ENLISTED: WEST BANK

By Noah Smith

 

When you step off the plane in Afghanistan, there is no doubt that you are in a foreign place.

It seems different, is different. But when you arrive in Israel, you are not so sure… based on

outward appearances, with all of the spoken English, American brands, and diverse

population, it could very well be Miami or Los Angeles. And therein lies the big problem.

 

Though Israel smacks of America, it is very much not America. It’s like being in an alternate

universe, where all of the rules you grew up with and so many of the things you learned are

suddenly null and void even though, ostensibly, everything looks the same.

While this false sense of comfort might prove to be any mix of annoying, confounding, or

fascinating for a tourist, it could be deadly for the hundreds of young American men and

women who volunteer for the Israeli military every year.

 

Being in combat is dicey enough without the added specter of cultural misunderstandings,

whether among fellow soldiers or with Palestinians. But these volunteers must navigate it all.

To up the ante even more, these soldiers also happen to be operating in one of the oldest,

most bitterly-divided and highly scrutinized places in the world: the West Bank.

 

This military-based, coming of age docuseries, ENLISTED: WEST BANK, will follow

Americans in the Israeli military who chose to enmesh themselves in the heart of the conflict.

Our storytelling, featuring exclusive, unprecedented access, will serve up all of the action,

tension, and uncertainty of a war zone AND the young adult dramas of growing up, seeking

love, and finding one’s place in the world, thousands of miles from home.

 

Only a few months ago, these young men were going to prom. Now, we will see them as they

conduct missions, go on patrols, and ultimately work to protect innocent civilians from

terrorism committed by the shared enemies of the West, like Hezbollah, Hamas, and Islamic

Jihad. In this way, viewers will be able to experience a foreign conflict through the eyes of

empathetic, fun, college-age Americans.

 

Unlike the U.S. military, Israeli combat soldiers go back home every couple weeks, even if

they have no in-country family to go back to. These recesses provides a unique opportunity

for viewers to see the cast in different settings, as our leads are forced to confront “real life”

issues, not just military ones.

 

During the time on base, ENLISTED: WEST BANK will showcase themes and elements akin

to “Generation Kill” but with the searing reality and tone of “Restrepo” and “Battle for Marjah.”

Faced with dangerous missions, the soldiers will be forced to trust one another with their

lives, see past any superficial differences among themselves, and carry out difficult orders.

Biting, dark humor, of surprisingly high quality, will also play a large role, as it does in most

militaries.

 

When the soldiers are off base, the show will assume a change-of-pace feel, as our cast goes

out to party, relax, and try to make their way in a new world. This exceptional duality (or, if you

like, schizophrenia) reflects the reality of Israeli military life, where a soldier can be fighting by

night and back home surfing and eating home-cooked meals by day.

 

For our American soldier in the Israeli military, let’s call him Jon, the show will trace an

emotional journey as powerful as any that can be shown, for the stakes could not be higher.

He is on the roller coaster of his life. And he is very much along for the ride, subject to the

forces well beyond his control.

 

Jon’s path to the Israeli military began after he took a short trip to Israel during college. He fell

in love with the super intense, fun-loving culture of which he got a taste and in which he felt

accepted and, vaguely at home. He also met a girl, one who was more direct, aggressive, and

beautiful than any one he’d met at home. Nothing really happened, but he couldn’t get her out

of his head.

 

Having played football and team sports in high school, he missed that kind of camaraderie

and action, which he did not find in college study groups. Jon also felt cooped up in school

and had a gnawing sense that the world offered more for an athletic, motivated guy his age.

He wanted to learn, and maybe even influence, How Things Work, firsthand.

 

Jon, like most Israeli soldiers, is not religious. But he is idealistic. He embarked on this

adventure in hopes of defending, concretely, his people and their homeland. Israel’s military,

and territory, are tiny compared to the United States. Because of this, Jon thought he could

have a greater impact and see the fruits of his labor more clearly. Crouching in the mud, cold,

and hungry, at 2am, though, he wonders if he was right...

 

During this show, in the midst of this rollercoaster, we will be privy to the ways in which Jon

and his comrades change as young men. Viewers will see potentially life-changing moments

unfold, firsthand, These moments will take place during operations, but also during time off,

when Jon can find love and maybe himself, as a man and as a member of a rambunctious

society.

 

ENLISTED: WEST BANK begins just as Jon’s unit moves into a rough town, like Hebron. Jon

has been in for over a year by this point and was feeling confident, both with Israeli culture

and the military.

