It was time for my Israeli bachelor party. There would have to be another one, a party where my English friends could dress me up and get me drunk and stupid. But that would come later, this one was all celebration, all fun, no dares, no stupid costumes, just a great time with friends on the beach.
The people there were a collection of a few Brits now living in Israel, my 2 brothers and of course my old army guys. I am one of the last of the original 18 of us to be getting married. It was time to celebrate the end of my life as single man and my introduction to the next inevitable step.
It was dark when we arrived at the beach. I turned up with my brothers from London, come to celebrate with my brothers borne of war. They had already set up an area complete with a sound system (courtesy of an electric generator), bbq, shade with foam mattresses and of course icebox after icebox filled with beer, vodka and every other drink I could wish for.
They cranked up the volume, not of the sound system but of their own voices as we jumped up and down upon my arrival, screaming. That night was my night. One by one I had celebrated with each of these guys over the years, many of them now with one, two or even three kids at home. They had travelled from North and south to be with me at that moment and I loved them all the more for it. My time had come and I was determined to enjoy it.
They always made doing that easy, a beer was thrust into my hand and there was chicken on the grill with steak waiting it’s turn.
We were camping out in the shadow of Hadera’s power station and under the protection of a 72 hour ceasefire that we were sure would hold and turn into the definitive end of this particular conflict between Israel and Hamas.
The first thing I did was rush into a sea that was as dark as black ink. There were 25 of us all in and some jumped into the sea with me, others hung by the grill and another knot of people sat on the sleeping bags and mattresses just catching up with each others lives. There were rocks in the water and I grazed my feet while making my way through them to an ever greater depth. The power of the waves drove me backwards and occasionally under. I didn’t care. We messed around in the water like boys, with all the thrill of knowing that the bad things were behind us and the biggest day of my life lay waiting.
When the food was ready we feasted. We drank too. The bonfire was alight, the flickering flames provided a contrast to the power of the 100 watt bulb powered by the diesel generator clanking in the background.
None of us were called up to the reserves this time, save one of our number. When the whisky flowed freely he began to talk.
He was a driver in a convoy tasked with driving up to the front line, picking up the wounded and driving them to a safe pickup point for helicopters to deliver them to hospital. Again and again he drove through the mortars and the machine gun fire to pick up the fallen. He saw soldiers with no sign of injury die from internal wounds. He watched as the doctors made the call as to who waits for the scheduled helo and who was so serious that they needed a special flight to come in. And who was so seriously injured that no special flight could help them.
There were few roads for the IDF to use to move forward into Gazan cities and Hamas had their mortars pre sited to attack those stretches of road. They also had built tunnels allowing them to move undetected from one side of the road to the other them to jump up with an RPG take a shot, pop down and appear on the other side of the road.
My friend spoke and I watched him standing there, strong and tough and dependable. And a little broken.
We sipped Glenlivet from the bottle while we spoke next to the flickering flames and he told me about the worst things he’d ever seen. The sadness tainted with relief that he was no longer there, returned home to his wife and 5 month old daughter, or perhaps the relief was tainted with sadness that he had to go there at all.
I fell asleep that night listening to the waves lapping at the beach and seeing the twinkling, silver stars in the world beyond this one.
The next morning at 08:05 the shells from Hamas fell with the end of the ceasefire.