During my IDF service, I had the opportunity to serve within heart of Israel, the current political area known as the West Bank, the biblical lands of Yisrael.  My base waslocated down the road and around the mountain from the ancient city of Shehem, or Nablus in English. From the middle of October, following my draft''s ascension to the Tzanhanim brigade itself, we were stationed in Shehem. It was our "kav" assignment, or, in other words, the "line" or border which we were to guard in order to protect Israel from her enemies.

What was life like on kav compared to training? It was at once much different and also much of the same. For one thing, we were still technically considered "in training;" not until after the completion of a full year of service would we received our brigade''s pin and officially join the unit. Additionally, given that we were the newest ones on active duty, I cannot exactly say we were given the most glamorous assignments. Also, as in training, we had regular runs and workouts every few days, certain hours to wake up and other menial duties to perform.

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For the majority of my kav service, I was on guard duty—whether at the main central base, at another outpost up in the mountains overlooking Shehem itself, or on a two-week stint at the Central Command base in Jerusalem. I was told (or perhaps warned) before my service that regular infantry does a lot of guard duty and Special Forces are assigned more missions. Per my experience, this turned out to be mostly true.


One day, I was stationed a few hundred meters from a checkpoint when I received a call over the radio to stop two men on bicycles. I called out to them in Hebrew to stop, to which they responded in heavily accented English that they had no idea what I was saying. It turned out these two gentlemen were Italian and had taken photos of the checkpoint. When the Border Police were radioed in to look at the camera, I helped translate between Hebrew and English. Then I had a pleasant conversation with the guys about bicycles, hockey, and why an American is in an IDF uniform!
 
Kav also came with more privileges. As we were done with training and had our red berets, we suddenly found ourselves able to breathe a little. The best part was that I was allowed to have my phone on me, again. This has made it so much easier to keep in touch with family and friends. A simple WhatsApp message from some of my buddies from back home has made it that much easier to keep up a friendship.

In addition, standing at attention was suddenly a thing of the past. While we would always stand in a het (as in, the Hebrew letter ח) each morning or at various times when addressed by a commander or officer, it was no longer with our backs straight and stiff,  guns at our sides and hands behind our backs.

The easy, slow releasing of tension and discipline after eight months of training came as a relief. As a twenty-four year old college-educated American volunteer, I finally began  the beginnings of a mutual respect between commanders and myself. We were no longer "tzairim" (young). We had been through training and are fighters in the brigade.

We had our red berets.

I also finally went out on a mission. Most of the responsibilities of my company—in addition to kitchen duty—had been to go on foot patrols of various surrounding villages, drive around in a vehicle making sure peace and security is maintained and to carry out arrests.

In the last few hours of our time on Kav Shechem, I was part of a group that carried out an arrest. It was in a nearby village. We drove there late at night, surrounded the home and assisted Shabak, Israel''s internal security (similar to the FBI), in arresting two individuals.

We were in full combat gear, though thankfully, everything went smoothly and peacefully.

Now, that we''ve moved into training in the North, I''ve found I''m sad to leave Shehem. In addition from transitioning from operational to training, I miss being in the heart of the land between the river and the sea. The mountains and hills had an ancient feel. I felt surrounded by history. Not modern history: the land breathes a story older than people.

I was also fortunate to be able to see a part of Israel most people never visit. No one who goes on Birthright knows what it''s like to see a sign in all Hebrew explaining that you are about to enter Section A, leaving Israeli jurisdiction.
 
The road to my base traveled through a small Arab village. I would sometimes gaze out the bus windows at the Arab shop signs, the people milling about, the condition of the buildings and feel as if I was in a foreign land.

This experience has allowed me to see a side of this country that is never exposed to most people. Kav Shehem was eye-opening in many ways. But now we move to training.

 


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