From Here to Fraternity

A night and a day with a platoon of disillusioned soldiers training on the Golan Heights.

Fourth Platoon are corrupt. Seventh Platoon are whores. And the pussies of Fifth Platoon are marching, in the fading light of a late March day, into the fields of black basalt in the northern Golan Heights, to prepare for the next war. The M-16s are shoulder-slung, ready. The helmets are covered with camouflage netting. The optical equipment is heavy on the back. The stretcher, the water, the grenade launchers. A long line of silhouetted Israeli figures above the shimmering lights of Kiryat Shmona. A long line of fighters from the 50th Battalion against the background of threatening quiet between Mount Hermon and Lebanon.

Why pussies? No reason. Like the whores of the Seventh are whores, the pussies of the Fifth are pussies. That's the self-image at the assault level. Because anyway, everyone says the Israel Defense Forces is an army of pussies. We left our heroic brothers on Ammunition Hill. Today no one is there. No one gives a hoot about the combat soldiers. Still, the pussies know the drill well.

When a pink flare slashes the gathering darkness, they read: enemy in the grove. And split proficiently into squads of three. Each squad takes cover, improves its position, takes cover again. Flanking from the right, flanking from the left. Fire-fire-fire, the charging squads of pussies shout. Fire-fire-fire, up to the eucalyptus grove. Until the unseen fighters of Hezbollah in the grove are mopped up.

They gather. Redeploy. Continue. And then, as the main force moves toward the target of the staged enemy, the secondary one splits off to take cover and observation positions. And while they are positioning the sophisticated night-vision equipment on the terrace of the dominant terrain, the seven soldiers in the secondary force start to talk. In helmets, camouflage netting, M-16 at the ready, they talk nonstop. Eager to spill what's in their heart.

The war? It was like a bolt from the blue. They themselves seized a line not far from the site of the abduction. And that transition, so sudden, from routine to combat. From something they thought would never happen to something that was happening all at once. And the soldier who was killed right at the start. The wounded from friendly fire. Firing by one of them at his buddy. The helplessness. To sit in a house and feel the mortars closing in on you. The missiles homing in. And you're helpless. Your army is helpless. You did what you knew the best you could, but when you get home you're told you screwed up. That the whole army screwed up.

Was everyone in the war? No, not everyone. About a quarter, maybe a third, found a way not to be in it. Two were kicked out of the battalion because they refused outright. But to the others - the ones who found clever ways to evade it - the army decided to turn a blind eye. Not to see the phenomenon. Not to recognize that there even was a phenomenon. So only they know what really happened. Who was there and who was not there on the day of reckoning.

And since the war? Has everything changed since the war? Are they removing the rust? They are training. A lot are training. After the war they held a line in Hebron, but in the past couple of months they are being driven hard. Platoon drill, company drill, battalion drill. This morning, for example, they were made to run in full gear, which they hadn't done for a year already. They're not in great shape. They're veteran soldiers. It's hard going. But this isn't the hardest thing. What's harder is the youngsters and the old-timers.

To understand the whole problem of the army at this time, one has to understand these two words: youngsters and old-timers. Because what is sending them up the wall is the fact that the army is now taking away all the privileges they had as veteran soldiers. The rebellion in Golani's 51st Battalion - hey, that was just the tip of the iceberg. Commanders in the army and civilians in the rear don't understand how deep it runs.

Because when you feel that if you are in a combat unit, you are a freier - a sucker - then all you have is your old-timer thing. If you feel that when you're combat, no one pisses in your direction, then all you have is this special status of veteran soldier. That's what you look forward to when you're a youngster. That's what you wait for. And the army comes along and takes away this status, strips you of what you had. Strips you of the only thing that gave you a little respect.

Freier? A combat soldier is a freier? Either a freier or a murderer. When you come to Tel Aviv and talk with all the guys who are serving in the Defense Ministry compound there, or not serving at all, it's either you are a child murderer, because you're an occupation army, or you're just a sucker who's getting paid one agora an hour.

