The Urban Warfare Training Center at the Tze’elim Army Base, was built at a cost of $45 million. Nicknamed “Baladia” (Arabic for “city”), it is a 7.4 square mile training centre used to instruct soldiers in urban warfare techniques, and consists of an imitation Middle Eastern style city with multiple multistorey buildings. It has been used to train American as well as Israeli forces.
Afarin and Zelig were lost. They were in a car somewhere in the west of the city. They needed to get to the south.
“Where are we, Afarin?”
She showed him the map, “This junction. The mosque is over on the left. I can see its minaret.”
He turned left, down a large boulevard lined with palm trees and glanced at the map, “This looks awfully familiar. Are you sure we haven’t been down here before?”
“Positive… I think.”
“It’s the wrong mosque, he told her, “We have already passed it twice. We’re just going round in circles.”
“Right, it’s after midday and the call to prayer was around half-an-hour ago. So, the shadows should be cast from the south. That’s the way we should go.”
“There is a van following us.”
“You sure?” she said looking in the vanity mirror of her sun visor. They were both wearing ballistic glasses.
“We’ll keep an eye on him.”
They came to another junction with a few cars and delivery lorries. Zelig turned right and in this part of the city, the roads were narrower. The van continued to follow them and soon the road became single track, due to the market stalls and the women shopping.
“Ssshit, this is a one-way street and we’re going down the wrong way.”
Inevitably cars coming from ahead of them blocked the road, tooting their horns angrily. Afarin turned round and the van was right up the back of them. She reached under her seat and pulled out a B&T APC sub machine gun, then cocked it.
“We leave the car and go on foot. All callsigns, this is Huck. We are in trouble and are abandoning the vehicle. Stand by Afarin, I will go first then cover you. That alley between the Fruit and clothing stall. Good luck, little shefela.”
“Zelig…!” but he was gone. She saw him crouch down by the side of the car, yelling “Go!”
Now it was just her and stark terror and she rolled out of the car, coming up with the B&T APC sub machine gun.
Then two automatic weapons opened fire on Zelig from the building on their right and he went down. She tried to take cover at the side of the car and was hit on her right leg from three men coming from the van. She turned to meet this threat and was hit in the chest, stomach and groin, bowled over by the force of the rounds, face up in the litter strewn gutter.
“Oh, God this hurts!”
Her SMG was out of reach, and she tried to claw the Glock out of her back holster. Another round hit her arm and the last one in her side. There was no getting up and fighting now. She was crying in pain.
A man in Palestinian clothes looked down at her, his Colt Commando carbine now slung. He looked down at her with an amused smirk. She closed her eyes, weeping in pain.
“Gocha!” he said in Arabic.
“Fuck off!” she said through pain gritted teeth.
“Top tip, always check your six-o-clock. You were fixated with the threat to the right, and completely ignored the van you must have known was following you. And swearing at me won’t help you when Hamas turns you into a sieve.”
He helped her up and she stood bent over, then Zelig limped round the car.
“Are you all right, Afarin. Do you want me to call the medics?”
“No thank you. I’ll be OK.”
The man in the Palestinian clothes was a member of Unit 212, well into part and speaking Arabic. “They will hurt like hell for the next few days, but you’ll be OK. Lessons learned?”
Simunition rounds are designed to be fired through police and military service weapons. Most Simunition cartridges (FX, CQT and Securiblank) require the installation of a drop-in conversion kit that does not permanently alter the weapon and can be easily removed. These kits ensure that normal service rounds cannot be fired during training and allow the use of the Simunition ammunition that work with reduced-pressure/reduced-velocity.
The commandos moved the van and Zelig and Afarin drove out of Baladia. They headed back to Tze’elim Army Base and the training rooms. Inside a classroom the others were watching a video of the incident, some of the first shots taken by a drone. When Zelig and Afarin walked in, they started to clap. Dan seemed particularly moved to amusement by their escapades in the city.