 

But Hebron will test that. Perhaps the most explosive city in the West Bank, it is home to the

Cave of the Patriarchs, which Jews, Christians and Muslims all hold to have been purchased

by Abraham. About a 2 hour drive south from Jerusalem, the city was dealt with separately,

and divided, by the Oslo Accords in the 90’s due to the especially fucked up situation on the

ground.

 

Today, it feels like the set of a Western, just before the final showdown. Empty

streets. Sideways glares. The tension is palpable, and for good reason. Some of the worst

Israeli and Palestinian massacres over the past 100 years took place in Hebron. Attacks still

take place weekly.

 

As an Israeli soldier, Jon is a lightning rod for trouble. The Israelis living in Hebron hate him

for representing a state they do not think is sufficiently religious. The Palestinians hate him for

obvious reasons. The foreign activists hate him. The Israeli activists hate him. And he is pretty

sure most of the journalists hate him too. All of the above mentioned groups have various and

deep-seated grievances with one another as well, naturally. And we haven’t even addressed

the battles within the resident Palestinian community (Hamas vs. Fatah vs. Islamic Jihad) and

the resident Jewish community (religious vs. more religious)

 

Adding to the drama, on the military side, many of the soldiers and Palestinian residents in

the West Bank actually know one another on a first name basis. This is not a blind, random

fight for anyone. And because of this clusterfuck nature, many different agendas are in conflict

at once. Things are rarely what they seem in Israel and the Palestinian Territories*.

 

The issues Jon will face are unlike those he has encountered before, because they are

impossible to solve, or at least have been for the past 3,000 years. Essentially, how do you

ameliorate people who don’t believe in your right to be there at all, on both sides?

 

Over the course of the first season, Jon gains a familiarity with the city and its major players,

has deployed on many operations and is faced with the understanding that, on the one hand,

his unit has imparted no lasting change in the security situation overall but, on the other, has

quelled flare ups of violence, prevented terrorist attacks, and probably saved some lives.

Ultimately, we will get to see past the canned stories we have all heard about the West Bank.

 

As the series goes on, the larger political conflict will fade into the background as viewers are

confronted with the concrete, daily challenges and realities facing local Palestinians, Israelis,

and Israeli soldiers, who are all just trying to live their lives under extraordinary

circumstances.

 

Americans have volunteered in foreign conflicts since George Washington advised against it.

These American soldiers continue the tradition. And for their bravery/stubbornness, they will

be tested to a degree they could not have imagined. How will they react during long, cold

nights sitting on a wall? During night raids when the bullets start to fly? At a bunkhouse, on

leave, missing home?

 

Which assumes Jon will have time to consider such questions. At present, the West Bank is

seething. Peace talks have collapsed, conditions are not improving, and Palestinian infighting,

combined with the march of Western nationalist movements, have dashed the prospect of a

peaceful resolution anytime soon. Israel having ISIS, Hezbollah, Al Qaeda, and Hamas on its

borders does not help matters either. War has broken out every 2-3 years since the turn of the

century.

 

Jon knows this. And he walks into the West Bank anyway.

 

 

Endnotes Below.

*  The Palestinian government in the West Bank, the Palestinian Authority (PLO/Fatah), is deeply

unpopular amongst its people, which is why they have not held an election since 2005. If one were held today,

Hamas would win. Hamas already controls Hebron, de facto. The PA maintains power though infusions of

foreign aid and cooperation with the Israeli security forces. The rivalry between the PA and Hamas is arguably

more bitter than the one between either of them and Israel.

One form this balkanization takes is water management, wherein Hebron residents get limited water

supply due to a conflict the city water manger (Hamas) has with his counterpart in the capital city of Ramallah

(PA). Of course, publicly, they each blame it on Israel and then make an effort to show how viciously they fight

against the Israel.

Israel and Lebanon are officially enemy states, but that does not stop its citizens from doing business.

Since there is an Israeli market for hashish, and a Lebanese market for money from hashish, commerce finds a

way! In this case, Israelis will slingshot over the money while the Lebanese will slingshot over the hashish. Yes, it

really works like this.

The 2006 war between the 2 countries began after Israeli soldiers were kidnapped on the border.

Though it has never been proven, some believe the soldiers had been lured out to do a drug deal. After all, they

were caught in an area which was well-known as an exchange point.

Arabs and Jews also come together to steal cars. The biggest racket involves Jews hot-wiring vehicles

in Israel and then trading them off to Arabs and Bedouins just outside of Jerusalem. Then the cars are

transported to Egypt and Jordan.