Sitting in a bar in a posh part of North London with a bottle of expensive foreign beer in front of me a girl sitting at the table next to mine “weren’t you in the Israeli Army Marc?”
I knew the man whose lap she was sitting on. I didn’t know her. I looked at her but the haze of alcohol had already fallen past my eyes and I couldn’t see her properly.
“Yes, for two years.” I wasn’t sure if I slurred those words.
“Did you kill anyone?”
“Oh am I not supposed to ask that?” She said with a mock apologetic tone.
“No I didn’t kill anyone” I answered. That disappointed her I think. I heard an “Oh” coming from her direction then a softer “I bet you learned a lot.”
“Sure I did…I learned how to take an M 16 apart and put it back together again.” I answered without looking at her.
Sure I learned stuff. I learned plenty. I learned that if you’re released from the army for the weekend not to sleep but to go out for as long as possible and come back into the army having done something to sample that part of the world that took going out for granted.
I learned not to feel bad when searching an ambulance because if you told the crew what you were looking for they’d get on their radio and warn everyone what you were doing.
I learned to obey orders and to take them with a pinch of salt. I learned who to wake up for guard duty and who to leave well enough alone. I learned how to fire a TOW missile and how to storm into a room spitting bullets from my tommy gun. I learned that canned meat tastes great in the field but is inedible anywhere else.
I learned Hebrew.
I learned to love even the guys in my team that I hated. I learned to rely on others and allow them to rely on me. I learned how to shit in the open desert. I learned that being nice to civilians increases the danger of them doing something stupid. I learned that pieces of paper signed by the UN are irrelevant when imposing a curfew. I learned that suicide bombers can look like 17 year old girls with red hair and white skin. I learned that Bedouin kids run around barefoot. I learned that the more important the terrorist the bigger the coward.
I learned that I feel numb when I’m being shot at. I learned that no amount of alcohol can help me unlearn these lessons. I learned that the moment I was out I wished I could go back in.
I learned that those two years will never come back to me but will never go away either. I learned to beware of fulfilling your dreams, they look different when they’re not in your head.
And when I went back to London after my service and went to job interviews I learned that I had learned nothing at all.