“And the award for taking a round in the kusit goes to that Persian temptress, Afarin Khan. I’m surprised you can still walk. Oh, and I forgot to mention the ones that hit you in the leg, stomach and chest. If you’re going to get shot, you certainly do it with style. Would you like me to rub a healing balm into what will undoubtably be dammed great big bruises tonight?”
Afarin dumped her weapons and radio equipment on the desk. “Frankly Dan, I’d rather climb into an industrial shredder.”
They all sat and watched the sorry saga on a large video screen, the directing staff stopping the video at pertinent moments, the drone footage first.
“Right, this is your first mistake,” the directing staff told them, “You headed west instead of south, probably you thought the western mosque was your target. You got the wrong mosque. But all is not lost at this stage. You are on a boulevard, which you should have recognised because you’d already driven along it twice. But now you compounded the error. If you had carried on for another kilometre, there’s another wide boulevard that heads south.”
He put the film back on and they watched their car.
“You think you are heading south, but in fact you’re heading south-east and now the van starts to tail you. You make your second mistake and continue into the poor quarter. Inevitably the roads become narrower and choked with bazars, vehicles and people. At this point you should have abandoned the car and get the hell out of it on foot. Your mission was effectively over as soon as you took the second wrong turn. Comments?”
“I think they made a mistake as they left the camp,” Dan said, looking at Afarin, “They gave the woman the map.”
He put his arm round her to show he was joking and Afarin looked up in exasperation. But she liked this version of Dan.
“Now let’s look at the close quarter fighting. You already know that you abandoned the car too late and that constrained your courses of action.”
The next clips of film were taken by a camera on the ground, “Zelig effectively has seconds to live, but instead of getting up the alley, you go into cover by the car to help him. Very noble but stupid. You couldn’t save him and you forgot about the van on your tail. If this had been the real deal, you would have been pumped full of holes. As it is, those bruises are going to sting like hell, once the adrenaline has worn off. Comments?”
There weren’t any.
“Who is doing a run through this afternoon?”
“The A-team,” Dan said.
“You’ll need three. This is a drive in, grab someone and get the hell out. You,” he said pointing at Heyfa and then at Gad, “See you at 14:00.”
“Can I go back to your place? I’d love to see the bruise on Afarin’s Shmudie .”
“Don’t be disgusting, Dan,” Batya said and cuffed him.
So, they went to lunch in the large, impersonal mess hall, then went to their barrack rooms to prepare for the afternoon. These were no apartments, just bare barrack rooms with four beds. The women had decided that Afarin and Heyfa should share a room as it was now known among the women that they were an item. The men hadn’t cottoned on and nobody wanted to tell them, especially Dan.
But after lunch they all piled into Afarin and Heyfa’s room and Afarin got undressed slowly, any movement causing discomfort. She inspected herself and the others looked at her in shock.
“Oy!” Aisha exclaimed, her eyes round saucers.
“Yes, ladies, they do fucking hurt!”
Afarin’s body was marked with circular bruises, white on the inside and surrounded by a deep, red rash. It was as though she had been hit multiple times with squash balls.
“I’ll get some ice from the mess,” Aisha said.
“I’ve got some aloe vera cream, I’ll go and get it.” Freida told them and Batya gave Afarin a tablet. “Vitamin C. Supposed to be good for bruises.”
“And I’ll kiss them better tonight,” Heyfa said quietly.
Part of Afarin enjoyed being fussed over, the fusser-in-chief was Aisha, who being older had assumed the role of the mother of the group. They had slipped into being a team, each having a role that gave the team synergy. Hoffman occasionally came to visit them every few days or so, and he was the constant in their lives and gradually the grew to realise that they missed him. It may have been his acerbic wit or they at last understood he had their best interests at heart. He had a lot of time for Freida and seemed to worry about her, the same as Gad. He could be particularly cutting to Afarin and she gave as much in return.
And so, the next few weeks were groundhog days again. They were shot and bruised, but operating in an Arab city became second nature to them. They also became good at hunting the hunters, and Afarin had trapped and fired at one of the commandos. She recognised him from the first time she was shot and may have hit him in the balls.
