I grew up during a period of strife in the UK, when the Irish Republican Army had been planting bombs in the UK mainland. The gentlemen of the IRA were kind enough to phone in warnings to the security services and place their bombs where they were more likely to cause damage than kill. In Israel we experienced the opposite scenario. The weapons launched against Israeli civilians had the most sophisticated guidance systems possible to equip a weapon with: a human one.
My generation grew up on a diet of peace process but came of age during its demise and were responsible for dealing with the still ongoing fallout from when hope turned to despair. My generation were part of the withdrawals from Lebanon and Gaza and entered the reserves just in time to be called up for campaigns in Lebanon in 2006 and Gaza ever since. My generation forced the lid back on the pressure cooker of the West Bank after it blew up in Israel’s face. It is this generation that now occupies positions of leadership throughout Israeli society, from the Knesset to Waze and back again.
To ignore what we lived through during that period is to ignore the formative experience of the generation now coming into its own in Israeli society. Of those of us who were present during that time how many can say that they didn’t see a bus blow up before their eyes? Who didn’t lose a friend or loved one during that period? Who didn’t experience the terror of being unable to call friends and family in the wake of a bombing because the communication networks had collapsed from the volume of calls made in the aftermath of each attack? Unfortunately we don’t talk about the al-Aksa Intifada very much. It wasn’t the dramatic victory of the Six Day War nor was it a story of survival against all odds like in the Yom Kippur War. Serving in the IDF during the al-Aksa Intifada, when Palestinian armed groups were in full-scale insurrection mode, is barely considered different from service in the IDF today. But it was. It was a meat grinder where people went into the mix one way and came out another, if they came out at all.
Beyond the Green Line is my story. It’s the story of a boy who came to Israel looking to become a man by earning a red paratrooper’s beret. It’s the story of a group of guys who grew up with the promise of peace and came of age with the realization that there was none to be had. The extract that follows is the opening chapters of the book. See it through my eyes.
Meet suicide bombers and terrorist chiefs, relive your own service and ask yourself the questions about Zionism that none of our politicians have yet been able answer.
But most importantly, just come on the journey and remember a time that defined a generation.Beyond the Green Line: Jenin, West Bank, Israeli Occupied Territory
We’d had a tough climb up the hill but it had been worth it to keep us hidden. At the top it was a different story. Anyone looking up from their window would see us on the crest silhouetted against the moonlit sky.
I could hear other small teams working in Jenin that night; each engaged in their own private firefight. The snap, crackle and pop of their gunfire reverberated around the city.
A minute after setting up we came under fire too.
It was the pinging on the rocks that gave the game away. I was surprised by how quickly the enemy fire erupted. It wasn’t particularly heavy, a few guys with rifles, but they were quick on the trigger. I peered through my scope to locate the source of the firing only to see what looked like someone signaling in Morse code with a torch. While I was puzzling out why they were signaling I heard more pinging on the rocks around me.
It wasn’t Morse code – it was muzzle flashes.
The people I was looking at weren’t messaging me they were shooting at me.
The major asked our sniper if he had a fix on the location of the gunfire. He didn’t. He then turned to Uzi, the spotter. Uzi had a clearer view through his own equipment and he directed the sniper and the nine of us onto the targets. The range finder classed them as being 550m away, within effective range of the sniper’s M24 rifle. It also put them outside the effective range of my own weapon.
Whereas my scope amplified by only four times, the sniper’s magnified by six. He still couldn’t see anything, but I could. The terrorists were firing from the window of an apartment building. They looked like green ghosts as I spied on them through my scope.
There was more than one but I couldn’t quite make out how many. “Ehud, have you got them in your sights?” Uzi asked the sniper.
“No,” came the reply.
Uzi then began another patient explanation via prominent landmarks to guide him toward his targets: “Do you see the tree at the foot of the hill?” he asked.
“Do you see the second lamppost on the main street running into the city?” “Yes.”
“Do you see the apartment building right next to it?” “Uh-huh.”
“Do you see the window on the fourth floor above the ground with the terrorists hanging out of it, shooting?” “No.”
What the f***? I pulled my eye away from the viewfinder to stare at Ehud. Bullets were still ricocheting off the rocks. I tried to make myself part of the ground while maintaining my view of the enemy.
I couldn’t understand how they were able to range in on us at this distance. The pinging was close by. I wanted to shoot back.
Instead I peered at my enemy as I waited for the order. Even if I did open fire they were too far away for me to hit them.
The major told Uzi to mark the target with an infrared laser. I saw the laser beamed onto the target through my own scope. The major turned to the sniper, addressing him by name. “Ehud, how does it look now?” “I see the laser but not the target itself,” came the reply. I was having kittens. I had wanted to go to sniper school more than anything but they hadn’t sent me. The reason was obvious: unlike Ehud I had 20/20 vision.
Finally, the enemy was in the crosshairs and he was going to get away because this idiot was blind as a bat. Ehud was the only sniper not on training at that particular time and he wore the strongest prescription lenses known to man. To make matters worse, he couldn’t wear his glasses while peering into the viewfinder of the scope.
“Just fire at the laser on my command!” The major said. I figured his ability to keep calm at moments like that was the reason for his rank.
I’d never been angry with the Palestinians, though I was prepared to shoot at them, but I would have throttled Ehud at that moment.
I couldn’t understand why everyone else seemed to be so damn calm.
The major spoke: “Everyone fire together on my command.” The target was 550m away from us; the maximum effective range I had fired at using my M4 rifle was 250m. But I wasn’t prepared to turn down the opportunity to fire a shot in anger. The major gave the order and we opened up, each of us firing one shot. Through the eerie green on black of my night scope I saw the enemy duck and move away from the window. Probably shaken but still alive.
