouldn’t be going in, the sense of relief that slowly swept through the company was palpable.
At some point one of the guys picked up a guitar and started strumming a ballad, another joined him with his harmonica and a bunch more gathered around singing. My company commander strolled up to join in and I asked him whether he was disappointed that we didn’t go into Gaza; his answer put my own thoughts into focus perfectly;
“If I have to go in I’ll go in with everything I have but it’s not something I want to do. The objective of a ground operation is to get Hamas to stop firing missiles at us, if we can have that without going then so much the better. War is shit,” he came out with suddenly, then he gesticulated towards the guys sitting together singing, “this is the good thing about the army, the guys you serve with, those around you, your brothers. No one wants to fight, it’s something we do only if we have to, if I get to go back to my kids without having to risk my life then so much the better, if I have to go in some time later then I’ll do that too.”
The guitar continued to strum and the guys carried on singing, the soft sound of the harmonica carried across the parade ground amidst smiles and an expectation of going home the next day.