on June 15, 2005
Born in America, Haim Watzman immigrated to Israel. Once a citizen of Israel he was drafted into the Israeli Army. After eighteen months of active duty he spent the years from 1984 to 2002 as a reservist serving one month a year on active duty with Company C.
An excellent writer, Mr. Watzman writes of the history of that time from the view of a low ranking soldier. He observed from a low ranking infantrymans point of view the Oslo Accords, Israel's reoccupation of the West Bank, and broadened this to seeing how the rest of the world viewed these same events. At the same time, he has the ability to examine our oblications and our duty to country from both the view of the solfier and the outsider.
Above all else, what comes through is the small unit comradery. Soldiers don't fight for home, mother and country. They fight so as to not let down their fellow soldiers.
At the same time literate, sensitive and giving a military view, this is quite a book.
on June 12, 2005
I found this book intriguing. It covers the years 1984 to 2002, during which time the author served as a part-time soldier. And, of course, there was plenty of violence in the region during that time.
Watzman did not like the idea of Israel's presence in the disputed West Bank, a region which has an overall Arab majority. Nor did he like the fact that Jews often justified Israel's presence there on the basis of religion, not for practical reasons, or on the basis of justice or human rights. And while I disagree with that politically, he's the Israeli, not I.
Still, I found it interesting to see what Watzman thought about the idea of refusing to obey illegal orders. Clearly, one can be given orders that need to be disobeyed for moral reasons. But disobedience is risky and it lets down one's comrades (by making everyone less trustworthy). He was lucky: he never got an order that, by being out of line, put him to that test. But that may not be true of everyone. As the author reminds us, it certainly is not true of Arabs who have received orders to murder Israeli civilians at random, as suicide bombers. And Watzman is confident that he would disobey such an order, whether he were a Jew, an Arab, or anyone else.
When violence broke out in September, 2000, much of the world's media refused to admit that Arabs were responsible for it. Was that a triumph of Arab propaganda, or of media bias? Maybe. But it was not a total triumph. After all, the morale of Israel's soldiers could have been a serious issue. However, that morale was sky-high. Watzman explains why. Israelis across the political spectrum had no doubts about who the bad guys were. Arafat had overplayed his hand. Saying that no Jewish temple ever stood on the Temple Mount sure was fun. But it was the icing on the cake for those who had seen Arafat turn down very significant proposed Israeli territorial concessions. Arab demands to destroy Israel with violence and the "return" of Arab "refugees" were also unambiguous. Watzman's company was united. Religious issues were secondary compared to the need for defend the citizenry. All agreed that they had to fight back.
I recommend this book.
on February 19, 2006
I loved Anthony Swofford's Gulf War memoir, Jarhead, but with no disrespect to its author or to Kirkus Reviews which calls it "an Israeli Jarhead", Company C offers a far richer reading experience. American-born Watzman served for almost 20 years in the Israeli military, starting with the regular army in 1982, moving to the reserves in '84. This period covers a broad swath of modern Israeli history, and Watzman brilliantly demnstrates how he was able (overcoming personal conflicts) to mix his political views -- anti-settlements -- with his soldierly duties, which often required defending settlers and unapologetically executing missions to which he was opposed in principle. His company C contained people from across the full spectrum of Israeli politics (die-hard expansionists to socialistic peaceniks to religious zealots). Watzman showed exceptional dedication in doggedly reporting for duty year after year into middle age, leaving his work and wife and 4 kids every year to report for front-line duty, when so many of his peers were easily managing to escape reservist service. Even after an illness left him permanently disabled and almost crippled and he'd passed his 40th birthday (ancient for a footsoldier), Watzman insisted on doing battle for his adopted country. He is a true hero and patriot and a wonderfully entertaining writer.
One reason this book so deeply impressed me is that I know something about the realities which Watzman writes about. I also served for years, though not as many as he, in the reserves of the Israeli Army. However my service was not a level comparable to Watzman's, and it was especially interesting for me to learn and read about what service at the 'next level' might be.
I also was impressed by 'factual accuracy' of the work. Watzman describes himself as a runner, and as a soldier as someone who is 'consistent'. It seems to me that he is also like this as a writer , consistent and reliable.
In the course of describing his fifteen years of reserve duty Watzman gives the picture of a typical Israeli Army reserve unit. Israel is a country in which there are immigrants from over eighty different countries, and in which there is an enormous diversity in backgrounds, and outlooks.His depiction of his own relation to the other long- time regulars of the unit, who become his friends is one of the best parts of the book. Watzman's loyalty to them and to the company he serves, and to Israel itself are another distinguishing feature of the work, another point, which to my mind makes the work so admirable.
