Company C: An American's Life as a Citizen-Soldier in Israel

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A vivid dispatch from the front lines of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

When American-born Haim Watzman immigrated to Israel, he was drafted into the army and, after eighteen months of compulsory service, assigned to Company C, the reserve infantry unit that would define the next twenty years of his life. From 1984 until 2002, for at least a month a year, Watzman, who had never aspired to military adventure, was a soldier.

Watzman was a ...

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Overview

A vivid dispatch from the front lines of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

When American-born Haim Watzman immigrated to Israel, he was drafted into the army and, after eighteen months of compulsory service, assigned to Company C, the reserve infantry unit that would define the next twenty years of his life. From 1984 until 2002, for at least a month a year, Watzman, who had never aspired to military adventure, was a soldier.

Watzman was a soldier as he adjusted to a new country, married, raised his children, and pursued a career as a writer and translator. At times he defended his adopted country's borders; at other times he patrolled beyond them, or in that gray area, the occupied territories. A religiously observant Jew who opposed Israel's presence in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, he served in uniform in conflicts that he demonstrated against in civilian clothes. Throughout, he developed a deep and abiding bond with the diverse men of Company C—a fellowship that cemented his commitment to reserve service even as he questioned the occupation he was enforcing.

In this engrossing account of the first Intifada, the period of the Oslo Accords, and Israel's reoccupation of the West Bank as lived by citizen-soldiers in the field, Watzman examines our obligations to country, friends, family, and God-and our duty to protect our institutions even as we fight to reform them.

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Editorial Reviews

Michael B. Oren
Although Arabs, ultra-Orthodox Jews and most Jewish women are exempt, the reservists represent a broad swath of Israeli society. They are religious and secular, Likudniks and Laborites, new immigrants and the descendants of Zionist pioneers, gay and straight, factory workers and scientists. They hail from countries as diverse as France and Afghanistan, Zimbabwe and Yemen. Some even come from the United States. One of those Americans, Haim Watzman, has now described his experiences in the IDF reserves in a compellingly written and earnestly rendered memoir, Company C .
— The washington Post
Publishers Weekly
Watzman, a writer and translator, served in the reserve infantry of the Israeli army, one month a year, from 1984 to 2002. On one level this thoughtful and absorbing book is a frank (and often funny) barracks-room memoir, capturing the tedium, terror and grinding discomfort of military life, with a sharp eye (and gifted memory) for details of character and place. The periodic nature of Watzman's service gives the book a serial viewpoint into the tumultuous events of the years from before the rise of the first intifada to the re-occupation of the West Bank, always from a unique front-line perspective. We also come to know the other men in Watzman's unit, representative of Israeli society only in their disparateness. As an observant Jew and patriot who is also vocally opposed to the West Bank and Gaza settlements, Watzman himself defies easy stereotyping, and his depiction of the motivations and opinions of his comrades and countrymen, especially as they shift over time, is likewise uncliched, affectionate but critical. Agent, Simon Lipskar at Writers House. (June 8) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
In his first book, journalist/translator Watzman describes how, as an observant American Jew, he came to adopt Israel as his new home, marry, have children, and pursue a professional career, all the while serving in the reserve infantry of the Israeli army. In other words, after 18 months of compulsory service, he served at least one month a year from 1994 to 2002. One unique aspect of this book is the author's ability to describe seemingly conflicting undertakings and credos as part of a complex whole, for example, defending Israel as a soldier while otherwise demonstrating against the Israeli presence in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. His bold and captivating accounts of the range of contrasting viewpoints that he encounters in the midst of important events such as the first intifada, the period of the Oslo Accords, and Israel's reoccupation of the West Bank force readers to reexamine the idea that fulfilling an obligation to one's country is absolute or that one's country must be immune to reform. While the book reflects important events, it does not provide research-quality documentation. It is instead a memoir and as such presents one man's opinion. Strongly recommended for public libraries and academic libraries that have broad social science or humanities programs.-Ethan Pullman, Univ. of Pittsburgh Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A nuanced view of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict by a former foot soldier in the long war. Now an editor, journalist and translator, Watzman grew up in suburban Washington, acquiring a strong interest in Jewish identity as a bookish adolescent "so physically inept that any team forced to take him in gym class got two extra players as compensation." Stunned by the UN resolution of 1975 equating Zionism and racism, he determined to learn more about the Palestinian conflict, and he found Israel wanting-but, he adds, did not join other left-leaning intellectuals in subjecting Israel to higher standards of moral behavior than other nations and then concluding, "when it fails the test . . . that the Jewish state ought not exist at all." Enlisting in the Israeli army, Watzman took his place in Company C, an infantry unit descended from the storied Jerusalem Brigade; his narrative recounts two decades' service as a frontline soldier and reservist, some of it under harrowing circumstances that surely toughened him, though he gamely admits that he still can't throw a grenade far. His fellow soldiers, he notes, were religious or nonreligious in quite various degrees; because he was observant, some of his comrades took him as ultranationalist, though he emerges from the trials by fire as ever more willing to seek a peaceful solution, ever more tired of bloodshed. Though many in Company C opposed the Oslo peace process, he urged a different view: "If we on the left could demonstrate that the Palestinians were sincere and reliable partners in peace, we could neutralize some of the opposition to accommodation." Even though committed to looking for peaceful solutions, Watzman argues the need for hisfellow citizen-soldiers to do their duty to country and God, "if for no other reason than it gives you the right to argue with Him and with those who claim to know exactly what He wants."An Israeli version of Anthony Swofford's Jarhead (2004), both hard-nosed and thoughtful-and most illuminating.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780374530853
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
  • Publication date: 5/29/2007
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Pages: 400
  • Product dimensions: 5.83 (w) x 8.27 (h) x 0.88 (d)

Meet the Author

Haim Watzman is a translator and journalist who lives in Jerusalem with his wife and four children. This is his first book.

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