So, this is the new neighborhood. The name of our region of deployment, "Kissufim," translates literally to "yearnings" or "longings," which somehow seems oddly appropriate in this tiny metal hole of a base on the Gazan border. Our base is one of a few satellite bases around the large primary Kissufim base which will serve as the battalion's seat of operations for the duration of this deployment. Our base has no permanent buildings other than a huge concrete bomb shelter, which doubles (triples?) as both our dining hall and briefing room. The base lacks cooking facilities and even running water, which necessitates food and water deliveries from the main base, and our power runs on a less-than-perfectly-reliable generator. In short, if it looks like home, feels like home, and smells like home, then it's probably precisely what I had in mind last month while sipping on that Pinot Noir.
There's one thing that I need to address quite straightforwardly here before I proceed in any form, and that's the significantly heightened security concern on a longterm deployment like this one. Until this deployment, my company had done multiple short term, situational deployments of less than a week each. Generally in each of these short deployments, by the time I'd return to my kibbutz to write about the deployment we'd have already concluded it, with the result that I was at much greater liberty to discuss our actions and my experiences. This of course stands in contrast to the current scenario, in which my company will be sitting on the border for several months.
So, what this means is that despite the fact that, frankly, we're doing some pretty cool shit, I'm regrettably at very limited liberty to discuss it in a wholly public location like this one. The blog tracks the country of origin of hits it receives, and for a while now, "Iran" and "Palestinian Territories" have been regulars on the list, so this is a concern that has been on my mind for some time, but that is now far more immediately relevant. Loose lips sink ships, and so the above, very general description of the base is about as detailed as I'm going to be able to get.
Meanwhile, there's a big, beautiful elephant standing in the room: the return of Gilad Shalit. If you are reading this blog, I assume you are familiar with the Shalit saga, and know that his return constitutes an absolutely epic day in Israeli history. Consider furthermore that we are currently deployed on the Gazan border quite near the site of his abduction, and for the soldiers on my base there's ample reason for this to strike even closer to home. On the day of his release, we crammed into our bomb shelter and massed around a small TV screen, connected to one soldier's smartphone, to watch the unfolding story of his return home. I'd certainly never manage to capture in words the air in that room, so I'll put it simply and say: millions couldn't buy you seats like these.
Sitting in a concrete can and huddling with dozens of sweaty soldiers around a tiny screen, it was quite probably the VIP experience of my life. Most people worldwide watched or read the story from the comfort of home. Even most Israelis, tortured for over five years by Shalit's painful story, watched the events from their homes, but I was one of the lucky few, experiencing the day in the most fitting possible location, standing proudly on the Gazan border with my brothers in arms. To experience an iconic international event like this, and to do so in this context, in this location, and in this company, was so moving and unforgettable that I walked out feeling like it was worth the price of admission all by itself.
כמה טוב שבאת הביתה, גלעד