Originally published at Desicritics.org on 11 December 2009
Copyright ©, R. Kossover 2009
A couple of weeks ago, I got a call at night. The conversation was in Hebrew but since most of you reading are not familiar with the language....
"Ruvy?" The fellow sounded familiar, but I couldn't place him.
"Yes?" I waited.
"Ruvy, we have target practice scheduled for next week. You have a choice between Monday the 7th and Wednesday the 9th."
I sighed. I really didn't need this. The target practice was to make sure I could still carry the M16 I use on guard duty for the village - which is now, for me, the effort to stay awake in a patrol truck between 02:00 and 05:00 in the wee hours of the morning. If I didn't go, I wouldn't be able to carry the weapon or go on patrol, and another 250 shekels would be added to my monthly taxes to the village of Ma'ale Levona. When I get rich, I won't care. In the meantime, I go on patrol.
I turned all this over in my head. I was busy on Monday. I had a meeting in Jerusalem to try to figure out what my oldest son, who is leaving high school, would do next year. On Wednesday, we was supposed to be in the south of the country for "parents day" at the pre-military academy our younger son is attending.
"Nu, Ruvy? What should I put you down for? Monday or Wednesday?" The security officer of the village, Itzik, like most Israelis, was extremely impatient.
"What time does it start?" I asked him. "About 17:00 - like last time," he answered me. Last time, I waited for hours for the idiots to get started. A pig in molasses moves faster than the IDF when it comes to working with civilians. Even the Israel Police are more efficient!
"Where will it be?" I asked, half knowing the answer. "It'll be in the same place as last time! Where else will we have it?" he expostulated. "Nu? Which is it already? Monday or Wednesday?" he continued to press. And I continued to dither. "I'm busy both days, Itzik. You sure this will be in the late afternoon-evening?"
"Yes, yes, I'm sure!" Itzik answered, his very short fuse nearly running out on him.
"Alright, Itzik", I relented at last. "I have a meeting on Monday morning in Jerusalem at 10:00. I can probably catch the bus leaving from Jerusalem at 14:00. So put me down for Monday." On Sunday, I got a formal notice from the Security Officer of the village saying that I was registered to go on Monday to target practice, pursuant to our conversation the previous week - at 14:00. The notice said "transportation is you own responsibility."
On Monday, I went to the meeting with my son, and after some haggling, we agreed to register him with National Service, where he would do "volunteer" work in lieu of not serving in the IDF. We were to come to another meeting the next morning, where he would meet with a Jerusalem coordinator of the National Service. We took a bus to the Central Bus Station, from whence my son would go home, and I would take a different bus at 13:00 to the village to the mitváH - the target practice. I still had no idea how I would get home to Ma'ale Levona.
I got off at the village specified, and walked around some, asking directions for where the target practice was held for villagers who had to do patrol. There was a kid walking around with the same puzzled "am-I-in-the-right-place?" expression I must have been wearing, and together we progressed to a large field, about the size of a soccer or rugby pitch. At one end of the field was a shelter against the wind and the rain, and at the other was a sign in Hebrew - 25 meters.
We had indeed arrived. It was the place where target practice was done. It looked like the place I had gone to last year, and there were spent shells on the field.
The kid sat himself down with a notebook, pencil and paper and started working on some school problem. I watched him absent-mindedly. I should have brought a notebook or book along myself, but I had been in too much of a hurry to catch the 7:30 bus with my son.
The kid sitting on the ground looked up at me, "atá m'dabér anglít? "Do you speak English?"
Joy! Rapture! Of course I speak English! I wouldn't have to crack my jaws or stretch my poor overworked brain on Hebrew! "Yeah, I talk English," I answered him. The kid continued on in Hebrew.
"Can you help me with what I'm working on here? It's all in English, and I'm having trouble understanding..." I didn't waste time answering him. I walked over and took the paper from his hand and looked at it.
It was in English alright. But I didn't understand a single sentence. The kid was studying electrical engineering, and he wanted me to translate the problems he was working on. English I know. Electrical engineering? Forget about it! I didn't know the technical terms and couldn't translate most of them for him. I did translate one or two terms here and there and was about to give up altogether when I noticed a sheet of paper translating a whole series of terms from English to Hebrew. Like most Israelis, he hadn't bothered to look at the sheet.
I held the sheet in front of his face. "Use this!" I told him. "I don't know the technical terms, but this sheet will give you the help you asked me for."