In Tel Aviv it's fifty-fifty: half the people see you as definitely a bad person, an occupier, immoral, and tell you, Just refuse, refuse - they undermine you, take the wind out of your sails. And the other half come to you and say, Walla, what do you think you're doing in the army? What do you get out of it? Zilch, that's what. Seven hundred shekels a month. And you don't sleep. Don't eat. Don't fuck. They're already going to Thailand for a second or third round and screwing girls and doing drugs and parties no end, and you're here in the mud, in the field, like some animal. So you really are a freier for doing it.

It's not like it used to be, you know, when you were in the army. It's not that anyone who doesn't do the army is ashamed. It's not that anyone who doesn't do the army can't find a job. It's the opposite. No one gives a damn whether you were in the army. No one gives a damn whether you shirk or not. So you feel that except for your parents at home, no one appreciates what you're doing. And even the parents are starting to press. What do you need it for? What will you get out of it? Why you?

Is this what everyone feels? Everyone, without exception. During the war there was one month of grace. Suddenly everyone was hugging you. People gave you lifts, they were respectful. Looked at you like you were worth something. And in the North, something of that still remains. They aren't yet completely indifferent to combat soldiers. They remember that the combat guys fought for them. But when you go down to the center, it's completely different. Even worse than before the war. It's really unpleasant to walk around there in uniform. In the mall people look at you as though you're an alien. On the street people look at you, like who are you, what are you, where did you come from.

And girls don't like it that you're combat. They don't think it makes a man out of you. Just the opposite. And if you think you'll get a discount at the movies on the weekend, well don't make us laugh. And if you think you'll get appreciation from anyone, forget it. No one stops for you at the hitching places. Bus drivers are short with you. And since the war, people look at you like you're a loser or something. Like you failed. You were given an assignment and you blew it. Money was paid for you and you ate for free. You eat free, you do.

If that's how it is, why be combat? Why did you decide to be combat soldiers? The long and the short of it is that we were educated from a young age to be combat. That looked like the only thing to do, like that's something we all grew up with. There's no exact way to say it. It's not that we want to be big generals. More like a kind of tradition, you know. From home, from the family. From the 'hood or the moshav or the kibbutz. But it's a kind of shattered dream. Because first of all it's army, and everyone gets a real shock. And you also expect some sort of appreciation and to get something in return and you don't see it. And you feel you're being treated like whores. That each time, we have to bend and they stick it in. They stick it in left and right. Now, we don't want to sound like whiners. Grumbling soldiers. Soldiers always grumble. And we know that the army has a price. You get fucked in the army. From morning to evening you're fucked. We don't have a problem with getting fucked in training. But let them give something in return. Hot water. Good food. Something. Let them fuck us but let them give us a hug. Some sort of approach. Not this feeling of being raped. Of being screwed for no reason. Of being screwed with zilch in return.

So who are you angry at? The commanders? The civilians? The government? At everyone who lives in Tel Aviv and parties in Tel Aviv and forgets that someone is protecting him while he screws in Tel Aviv. And at everyone who's up there, at the top, who sent us here and, like, forgot he sent us here. Because something is screwed up here. Something in this country is screwed up. There's no understanding that there was a time many years ago when everyone would go to the army with a million values and just wanted to give give give, and no matter what, the main thing was just to give to the country. But today people don't come like that anymore. They come to combat units because of tradition. Because of friends. Because they want to give a drop more to the country. And that's how the conversation starts. But it's not strong enough. It falls apart along the way.

That's why the army can say it has two volunteers for every available place in Golani, but it doesn't say how many they lose in basic training. How many break along the way. That's very obvious here in the battalion, that people do come as though with a drop of values that they got from home, but it passes very fast. Because they feel they are giving for nothing. They feel they are doing the dirty work. They raise their head and they understand that when it comes to the draft, half the country lives on the back of the other half. And you feel like shit. You feel really shitty.

