Thursday, May 9, 2002
My close colleague came back into the office on Thursday afternoon, the end of our work week, still in uniform with his M-16 and pistol on him. This was the day that the IDF [Israeli Defense Force] left the Jenin refugee camp to reassemble in the area, returning to the status quo that existed before the Passover Eve Massacre (in which so many at the Park Hotel in Netanyia were murdered by a suicide bomber).
He was called up for emergency reserve duty (they call it an Order-8, or tzav shmonae) and is the officer in charge of the military field infirmary, assigned to the reserve unit that lost nine soldiers in that one incident last week.
I was looking at a battered soul. Unshaven, you could see both relief and shock on his face. Having served on the border (and beyond) for 22 years in the IDF, I immediately recognized his expression. After inquiring as to his own state, the inevitable question arose, "So?"
That was enough to set him in motion. It was obvious that he needed someone on the outside to spill to.
"This was not a slaughter! It was not a massacre," he insisted. The soldiers were hearing the reports of what the press was publicizing. "I saw it with my own two eyes."
"First, we didn''t think we were going into war. We weren''t ready for what we found there. The whole place was one big booby trap with secret tunnels and enough explosives to blow up all of Israel twice. Don''t forget, this is a place (specifically the Jenin Refugee Camp) that not even the Palestinian Authority could go into. This was the undisputed territory of the Islamic Jihad and the Hamas.
"Our guys were getting picked off like sitting ducks. I saw our dead as they were brought back to the infirmary. Each was hit by one bullet to the head or neck. They had sharpshooters at every strategic location possible."We were paying the price for our policy of deliberately not attacking non-fighters in the midst of close conflict. We could have save a lot of our guys had we just used the missiles or bombs of the F-16s to demolish buildings at a distance. We tried all we could to hit only those who were shooting at us.
"When we''d get to a building from which we were being constantly shot at, we''d try returning fire when we could. But they knew the camp to its millimeter, and realized exactly where they could pin us down. We''d use bullhorns to call for anyone in the building to come out before we would raise the level of our response. Again, this was out of concern for innocent lives.
"One time, and I saw it right before my eyes, a couple of families came out. There was a man, a woman, some boys, girls and even babies. Another family of more or less the same makeup also emerged. Now, we''re in our armored vehicles. We couldn''t open the hatches or step out cause every time we tried, we''d be shot in the first second. We called for them to raise their shirts so that we could be sure that they weren''t wearing any explosives. Only the men raised their garments. Boom. Everybody standing there was blown all over the place. They exploded themselves-entire families! It was horrific. It was also obvious that we would be blamed for having slaughtered them.
"Too many soldiers were injured or killed when they tried to enter a house only to find it booby trapped, or see the fighters firing from behind the family who lived in the house. Many died because they wouldn''t fire into innocent civilian shields. When nothing else would end the standoff, a new vehicle, a D-9 (modeled from a Caterpillar construction tractor) was called in to take out the fire.
"A commander I knew went into one of those houses from where there was firing. He found a Kalatch (AK-47 Kalatchnikov automatic rifle) on the table and picked it up. It was booby trapped and exploded. The explosion detonated a grenade on his belt and blew away the lower half of his body."
We have not stopped terror. In many ways, we have actually spilled fuel on their fires. It''s a horrific dilemma. I support and protest for an immediate pull-out from the occupied territories. But most Israelis are still hurting from one terror attack or another. They tell all good Americans, "Go sit and make peace with Bin Laden-11,000 miles away from your closest city. It may take a while. More innocent civilians may die in the meantime. Then, you can tell us how to ''exercise restraint'' [with our enemies] 10 miles away."