Then suddenly she felt sorry for him.
“I really am sorry if I hit you in the balls,” she said bending over him. The next thing was a KA BAR knife pressed into her throat.
“Stupid girl! Never feel sorry for them, because they sure as hell wouldn’t give two fucks about you,” he told her, “I’m wearing a box down there for protection.”
It was a point well made.
The Merkavas the lead company of the 401st “I’kvot Ha-Barzel/Iron Trails” Armor Brigade, were approaching the city on the Ein HaBesor Road. The highway cut through the Negev Desert like a knife and the terrain either side was bare, rocky and hot.
The tanks were supported by armoured infantry in their Achzarit Armoured Personnel Carriers (APCs). Once they entered the city, the crews of the lead APCs dismounted. Tanks hate operating without Infantry support in an urban area.
The reaction of the city’s population was pretty much as expected. First it was the youths and their slingshots, paid by the Israeli government to enact intifada as part of the training exercise. Teargas and skunk spray hosed them down, fired from APCs fitted with water cannons. Skunk spray has been described as smelling like a rotting pig in a sewer. It sticks to skin and clothes and is effective for around three days.
As the armoured column got closer to its objective, destroying a Hamas control centre, they were attacked by the women. Containers of urine were thrown at the infantry. Ball bearings fired from catapults hit their Gal enhanced, all-over body armour, making it dangerous under foot. The Israelis countered these attacks with Long Range Acoustic Devices (LRADs). The LRADs emit a deafening screech that can cause temporary deafness, dizziness and nausea, easy enough to counter by wearing ear defenders.
The Infantry and tanks advanced slowly and cautiously and as they rounded a corner, a woman with a pushchair blocked their path, screaming hatred at them. A TV crew was filming the events as they unfolded, they were part of the city’s training team. The lead tank commander was fully exposed out of his hatch for visibility, and he needed to get this woman to move.
“Driver, the woman with the pushchair.”
“Yeah, seen her?”
“Advance very slowly, nudge her out of the way. Very carefully. She looks demented.”
The tank revved its engine and slowly advanced. The infantry advanced to drag her out of the way, when she did something beyond all comprehension. She pushed the pushchair forward and it was crushed under the Merkava’s front tracks. The woman shrieked at them in demented fury, screaming in Arabic: “My baby, my baby! You fucking Jewish filth have killed her!”
The tank commander climbed out of the turret, his arm up to protect his face from the hail of ball bearings.
“I think we have injured a child. Get the medics up here, now!”
The woman was distraught, kneeling in front of the tank, wailing and hitting her head.
A team of four medics ran up with a folding stretcher, when the Palestinian woman did something so totally unexpected. She reached under a blanket on the crushed pushchair and pulled out an AKM assault rifle. She sprayed the medics in a long burst of fire and tossed a smoke grenade on top of the tank. It hit the commander and lay next to him and he rolled off the turret before it went off.
Afarin Khan waited until the tank tried to nudge her and the pushchair out of the way and reached for the AKM. She fired at the medics, who lay down and simulated casualties and withdrew, still firing under cover from the smoke coming from the tank. The commander remained lying on the hull decking and the rest of the crew bailed out. She fired short bursts and ran into a block of flats to change magazine. She was joined by Zelig, firing out of the doorway.
“You go up to the top floor. I’ll take them from behind when they go past, but it will probably be ENDEX for you,” he said and reloaded.
“Have you got any flash-bangs left?”
“No, all gone. You?”
“Four. Enough to take a few out when they come up for me, but you take a couple to banjo the reinforcements.”
“I loved the pushchair routine. You really are a clever girl.”
She grinned, “But they won’t like it.”
“It’s good training for them. Good luck, Afarin.”
“You too, Zelig.”
