Sunday, April 03, 2005

The gate was not locked: it was just tied with a piece of string. It was dark when we got there. We couldn't see much beyond the guard's position. Someone decided to drive along the fence, on the patrol dirt road. We followed it for some minutes - the barbed wire fence was open in many places, and there was nothing in sight, only barren desert hills. We drove on until we reached a small hut. It took me a minute to realise this was the guard's post: we've come full circle. We found some ground to put our tents up. A military antenna towered above our heads. Two of us went to scavenge firewood from the deserted buildings nearby; we made a little fire. We cooked some soup and rice, and talked. Someone asked me if I still live in a squat. "What's a squat?" somebody else asked. "It's a house people occupy without the landlord's permission". I felt my reply falling down like a ton of bricks.

In the morning I had a few minutes before we left for the hike. I made my way to the big building at the centre of this deserted army camp. From outside I could see no windows, only walls, and it looked a bit like a monolithic temple. I came in through something that looked like a garage or workshop: plastic pipes and torn electricty cables were hanging from the ceiling. The toilets were smashed, and all the small windows broken. I went upstairs. Behind the corner I found myself in a huge, empty hall, with dark cement walls. My footsteps echoed all around me. I could hear Drum-and-Bass music in my head, and my blood felt sweet, rushing through me. I thought of London.

The desert was beuatiful. The valleys are green, after a relatively rainy year. Every once in a while, a holy tree stood in the creek, old and twisted and strong. Walking outside for the whole day made me feel good. It was sunny most of the time, but not too hot: this part of the desert is 900m high. I love the desert, the too bright colours of the hills. I thought of the green fields of Norfolk, and how they felt boring and foreign. How they never felt like home.

Half the group were young physicians, in their first years in hospitals. Again and again, the conversations came back to patients and nurses. "and then the infenction got worse.. so we treated her with X, but it didn't improve.." I kept trying to escape these conversations, fearing they were caontagious. Many of them came from my highschool in Jerusalem, and there were lots of talks about funny math teachers etc; talk about military service, or about backpacking in Africa or South America. I played dumb, didn't join in, as if I didn't belong.

I wanted to run a survey in the group, but didn't dare to. Instead I asked Arbel, who knew most of them through common friends. How many of them have a Polish descent? -Probably almost all of them. - How many of them would describe themselves as Zionist? -Probably all of them. Maybe one would hesitate. But then she got irate with me: I think she found me condescending. "Yes, it's nice when you come from abroad and you can think of everything as interesting social phenomena, but when you live here you can't afford to do that, you can't keep that amused aloofness. I usually don't say I'm not a zionist, because people don't know how to take it. I think you forgot how it is here, it can get so dperessing. It's a real struggle sometimes".

The food was excellent: and for me it's almost as important as the scenery. For lunch break we had Pita with salad and Tahini dip, which was made on the spot with freshly chopped garlic, squeezed lemon juice and parsley. Homemade Tahini dip is becoming a real addiction here, all my friends are doing it.
After lunch we had a rest, lying lazily on the bottom of dry valley. After a few minutes, one of the guys said "OK. 60 seconds".
- It's easy to tell you were a platoon sergeant, said Yishai.
- I was and I still am. I was a professional sergeant, like in the US army, signed for seven years.
- Seven good or bad years?
- Depends who you're asking. Three soldiers killed themselves.
- Only three?
- Well, I don't count the fourth as my fault, because he had problems with his family.
- You're joking, right?

When we got back to Jerusalem, it was raining, not common for April here. In Arbel's flat, we found the glass in the living room door shattered: the wind had slammed it hard.


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