Judea and Samaria. The heart of terrorist activity during the Second Intifada. Israelis and Palestinians meet there day and night, mostly in a spirit of harmony. While the security fence has helped to stop the wave of bloody attacks on Israel from the region, the threat, albeit less noticeable, still exists. Molotov cocktail-throwing, attempted kidnappings and ambushes are daily occurrences. Worst of all, terrorist cells located in the area continue to plan attacks on Israelis. Last November, one of them managed to blow up a bus in the center of Tel Aviv.
This is where the Kfir Brigade is stationed. The IDF (Zahal) decided to establish the brigade in 2005 to provide an effective response to Palestinian terrorism in Judea and Samaria and to urban guerrilla warfare.
The Kfir Brigade’s operations are usually kept secret and away from the cameras. Luckily, they’ve agreed to open their doors for 24 hours to show you the reality of everyday life on base. Join our soldiers and learn what it means to be 20 years old and serve on the front lines.
‘Kfir’ is Hebrew for lion, and just like their feline namesake, the soldiers of the Kfir Brigade are always vigilant during the day, and awake and ready to go at night. They sleep when they can, whatever the hour. It’s not uncommon for them to run a string of operations after a sleepless night. Today, the soldiers begin their day in the early evening.
Early evening: War Room. The phones won’t stop ringing. Conversations between troops on the ground and the war room go back and forward constantly. “We have to be attentive and responsive,” says Captain K. “Here everything can degenerate in a few seconds.”
In the midst of the turmoil, one call gets more attention than the others: IDF (Zahal) intelligence have spotted a suspect in a nearby Palestinian village. The squad must arrest the suspect that night. He can be a “ticking bomb” Lieutenant Ravid leads the operation. In a few minutes, a soldier from Military Intelligence arrives, folder in hand, with all the information the team needs to carry out their mission.
Later on: Rec Room. The soldiers have all gotten wind of the operation planned for that night. For now, they take advantage of the break, squeeze onto the sofa, and turn on an American TV show. Or stands out: he’s the only one who leaves his uniform on in its entirety, including the red boots he’s wearing under his blanket. If an alert comes in, he’ll be ready to get up and go in a few seconds.
Outside, the temperature has dropped. Judea and Samaria is a mountainous region, and winter nights are freezing cold. “You get used to the cold – it’s when it snows that our work gets complicated,” one of the soldiers says.
Night: Briefing Before the Mission. In the war room, Lieutentant Ravid brings together the soldiers in charge of arresting the suspect. They’re dispatching three teams, and his will be the first to enter the house. “Here’s what you need to know before we go in,” Ravid begins.
“The man we are looking for is 27 years old. He lives in a huge house with his 10 brothers, his wife and their child. The other teams will make sure that he can’t escape from the building through another exit. A soldier from Military Intelligence will be there to formally identify the suspect.”
“I’ll remind you like I do every night: I want no incidents, no spillover, no gunfire. You’re allowed to use your weapon in the event of a real threat to your life. Keep as calm as possible. You have one hour to prepare and to check your equipment before we start training.”
All in all, the soldiers carry ten kilograms of equipment on their backs, plus their weapons and helmets. During their training, they leave nothing to chance. They repeat the key maneuvers of the operation several times: the silent exit from their jeep, the deployment of soldiers around the house, the best way to disperse potential rioters, and how to calm family members present.
After Midnight: A Short Pause. Lt. Ravid’s soldiers gather together in one of their rooms. Some of them take the opportunity to check their equipment one last time before they leave.
Middle of the Night: Departure. Four vehicles leave the base one after the other. The last one is filled with a team of combat medics. They participate fully in operations, but they also have another, weighty responsibility: to treat anyone wounded under fire, regardless of whether they’re Palestinians or Israelis. The journey takes about half an hour. The heavy silence in the jeep is broken only by the sounds of the radio that connects them to the War Room on base. To get there, they have to drive through several Palestinian villages. With their helmets on their heads and their weapons loaded, the troops are ready to intervene at any sign of danger.
Early Morning: Element of Surprise Lost. Suddenly the tension ratchets up a notch: local villagers have noticed the presence of soldiers in their midst. All the lights go on in the building and in the adjacent houses. The situation could slip out of the soldiers’ control in a few seconds.
Arrest. Eventually, the suspect opens the front door of his house himself. A stream of soldiers rushes inside. The most senior officers are at the front of the line. No one knows for sure exactly how the confrontation will happen.
The soldiers perform the arrest quietly. They quickly identify the suspect, and he doesn’t resist arrest. Another group of soldiers search the house, looking for evidence. A veiled woman on the second floor approaches the soldiers and starts shouting at them. Many of them speak Arabic, so they intervene to calm her down.
End of Operation. Security forces take the suspect in for questioning. The soldiers can now go to bed. “This is the best time of the day,” says one of them; “when it’s all over and you can go to sleep.”
Back on Base: Improvised Meal. The soldiers are tired but they’re also hungry. Luckily, their comrades who remained on base have thought of them, just like they do every day. They lay out kebabs, hummus and salads for all before bedtime.
Ravid joins the meal and speaks to his soldiers. “I’m proud of you,” he says. “You carried out the mission successfully and you remained calm throughout. Bon appétit and rest up well.” The soldiers play card games, make jokes, strum on their guitars. Anything goes, except for phone calls. It’s the middle of the night, so their friends and family are all still asleep.
About half an hour later, everyone heads off to bed. Some get to sleep until later on in the morning, while others have to wake up to participate in a patrol.
Friday Afternoon: Riots for the Media
Late Morning: Meeting Before the Event. Lieutenant Ynon assembles his troops near a local intersection. “Remember that all this is a game for the rioters,” Ynon tells his soldiers. “They are there to insult you and provoke you. Do not respond to them, and keep them from harming you or anyone else. I do not want to see any weapons in your hands. We are not there to shoot. Our job is simply to prevent them from blocking the road below.”
The Friday morning protest is always staged. It’s supported by European activists who come to lend a hand to a few dozen locals. They have only one goal: to harass the soldiers, hoping they lose their cool and provide some unflattering material for the cameras.
The commanders are on the frontline. They are used to this, jaded by the masquerade. The demonstrators arrive in a pack. Some don’t hesitate to throw themselves against the soldiers, who repel them non-violently. The scene immediately attracts a swarm of photographers, professional and amateur. There are almost as many cameras as there are protesters.
The soldiers look at each other, part-weary, part-amused by the ridiculousness of the situation. The reporters still don’t have as many exciting images as they want. A Palestinian launches into a diatribe in English, so that they’ll all understand. “Hey, it’s the same speech as the last four weeks,” says a soldier.
Early Afternoon. Time to throw stones at the soldiers. The event normally disperses exactly one hour after it started, but it’s not quite over yet. “This is the part where they normally throw stones,” sighs Ynon. And indeed, a few seconds later, huge stones fly over the heads of the soldiers. One hits a soldier hard in the leg. Ynon orders his soldiers to put an end to the violence using non-lethal means.
On the way back, the soldiers are exhausted. Although the show takes place week in and week out, it affects them every time.
It’s been a stressful week, especially because some of the soldiers were on duty for the arrest, for a patrol at dawn, and at the riots. On the way back, the soldiers watch the landscapes and the people roll by from the windows of their jeep. There’s no one hiding around corners right now, but at every crossroads there are people to protect, people who rely on them. This weekend, like many others, the Kfir Brigade Panthers won’t be going home to their parents. They’re staying on base and spending Shabbat together.