While on outside, the buildings of “The City” were finished and decorated, the insides were a totally different story. Bare breezeblock and concrete, the internal walls showing the signs of the many battles that had been fought in these buildings. Afarin climbed the concrete stairs. They had no bannisters or lights and the attacking troops would have to learn to fight in the darkness. Zelig went into a doorway on the second floor and Afarin went up to the fourth floor. She waited on a landing, hunkered in the darkness and readied her flash-bang grenades.
From downstairs there came the sounds of a furious gun battle, interspersed with the deafening explosions of the flash-bangs. She could see the blazes of light from the top floor and then the gunfire diminished and stopped. It was her turn next and she heard them pounding up the stairs. She pulled the pin on top of the first grenade and hurled it down the first flight of steps. It bounced off the wall and went partially down the second flight before exploding.
There was a pause and the assault force reached the landing on the first flight, exploding with a deep boom and brilliant flash. Bodies were scattered on the stairs as the armoured infantry played dead and Afarin retreated into a room off the stairwell to make her final stand. They tossed in flash-bangs and then came through the door firing. She was slumped against a wall, knowing that for her, the exercise was over.
“This is Chanith. Objective clear. Nine casualties, including two insurgents. Request medical attention.”
Afarin groaned and tried to sit up.
“You fucking bitch!” One of the soldiers hissed and drew back his assault rifle to hit her in the face.
“If you fucking hit me with your rifle, I’ll tear your fucking balls off!”
The NCO looked round, “Don’t even think about it, you moron. Right, get them outside. Cable tie both of them.”
She was hooded and cable tied, hands behind back and led outside. She felt someone close to her as they were dragged from the building, and someone grabbed her breasts painfully. Outside, she sensed that Zelig was with her, which made her feel better. Some distance away, they were kicked into a kneeling position.
One of the men guarding them kicked her in the back, extremely hard, “Shut up!”
There was still gunfire coming from other parts of the city, but it was diminishing and soon stopped altogether.
“They got them.” This time no one kicked her and they heard air horns some distance away.
An Israeli officer pulled off her hood and cut their cable ties. He seemed angry with her and Zelig.
“You do realise that this is a training exercise, nobody was killed and for what it’s worth, we’re on the same side,” she told him, massaging her wrists. “The object is to train you and your troops in urban warfare and if you continue to behave like you did today, you will perpetuate the impression the world has of the brutality of the IDF.”
She stood up and helped up Zelig. His cheek was abraded and his nose was bleeding, “You see, this is what I’m talking about. I also don’t like being kicked when I’m on the ground and helpless and no woman should have her tits groped by members of the IDF. I suggest Captain, that you examine long and hard the discipline of your soldiers. This will go in the report we make of today’s events. Give us our weapons now, if you please.”
They walked to the minibus and Afarin smoked a cigarette. Zelig looked at the columns of armoured vehicles and nudged her in a friendly way.
“Do you remember our first training mission in the city? That was four weeks ago.”
“Sure do. The bruises are only just fading,” she said, “To be honest with you, Zelig, I’m heartily sick of this fucking place.”
“And now we could pretty much cause insurrection in our cities,”
“Our police deserve it. Absolute scum that ignores child rape on an industrial scale. Bastards!”
“You don’t like them?”
I loathe them. Here come the rest, and judging by the way he’s limping, Dan got a good kicking”
“Shalom aleichem ,” Zelig said to them.
“Aleichem Shalom,” Efrayim replied and embraced Zelig.
“I take it you upset them, Dan.”
“Fucking reservists!” he said angrily.”
“Afarin got some pretty rough treatment as well, basically indecent assault.”
“Not really,” she said, “Just some opportunistic groping and a kick. I’m sure we’ll get worse.” Her words would be frighteningly prophetic.
The minibus headed east and then north, back to Camp Mitka. They had packed their kit the night before and Afarin was looking forward to her apartment and a making a phone call.
Shalom aleichem – This form of greeting is traditional among the Ashkenazi Jewish communities of Eastern Europe. The appropriate response is “Aleichem Shalom.”
© Blown Periphery 2022