Golani Playground

The infantry Golani Brigade joins forces with the infantry Nahal Brigade’s patrol battalion on a two-day drill in the mock city of Mala, or the IDF (Zahal)’s Urban Warfare Training Center (UWTC)

Date: 22/05/2011, 5:51 PM     Author: Tammy Habteyes

On a sunny Wednesday afternoon, the infantry Nahal Brigade’s patrol battalion begins preparing for a nine kilometer walk through the Negev desert to the city of Mala, or the IDF (Zahal)’s Urban Warfare Training Center (UWTC), in southern Israel. In Mala, the patrol battalion will join the infantry Golani Brigade on a two-day exercise to train for combat in an urban setting and prepare soldiers for the difficulties of war in a city.

Maj. A continually yells at his soldiers to drink water and make themselves tuna sandwiches so no one gets dehydrated or faint due to lack of vitamins.

“When you’re on the field long enough, even ketchup becomes a snack,” says Sgt. Yuval, a combat soldier in the Nahal Brigade. “I’m excited about this training exercise, I’m getting out of the army pretty soon and I’m glad I get to go to Mala again.”

What’s so special about Mala?

As the sun sets and dim rays of sunlight color the desert sky an orange hue, I fight off bits of sand flying into my mouth and eyes. In the blink of an eye, the soldiers pack their bags and get into rotation, wearing black and olive-green face paint mixed with sand. The battalion commander tells them, “Safety is the key, the way you act during this exercise will determine how the battalion will perform in wartime.”

Standing in the middle of this militaristic huddle he explains, “Mala is almost an exact replica of areas where those trying to harm the IDF (Zahal) are situated. We need to act with great care and pay attention to where we aim our weapons to avoid friendly-fire. Though we are not using real ammunition, the feeling will get very real.” The commander concludes his talk telling the soldiers, “I know that today you will make me proud. You all understand the Spirit of the IDF (Zahal), you respect your fellow soldiers and follow the rules of safety first.”

The stars light our way as the long hike to Mala begins. Combat soldiers walk with pounds of equipment and their personal weapons in deep desert sand.

After a few hours of silently marching in the Negev desert, we arrive.

Are we in Gaza?

Upon our arrival, tanks, hummers and various artillery await us, the soldiers quickly running to their posts, splitting up into various crews, divisions and platoons.

It’s late and pitch black. Mala seems like a typical Arab city, much like areas found in the Judea and Samaria region or the Gaza Strip. I wondered the streets of this war zone and was stunned at the reality of the place; torched cars, broken walls, narrow alleys, streetlights and even stop signs.

A bit like a scene out of Call of Duty’s Modern Warfare 2, the soldiers run in their formations across the street as though they are really in enemy territory. Explosion after explosion and gun shots (though no real ammunition was used in this training exercise) pierce throughout the city all night long.

In the morning, Mala seem more real than ever, I caught myself wondering wait, are we in Gaza? We weren’t. We were in one of the most invested, most expensive training grounds in the world. Mala contains imitation coffee shops, post offices, mosques and Arabic graffiti.

After taking a turn near the Cafי Al coffee shop and another turn by the People’s Post Office, Golani’s deputy platoon commander explained more about the training exercise. “I’ve been in the army for sometime and I’ve trained in many places, but Mala is a very special place. It’s almost the twin to areas where there is the most hostility to Israel. You are put in situations that are most likely to happen to you while in a time of war. A lot of different armies come to train in Mala. It’s an honor that this training center is in Israel.”