There is a village called Kutsra in the west Bank it sits near to Nablus and right next to a Jewish settlement called Migdalim. In 2003 I was based in Migdalim and tasked with patrolling the main stretch of road in the area which ran through three small villages just like Kutsra.
When we would drive into Kutsra the kids there would throw rocks at us and we would throw tear gas and stun grenades at them. They would never throw Molotov cocktails at us and we would never fire our weapons at them, it was an unspoken communication that had developed between us.
One day on the road into Kutsra I decided to try something new, I took the chocolates and sweets that we had with us on those eight hour patrols and kicked the backdoor of the jeep open.
When we were driving into the village I threw the chocolates out one by one to the kids that we drove past, and, instead of pointing my weapon at them I smiled and waved.
We drove further into the village and never came under attack, I kept throwing the sweets and smiling my hello’s and more and more kids came out to see what was happening. When we reached the centre of the village we parked up.
Nothing happened, no stones, no aggravation, no nothing. Then the kids that we had been combating on a daily basis for the past month came to the open door of the jeep.
There were between twenty five and thirty of them there, all standing smiling at us, with their beaming eyes. They were between 5 and 10 years old, wearing old, tatty clothes that looked like they were family heir looms. Eventually a tall boy with messy black hair and big, brown eyes took a single step closer to us and pointed at himself saying “Hassan” I pointed to myself and said “Marc” at which point they all giggled.
Our little peace process went on for about fifteen minutes or so until my officer decided to take charge and ordered the driver to move on, reluctantly I waved my goodbyes, closed the door and carried on with the patrol.
I was amazed at what had happened, as much at my own instincts as to the behaviour of the kids. Naturally for the rest of the day I felt pretty good about myself as I continued with my duties thinking about how the next patrols in the village were going to unfold and what kind of relationship we could build up with the kids there.
The next day while occupying a guard tower in Migdalim I could hear gunfire coming from Kutsra, I looked at the village through my binoculars but could see nothing other than the houses on the perimeter. Whatever was going on I was going to have to wait until the patrol got back to hear about it.
Eventually the hummer arrived back in the settlement and I saw a friend get out, he was covered in sweat and grime but was flushed with excitement I asked him what had happened, where the gunfire had come from. “I was pretty bored in there, nothing was happening” he said, “so I decided to fire off a few rounds at a nearby wall just to get things going” was his reply, “and oh boy did that get things going!”
The bastard had gone in there and behaved in the exact opposite way to me, he had ruined all of my work! What had taken me the considerable risk of leaving my vehicle exposed to enemy gunfire to gain the trust of these kids had all been wrecked by this thug, because he was bored!
I went to Israel and joined the army thinking that I was going to change the face of the Middle East! That I was going to single handedly destroy Hamas and look after my people.
My illusions about that were shattered on my first foray into enemy territory but, the one thing that I had done that I was proud of, my one little contribution to making things better had been wiped out in an instant by a fool.
It was only then that I really began to understand what occupation meant, that it is impossible to occupy someone nicely, or with good intentions.
I learnt that it doesn’t really matter what one individual soldier says or does or thinks. That it didn’t really matter what I said or did at all, the occupation was a living breathing thing with a life of its own and there was nothing at all that I could do about it.
I guess that’s the real reason that I left Israel. If I couldn’t make a difference then what was the point? I have never looked at the State of Israel in the same way since and yet, I have never managed to shake it from me entirely, in some unspeakable, inescapable way Israel is still a part of me and the wish to return remains, I just don’t know what good it would do, or what purpose I would be fulfilling by living there and working the same 9-5 that I work here in London.