I never really thought about my army service as having taken a toll on me psychologically until I began to write this book. I remember watching other guys crumble under the strain. People who were transferred to other non-combat units for injuries that I knew they did not have and guys who started complaining more and more about having to go out again and again and again on missions. At the time I just looked upon them as whiners or cowards. People who would always find a way to get out of the army for a day to go for some kind of doctors test or for a funeral or some other reason were common place.
That was then, since the end of my service I have seen my friends suffer, I have lived through my own suffering, still am. Amazing how easy it is to do at the time, only later when the memories come and transport you back to those times and places does it really hit. Did I really do that? Did I really laugh at the pain of others? The question that I am asked without fail by everyone the moment that I tell them that I was in the army is “Did you ever kill anyone?” Every time I say “I don’t know it was dark” and I am transported back to the one night, the one time where I fired my weapon in anger against someone.
Some things about that night are so clear yet other details are so vague that it is difficult to remember the exact sequence of events. I remember going into the mission very afraid, which was unusual for me as I was almost always either exhilarated or bored on missions. On that warm night I knew what was in store for me and that was why I was scared. I am not a religious man, neither were most of the guys in my team, but that night we all linked arms as the armoured car trundled towards the centre of Nablus and were silent as Forrest read from a siddur the prayer for the welfare of soldiers.
The reason for our fears was the same reason that we had been sent back to Nablus in the first place. The bad guys were back in control of the city, after being moved from Nablus to Ofra there had been no one operating in the city keeping a lid on the operations of the various Palestinian groups who had taken advantage of the situation to plant mines and other booby traps on every major junction in the city, recently the casualty rate had skyrocketed with almost every unit moving through the city hitting a mine. The week before a patrol from our sister unit had five guys wounded and in the confusion had left a weapon behind, it was a major victory for the enemy.
So here we were huddled together in the back of this car as we waited for the inevitable explosion as the car hit a mine. There was no talking once the amen had been said and I studied my friends with the knowledge that one of us at least probably wouldn’t make it back in one piece, I tried not to allow that creeping feeling of doubt to enter into my mind that it might be me that was hit. I looked at all of them in turn silently saying my goodbyes, to Yoni and Snake and Knife to all of these boys that had been so good to me. The cars arrived at our destination without incident and we immediately dismounted. The second team had already dismounted and were waiting.
Fire and manoeuvre, fire and manoeuvre, I try to remember those words as I duck and dive from one piece of cover to another. Bullets are ricocheting all around me until finally I find safety behind a burnt out car. My guys are way behind me, also taking cover under the withering hail of bullets. I catch my breath but I know that I have to move soon. Every nano-second I am not up and shooting gives the enemy the opportunity to move closer to my position. I jump up and find a terrorist right in front of me, I manage to squeeze my trigger before he can squeeze his and he is dead. There is no time to think for another is almost upon me, I fire three rounds from my M-16 and watch him fall. It is of no use though for there are too many of them and a second later I am hit, then another bullet finds me and another until my life is lost.
I throw down the controller in frustration and lie back on my bed. “It never happens like that in real life” I say to myself. My mind clears and I begin to move into that wonderful feeling I have when my mind can just flow along whatever course my subconscious chooses. The woman comes into my head. The one who speaks to me for all Palestinians everywhere. The one with the stare, no words, simply that look, as though she can stop me from ripping her house apart with her eyes.