October 20, 2018

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Book review: Beyond the Green Line


Marc Goldberg has written a great first-hand memoir of what it is like to be an IDF grunt in the territories during the second intifada.

Goldberg, who wrote about some of this in his blog, made aliyah from England and joined the IDF as a “lone soldier.” He dreamed to become Chief of Staff.

But things didn’t work out how he wanted.

In “Beyond the Green Line,” Goldberg gives a great description of how the IDF selects who will go to which unit. For example, the officers aren’t looking at recruits who are the strongest or fastest – but the ones who help their fellow soldiers.

Marc is nothing if not honest. He describes his problems learning Hebrew, his disappointment at not making it into the Sayeret Tzanhanim and instead joining Orev, and his experiences at boot camp. Goldberg tries to be the best soldier he can be and he is a wonderful storyteller as he describes the tough training he went through – which is nothing like what you see in movies about the US Army.

After he finally passes and becomes a paratrooper, he is ready to face the enemy. But in 2003, the enemy was not the Syria army – it was the Palestinian terrorists of the second intifada.

The new soldier knows he is doing important work. But it is hardly what he wanted. He has to watch Arab families whose home needs to become lookouts for operations elsewhere in the Arab city. He mans checkpoints, finding Arabs with sheep in their trunk. He confronts British “peacemakers” who try to get under his skin.

But he also picks up suspected suicide bombers. Acting as s lookout, he notices the crucial clue necessary to catch two wanted terrorists.

Goldberg tries on occasion to inject some humanity in this strange situation where the IDF needs to operate among a mostly civilian population. He kicks a soccer ball back and forth with an Arab kid. At one point he even feeds a bunch of kids who would otherwise have been throwing rocks.

And Goldberg is not shy about describing his frustration at going on meaningless missions. In Nablus, his unity tried to enforce a curfew – and everyone ignored them. Rubber bullets were shot – no reaction from the people going about their business. Finally tear gas – and the people avoided the tear gas but remained doing their business.

Goldberg is chosen (probably because he knows English) to babysit Birthright participants. Even more bizarrely, he is then chosen to go to America and be a prop for very rich Jews to raise money or show off their IDF connections. He felt guilty that he was being treated to this luxury while his buddies were slogging through the rain and mud.

The most exciting part of the book is where Goldberg and his team get hit with a booby-trapped bomb. Luckily, the bomb had no shrapnel or ball bearings – it knocked them down but on one was injured.

Goldberg also describes the not-so-nice parts of the IDF. Sometimes, soldiers do things they aren’t supposed to; they do take advantage of the Arabs in ways beyond what the mission requires. And he is sick about it.

Finally, Goldberg describes his difficulty at adjusting back to civilian life, in his usual uncensored style. He is as hard on himself as he is on anyone else.

This book is not about heroism or major battles. It is an account of a lone soldier, who must follow commands even when they make no sense, and who is not allowed to fight the way he was trained. Goldberg is unsparing in his descriptions of what this life is like, the frustrations, the abuses but also the successes when a wanted man or woman is apprehended and people’s lives are saved. This is the war that Israel is forced to fight, a war that soldiers are not trained for, but as with everything else, the IDF needs to improvise- sometimes imperfectly –  to secure the Jewish state.

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