With the introduction of Aviv and Asaf into the team I found myself with invitations to Rehovot, a town about a 30 minute drive South of Tel Aviv. Asaf lived in the world famous Weitzman Institute where his father, a pre-eminent physicist worked. A couple of weeks after meeting them I was sitting in his house as the guest of his family. Aviv lived a ten minute walk away and I was given the opportunity of seeing what life was like in a town that everyone had already told me had nothing going for it at all. After Shabbat dinner Asaf, Aviv and I headed off to a house party. We entered the small house, it was less a party than a gathering of friends and they were all sitting there in the kitchen swapping stories of army life.
One muscley guy was sitting at the kitchen table telling a story of how the previous week he had just finished his training for the elite Golani reconnaissance unit and was now a accepted as a fighter. The man he was telling his story to was a newly qualified F-16 pilot and it turned out that everyone else in the room was either training to be a member of an elite unit or was already operational in one. I felt out of place for merely being on my way into the Orev. The stories flew all around me, one of an ambush just outside of Hebron another of cruising through the air at supersonic speed, another guy there told stories of planting dummy mines on the hulls of ships for his training to get into the Navy’s elite Shayatet 13 commando unit.
By the time we left I was wondering where I had landed, this place Rehovot seemed to be a breeding ground for Israel’s best and brightest.
Back at base everyone just laughed and shook their heads when I told them about Rehovot, it seemed they knew the places where the combat soldiers came from. Baby and Haim told me about the areas around Modi’in where they lived and where everyone signed up for the gibush of at least one unit, Netanel and Yoni about how many kids from Jerusalem go for combat units, Yaar about how it was all but unknown for someone from the settlement of Tekoa not to go for a combat unit. By contrast very few kids raised in Tel Aviv go for combat units, there were certainly none in our team.
Training moved from navigation in the North to camouflage training in the South. We spent a week learning how to use the lay of the land to our advantage when building a camouflaged position. In navigation the land is either an obstacle preventing you from getting to where you’re going or a reference point that lets you know where you are. in camouflage you learn to look at the features around you and figure out how to turn a natural feature into a shelter that can hide a bunch of you and your equipment. We practiced building the shelter during the days while at nights we carried out exercises that never deviated from roaming around the desert carrying loads of kit to a target area, then we built and hid in the positions before sunup, waiting for someone to try to find us.
Just like with navigation we were being trained by the camouflage experts from the Orev. Just the day before they had been on operations in Nablus, now they were in the Negev Desert with us. It was a good break for them and it made us feel like we were even closer to finally being accepted into the unit we were struggling so hard to get into.
They introduced us to the equipment we would need to be using and to the way to build a position and divided us up into 54 and 5 man teams for the duration of the week. Each team would build their camouflaged position together. There was a certain amount of sculpture involved in the crafting of each hide and the more artistically minded enjoyed being the ones to worry about the overall shape that each position would take. It quickly became clear that there were going to be arguments every time the hide had been built. There was always one part that was smaller than the rest and when we were on the first night exercise I could see that I was going to be shunted into it. The arguments started while were all digging;
“This is your part Brity” Haim whispered
“No that’s your part!”
“You’re the smallest one!”
“No you’re the smallest one!” At which everyone stopped digging and looked at me grinning while I silently berated myself. Was that really the best I could come up with? Telling one of the biggest guys in the team that he was shorter than me?
“Fine but but i’m still not getting in there…you get in there.” I retorted to their grinning, white teeth. The whispered argument became more and more emphatic the closer the hide came to completion; “Your Mum’s getting there!” “No, that’s where your Mum was last night!”
Eventually sanity prevailed, “Okay okay if you go in there I’ll give you my ketchup from the rations” Haim eventually conceded. “I want the mustard too” “No you can’t have the mustard” “Fuck you then I hissed” and we were back at it until Iddo stepped in and donated his mustard. I took the bribe smiling, sweat pouring down me and we all climbed in to our assigned piece of the hide panting from the exertion of its creation.
The night sky was clear with millions of tiny pieces of silver twinkling down on us. The air was crisp and cold, we were sitting still, shivering in the cramped ditch we had constructed, the only sound made was the chattering of our teeth.
One by one everyone fell asleep but me, sitting there with a pair of binoculars around my neck, hugging myself in the hopes of getting warmer. I thought of all my friends on their year off, backpacking around Australia or Thailand, some were in India others had already started the rest of their lives in a university graduate scheme at some big bank or PR firm. I thought back to that moment on Field Week when I confessed to Elad that I had made a mistake and that maybe it was time to call it quits, I smiled remembering how he hadn’t understood me.
The starlight was just bright enough for me to see the desert below. I was high up and looking down at a panorama of beautiful desolation. The hill we were dug into gently sloped down to a dry river bed. An occasional rock and shrub stood out in the dusty white of the Negev, the only sound was a slight wind shuffling through the hills and ravines of the Negev Desert.
I sat there with my friends and waited for dawn.