One of the major themes of the work is Watzman's moral dilemnas as he is called upon to serve in areas he does not believe Israel should hold on to. He guards in Tel Romeida in Hebron , and serves in Jenin , and in the Arab village of Beni Haim. He tests his own belief and practice, against the practical realities and has the guts to know when he is wrong. For instance he initially believes the best way to treat the Arab villagers is to leave them completely to themselves, not interfere with them. But then he discovers that they take this as weakness, and violence is the result. He comes to understand a policy of firmly making it clear who is in charge leads to a better situation all around, with fewer injuries to the villagers. Nonetheless he remains a decent moral human being throughout . And he indicates not by declaration but through tens of examples that the Israeli Army is by and large made up of decent people whose aim is to defend their own homes and people, and not do wanton injury to their enemies.
Watzman shows how the reserve soldiers he is serving with are truly volunteers. They could get out of their duty if they wished. He is a particularly persistent faithful soldier, returning to his unit even when offered ways out. He gives us many interesting dialogues between the soldiers, including political ones. What I found especially impressive in him was his resistance to cliches and slogans and his ability to look at the complexity of the factual reality, the true situation on the ground, even when it did not fit his own ideal conception.
This is at times a distressing and difficult book but it is ultimately an inspiring one.
on July 26, 2007
COMPANY C: AN AMERICA'S LIFE AS A CITIZEN-SOLDIER IN ISRAEL tells of an American-born immigrant to Israel who was drafted into the army and assigned to the reserve infantry which would be his world for his next twenty years, from 1984 until 2002. His soldier experience in Israel provides readers with unique insights into not only Israel's army's structure and experience, but into Israeli issues and culture. It's a fine addition for any collection serious about not just world military experience, but Israeli society as a whole.
Diane C. Donovan
Watzman does probably the best job that can be done of describing, with movie-like realism, what it means to be Israeli and serve in the military reserves. I wonder if any American realizes what they're reading--it's so far out of their experience, even these days when American reservists are serving in Iraq. It's different. The closest parallel in America is the Minutemen of New England where I grew up, but over 200 years ago.
The story also succeeds in conveying something which both news and documentary rarely touch: the on-the-ground consequences of political and economic, as well as military, decisions. A budget cut here, a policy waffle there, and we all say "tsk, tsk" and go to sleep at night. If you're in the Israeli reserves, you don't sleep, and maybe you don't eat, or you freeze, or risk your or your friends' lives unnecessarily. All of us who live in democracies and don't fight should think twice before they express this or that opinion without considering the consequences.
Speaking of politics, then, careful readers will fall into two categories. Left-wing readers will be proud of Watzman's well-intentioned stances based on principle, but won't notice the consistent omission of large parts of recent centuries' world history that should bear on his decision-making. Right-wing readers will simply boggle at how someone could give so much to his country, have so many Arabs try to kill him and his family, and yet remain unshaken in his belief in Arab goodwill.
All in all, Watzman does us a service, and gives us a gift, by telling his story, and that of his comrades, his family, and his (our) country.
I just would have hoped that he ended up with, and thus raised for his readers, more questions, rather than answers.
on January 3, 2006
The author is not a famous military hero or politician. He is an everyman sort of. An American who emigrated to Israel, has lived there for 20+ years going through what an average person might go through who gets drafted into the Israeli army and after his initial stint serves in the reserves until he reaches the mandatory retirement age (40 ?) for people like him in the reserves. It is a well written and interesting peek into what an average person might expect to experience in the Israeli army and an insight into real life in Israel.
The author is good at explaining how things related to this work in Israel and I found this book both interesting and informative.
on July 18, 2015
Great book! 1 of 3 I read that were 1st person accounts of service in the IDF. Illuminating account of the influence of reserve service on the lives of Israelis. Nuanced discussion by a thoughtful and insightful man about serving in the IDF while not always agreeing with government policies and about the realities of trying to reach out to Palestinians.
on May 31, 2006
Read this book to learn about what's happening on the ground in Israel from the point of view of a working family man. Perhaps unintentionally, Watzman shows how the endless war is grinding down the average Israeli, how hopelessness has infiltrated every aspect of Israeli society, how social institutions are breaking down and how a zealous and extremist minority exercises a hugely disproportionate amount of power over the beleaguered majority. And this with billions of dollars of aid annually from the United States, turning Israel into a dollar junkie. The most moving parts of the book show the constant dilemma of working-class Israeli men as they struggle to make a living while fulfilling their duty, a duty many of them now do not want to have.
Watzman's politics are sober and his morals are admirable, yet he consistently finds arguments to sabotage both. He bases these arguments on notions of loyalty to his comrades--loyalty which is no doubt real--but it puts into question just serious is his political and moral opposition to the occupation of Palestinian territories.