Look at us. Look at this company. In the war for a whole week we didn't have water. Didn't have food. And then the army took a hard fall, and then it did the same to us. Demands more than it demanded before, and gives less. But they don't understand that the problem isn't the amount of training, the problem is values. And it's hard to find that today. It's really rare. Because with our fathers, there was this sense of mission. Partnership. Big words like that. But now it's missing. Badly missing. And there's this empty space there. And the army has to find a solution. Find something to fill that empty space. But the army is not finding it. All the army says is train, train. And they make a notation that there you go, they're training again.

But the truth is that in this month of training you saw the indifference. You saw that the only thing people wanted was to keep their head down. To get through the service. And the truth is that the training is only for the officers. Not for the soldiers. Because the soldiers don't really train. The soldiers are doing this quiet revolt. The truth is that we are a lot less alert than we were a year ago. Less organized. Look at the tent camp. Look at the training. This company is in pieces. Totally shattered in terms of motivation. The joy of work. Whatever you choose. The people are simply running on zilch motivation. Zilch desire. Broken.

On Shabbat we meet with guys from other combat units. It's the same with them. Not in the elite units. In the elite units the situation is excellent. There's pride, good conditions, home leaves. But in the regular battalions of Golani and Givati and Paratroops a lot of the guys are totally dicked out. A lot of guys feel that the state doesn't care about them. And that hurts everything, That hurts the army's operations. The preparedness for war. You would expect the state to understand this. You would expect the state to understand that the spirit of the combat soldiers is the most important thing for security. But when you talk to the commanders, all they do is nod their heads and do nothing. It's not so much that they are concerned for their soldiers, what they're concerned about is looking good for their commanders. And the state is behaving like it has nothing to do with any of this. That we'll just do the work and shut up because we are not on its mind just now.

What will be? Allah yustur what will be. A platoon commander who came back from the National Induction Center not long ago said that in the new call-ups a lot of new recruits are refusing to go into combat units. They put them on a bus for the Armored Corps and they get off. They put them on again and they get off again. It looks like what's happening in Tel Aviv is starting to spread slowly to the rest of the country. Why serve if there's a way not to serve? Why eat all that shit if no one has a good word to say to you for eating all that shit?

No, the war didn't start this. The war didn't cause the crisis. But the war made it all stronger. It also made the risk to your life a lot more concrete. And when you feel that while you are fighting a war, you are being abandoned without water and without food and no one cares, you come out with this bitter taste in your mouth. You come out with the feeling that the army and the state don't care about the soldiers. And then the soldiers don't care about the army and the state, either.

And this huge gap starts to develop between how they see things up above and the way things really are in the field. They don't see, the ones up above, how big the crisis is. They don't get how dicked out we are. So, yes, if there's suddenly a war, we will all try to forget that. We will all try to give all we have. And we will do what we have to do, one for the other. Because in this whole mess, only we understand each other and help each other. Bros. If we weren't bros we wouldn't stay in combat.

But if in the Second Lebanon War a third stayed out, despite everything, then in the next war it might be that half won't go in. It might be that out of every 20, only 10 will show up. And that's what's really scary. Because if there is no more shared destiny in this country, you don't know whether on a day of reckoning even your bros will hold out. Whether they will be there at your side.

Is it possible to learn something about the state of the Israel Defense Forces from one platoon of one company of one battalion? Can one infer anything about the state of the nation from the words of seven 20-year-old soldiers, one of whom is particularly dominant? It's not clear. But before midnight, the target was captured. The enemy was defeated. And the pussies of Fifth Platoon packed up their heavy optical gear and deployed in a column again and went back down into the deep channel where late spring water still gurgled. A half moon lit up the silhouette-figures as they moved heavily across the black basalt fields on which the next war may be fought. It's not the IDF that bears responsibility. All of Israeli society bears the responsibility. If society doesn't wake up, the next time not even the IDF will be able to save it from itself.