I was upset. Everything had been perfect.
Maximum effective range for a sniper at night is 600m and yet Ehud had missed. The major turned to Uzi. “Well?” “One puff of smoke on the wall about a half meter below the window,” Uzi reported.
The major looked at me.
“Marc, do you know the ballistics of your weapon at 550 meters?” “Yeah,” I replied defensively. Was he going to try to blame me for this debacle? “So where do you aim?” he asked, a smile on his face.
“Above the target,” I replied. “Way, way above the target,” I muttered under my breath. I shot an evil glance at Ehud. How could he have missed? A machine gun opened up somewhere deeper inside Jenin. Perhaps another unit was having more luck than we were – or maybe less. The enemy had been right there in my crosshairs, in all of our crosshairs, and we had been impotent. He had survived. The major didn’t seem to mind that the terrorists had managed to get away. He fairly cackled with glee.
“Let them see how it feels to be shot at!” he remarked. I was silent.
One shot each was all we fired that night.
The bad guys had disappeared.
No one else shared my feelings. No one else cared. I wanted to go back and do it again, to actually kill some of them, and said as much to the major when we were back on the base.
He told me we were done with Jenin and heading back to Nablus. The Beginning
My story doesn’t really start in Jenin. It starts 23 years before. My name’s Marc Goldberg.
I’m a Jew born in the Jewish part of London to Jewish parents who gave me the most Jewish name it was possible to give a kid at the time. Marc. Growing up I knew so many other Jewish Marcs and Marks that everyone called me Goldberg; if they didn’t, twenty kids would turn around whenever a teacher called my name.
At the age of 13 I had my bar mitzva. I became a man. A very small one, admittedly.
I moved to a new school in the heart of London, the City of London School for Boys. A very expensive school, a very big school filled with other, bigger “men.” I hated every moment of the three years I was there. My grades went from being As and Bs at my previous school to Ds and Es at this new one. I didn’t make friends. I have one memory about my first year there. The other kids made a makeshift ring for themselves in the classroom and one by one each of them would go in and fight someone else of a similar size. I refused to go in the ring. I refused to stick up for myself throughout the time I was there. My self-esteem dropped away to nothing.
The school had two main staircases, both of which led to the fifth floor where all the science labs were. If you kept going up one of them you came to the caretaker’s apartment; if you went up the other you came to a little annex where the staircase suddenly ended.
This was my sanctuary in that school. There I sat most break times reading stories of soldiers and assassins and spies. I read about British Paratroopers in World War Two. I read about the SAS and other commandos. I read books during lessons too when I could get away with it. I did everything I could to escape the shirt and tie reality of this big school an hour’s train ride away from my home. It wasn’t school, it was prison, and I was stuck there until I was old enough for it to end.
My youth movement was a different story.
There I learned about leadership, I learned about my people, about the Holocaust, about Israel and the rebirth of a nation. Whereas all the stories I learned in Hebrew school about the Jews had happened thousands of years ago the stories about Israel were happening right now. I found an outlet there, a place where I was more than just the little guy being pushed around. I rose through their hierarchy to a leadership position. I lived for that youth movement. It was the antithesis of school.
In the summer of my sixteenth year my youth movement took me away to Israel. It was my first time there since the age of five.
Two things happened on that trip that made me think Israel had something going for it.
The first was seeing a religious guy run across the street in Jerusalem to catch a bus. He wore a skullcap and the white tassels from his tzitzit were swinging free and proud for all to see. My initial thought was that the guy was pretty brave to flaunt his Judaism in public followed by the realization that everyone there was Jewish so it didn’t matter. When you’ve spent your whole life being a part of the smallest, most minuscule minority, when the highest compliment a non-Jewish kid at school can give is “you don’t look Jewish,” understanding that you’re in a place where your minority status no longer exists was a shock to my worldview.
The second shock was seeing all the soldiers.
They were all Jews. It was crazy. I was this little “man” who daydreamed all day of killing Nazis while experiencing a reality of being pushed around by people bigger than myself. Now I was in this land where Jews wore uniforms and carried guns. They wouldn’t have taken shit from anyone. I wanted that power, that confidence. I wanted to be a Jewish hero like them.
That was it.
At the age of 16, I decided to become a soldier in the IDF, the Israel Defense Forces.
When I hit 18, I spent a year in Israel with my youth movement. I studied Jewish rebirth after World War Two. School was done. I had been waiting for the prison sentence to end for five years and I had made it. In that year I decided I was too immature to move to Israel quite yet. Instead I managed to get a place at Manchester Metropolitan University to study history. While there I realized I had a head for studying and excelled at learning for the first time. But I hated Britain. I was a Jew in the United Kingdom who felt like an outcast. I felt distinctly un-British, apart from the general populace, a member of a tiny minority that didn’t fall into the British class system, that was distinctly not posh but not working class either.
I looked at Jewish politicians as sellouts who had chosen a British identity over a Jewish one. It seemed impossible to me to be both. I felt like an outsider in the country where I was born and a total sense of belonging to a country I had barely even visited before the age of 15. My year in Israel was in 1997. I returned to a Labour-run government in Britain – the first of my lifetime. I didn’t care. It mattered far more who the government of the State of Israel was. The leanings of the people in Westminster felt as relevant to me as the leanings of the people in power on Mars. I looked around me at the UK and saw a place where Jews were a hated minority without a voice. A place with a government that didn’t care about me or my people. I was what they call an angry young man on a quest for an identity and I had glimpsed it in the Jewish state.The author served in the Orev unit of the IDF Paratroopers from August 2002 – 2004. His book Beyond the Green Line is available on amazon.com. He participated in operations all over the West Bank during the al-Aksa Intifada, and now lives with his family in London.