Paratroopers took Nablus

Welcome to the Unit

We were the new guys and everyone there made clear to us that we didn’t know anything. What stung the most was the knowledge that it was true. We didn’t have the first clue as to what it was like to go out on a mission, how to behave, what to do or how we would act under under fire. We were given a new officer. Green’s role was to train us up to the point where we were soldiers to the standards of the Orev and he had done it. He was given command of the most veteran of the three teams in the unit.

Our new officer was nicknamed “Bubba” after his resemblance to Tom Hank’s friend Bubba in the film Forrest Gump. The resemblance came primarily because he had an overbite and a way of looking down when he spoke making it difficult to understand him. He had changed teams not once but twice during his own training because of injury. He was a big guy, who had passed hand to hand combat instructors course. I found him to be slow witted. It seemed to take him half an hour to squeeze a sentence through his over sized lips. His black curly hair was receding and sat atop his high head like an genetic afterthought. I didn’t know how I was supposed to follow him into combat.

It was decided that we were to do more training. We were livid about it. The training was to take place in the same area we survived advanced infantry training. When there we were going to run through some more drills. The message was clear, “you may have gotten through the mesakmim, but you aren’t part of Orev” and we resented it. When there I developed a “bad back” and was unable to do very much. Similar medical problems plagued all of us. Suddenly Haim had a bad leg, Yuval a stomach ache. Mot people came up with something. The resentment was so extreme that we considered mutiny, simply rebelling and refusing to do anything. It was the first of our run ins with the new officer, who I would never manage to get along with.

The commander of the unit was a Major called Cobi and I remember thinking he was a pig of a man. He had made appearances from time to time throughout our training, his first was during Field Week. I didn’t like him. He looked like a pig, he didn’t so much as speak as snort. He looked at you through pig eyes that told you he hated you even before you had spoken to him. He loved to fight. The men hated and respected him in equal measure, he had been volunteering them for missions since he took command and that was before the outbreak of the Al Aqsa Intifada. Sometimes he invented missions and pitched them to the high command of the Brigade like a journalist pitches a story. “There’s been some unrest in this area, let me take a patrol out there tonight maybe we’ll kill a few of them” the pitch would go. What commander would say no to an offer like that? He imposed tough discipline and training during the infrequent periods when the men weren’t operating in the field. But morale was high because of him, you could detect that this was a man who loved the unit in the way that only a commander can. He had started his military career in the Orev and commanding it was the pinnacle of success for him. That kind of feeling trickled down to the fighting men under his command. His pride in the unit meant that we held our heads that much higher for being in it. He was a short man and at first glance he looked fat, until you looked again and realised that it was all muscle. I respected him despite not wanting to talk to him.

And so we spent 3 days back in those hills conducting mock operations, wandering around underneath a stretcher and being pissed off. But we got through them. My back “recovered” and we returned to the unit. Where we had a room instead of tents, where the showers were real showers complete with shower heads and hot water and separate cubicles instead of the taps set high in the ceiling. After spending our entire military experience either sleeping in the open or in tents all 18 of us shared a room with rickety bunk beds in it. The experience was heavenly. We now called the unit home, regardless of the fact that the commanders had dared send us for additional training.

The place the unit spent the vast majority of its time was Nablus, known in Hebrew as Shechem. It was a city that had existed in one form or another since the year 72AD. In the year 2003AD it was known as one of the top two most dangerous cities in the West Bank, twinned with Jenin, which Golani tended to look after. The name of the city had been invoked to us during training so often that it had an almost mythical status. Nablus is the unit’s real home, Nablus is where the action is, Nablus is where the fighting’s done. “Know Nablus better than you know Tel Aviv” were the words constantly pounded into us. for the men of the unit that was their reality. They were there almost every night and they knew the city very well indeed. But I didn’t. I had yet to set foot in the place. My arrival there had been an inevitability since I passed the gibush and now I was on the threshold of meeting my fate there. Soon I’d know how I’d perform under the stress of combat, if I’d remember everything I’d learned, if I was worthy of the badge I had been awarded.

All the answers were waiting for me in Nablus. They wouldn’t wait much longer.