I showed him the various terms he needed to know, and the vast majority of the terms he wanted were there. He returned to his book - and I returned to my ennui. A 6% solution of cocaine to inject in my veins would have been appropriate at that point.
We had arrived at 14:00 - the time specified on the sheet I had gotten in the mail - and still we were the only ones there. It was going on 15:00. I dialed up the Security Officer on my cell-phone.
"Nu, Itzik, where are you? Was this canceled after all?" I asked, glancing a the clouds that seemed to get heavier and heavier with each passing hour.
"I'm on the way," he answered. "Don't worry." Typical Israeli bluff and bravado.
By the time he had arrived a few minutes later, a whole bunch of others had also, so the first order of business was praying MinHá, the afternoon prayer. Then we waited some more. Suddenly a HUMVEE appeared with some soldiers in it. First it drove down to the far edge of the field, where some kids (soldiers) took out about 8 targets to shoot at, and set them in the ground. They left a whole series of small boxes at the corner. Ammo. Then the HUMVEE came by to the shelter and the same soldiers unloaded four small plastic items that unfolded to become long benches for us to sit on. Then, they took out a large table on which they set cakes, and a large container containing hot water. Teabags and coffee packets were also provided. You would have thought that this was a kiddúsh after synagogue on Shabbát instead of target practice.
Itzik handed me an M16 and an empty clip. It is the standard banana clip that holds 30 5.56 mm bullets, the standard ammo of the M16 used here. It didn't register in my head immediately that the clip was empty. I checked the weapon to make sure there were no bullets in it.
A whole load of people who live in Ma'ale Levona had arrived, and I saw my possible ride - Barry. I didn't waste any time, and asked him if he had a spot in his car for me. He did! Suddenly, even though the clouds were descending lower and lower, the day was a lot brighter and sunnier for me. I would have a ride home!
The guys from Ma'ale Levona were deep in an animated discussion on the "building freeze" that the Civil Administration had imposed on Judea and Samaria under the pressure of the American government. I didn't pay much attention. The conversation was in Hebrew, and I wanted to concentrate on the weapon at hand, practicing cocking it, firing it, loading the clip with bullets etc. I don't get these opportunities that often. I should have been paying attention to the conversation, though....
The actual target practice was somewhat anti-climactic after all that waiting. There were two sessions - one where we shot 20 bullets standing, kneeling and prone, and a second session after dark where we shot ten bullets in any position we were comfortable in. It was beginning to rain when we shot at night, and I rushed through the routine and returned the weapon, and empty clip to the Security Officer and rushed onwards to see Barry already in his car ready to leave. It must have been 17:10 or 17:15 at night. A long day - and finally on the way home in the pouring rain in the Samarian mountains!
That is where the story should end. But it didn't end there.
Traveling up the road to Ma'ale Levona from Sinjil at 17:30 in the evening, the vehicle I was riding in was confronted with and the road blocked by two Israel Police vehicles. After some discussion, the police agreed to move the vehicles and allowed the vehicle I was riding in to pass. Traveling from there to the main road into the village, I could see a long line of traffic backed up on the main road. The following is reported live as dictated to my son, Shim'on, who typed this as I spoke.
At the entry road to Ma'ale Levona there is a tremendous road block. There are border guards in full combat gear, there are police, and Yassamnikim (SWAT team) in black. The main road into the village was blocked with stones and we ran over them at 17:40 this evening (7 December 2009). Fortunately the vehicle was not damaged. It is impossible to enter Ma'ale Levona at this second. The presence of police, military vehicles, and the stones in the road seem to indicate that there either is or has been a confrontation between forces of the state and the residents of Ma'ale Levona. This is confirmed by the presence of a large number of residents at the gate of the yishúv (village). A barrier of rocks is slowly being removed from the roadway and we are progressing home. Walking into the village, I was stopped by a kid who wanted to make sure I live here.
That is from the article I wrote for Blogcritics Magazine on the confrontation at Ma'ale Levona that had been taking place all afternoon while I was wasting my time at a damned target shoot!
Looking at the road leading to Ma'ale Levona I was wishing I had a laptop or notebook computer with a WiFi connection on it. I was staring at a news story, and was pissed off as all hell. Finally, it hit me to call up my son and dictate the basis of a newsflash to him, one that I could fix up when I got home and file. So I dialed him up, and Shim'on did me proud. He opened a Word document and typed what I told him to, and then typed in observations of his own.
When I got home, I sat down at the computer and began to work. There is no rest for the wicked.