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First Scene – On the Road to Ein Beit Ilma

The reconnaissance jeep moves on the road, trying to maneuver between forgotten ‘ninjas’ [spikes scattered on roads to puncture tires of military vehicles] from last night, and plain old potholes. Across the road, on the electric line hanging in lazy negligence, so common to the Occupied Territories, waved in the early spring breeze a Palestinian flag. Underneath, the regiment commander’s jeep was already waiting, with the chubby regiment commander himself spread-eagled on the hood, enjoying the sun. “Are you from the new battalion? You arrived only yesterday, right? Who’s the patrol commander? You? Catch a local and ask him to burn – I emphasize, burn! The flag”, said the regiment commander to me. “Just take his ID card, and when I’m back, I don’t want to see that flag again.” The regiment commander’s jeep drove east to the outskirts of the city, and left us, three reserve soldiers, at the start of a mission…

It wasn’t hard to ‘catch’ a local and his friend, who after about an hour of pondering how to take off the flag without risking their lives, found a long wooden pole and whisked the flag away. “Burn it”, I commanded, but they ignored me. “You heard me? Burn it!” Quickly the flag was given to me. “Would you burn the Israeli flag?” One of the asked me in Hebrew, and I, embarrassed, remained there with what used to be a Palestinian flag. Without words and with a great shame, I gave them back their ID cards and we continued on our way.

We met the regiment commander in his jeep at the center of Nablus, near the Clock Square. “Sir – mission accomplished”, I quipped, “and here’s the proof” – the rag that once was a flag was delivered to the regiment commander’s shocked hands. On the same evening I was told that I’m being removed from my role as patrol commander for showing “disrespect” to the Nablus regiment commander.

Second Scene – El-Itihad Hospital, Nablus

“Anyone knows where El-Itihad hospital is?” Avner the company commander entered the reconnaissance platoon’s tent. We didn’t exactly answer. “Never mind”, said Avner, “You must get there right away with the [military] doctor. We’ve received reports about a gunshot-wounded young man who arrived there, and he might be wanted.”

We descended from our camp overlooking the town, and crossed this town full of horrors. It was early evening and we honked wildly to scare all vehicles off our way. At Jebel Shimali neighborhood on the slopes of Mount Eival, we were greeted with showers of stones and bottles. The large military escort entered the hospital compound with the doctor after a short negotiation. I, wearing a helmet and holding a gun, think about other sick visits at other times and places.

It is the most absolute contradiction – a hospital, the humane antithesis to our guns, helmets and flak jackets (worn in case some patient attacks us). The miserable supper served to the patients afterwards, the Palestinian doctor wearing a nozzle, the wounded man found and interrogated in his bloody bed – only so that we could learn that he was shot by settlers passing through the town, the amazing green eyes of a nurse with flowing black hair, who looked at us with burning hate. I feel an awesome nausea. Unable to hold it back, I throw up and cry outside the hospital walls. During the remainder of this service, each time I looked through the observation binoculars at the slopes of Mount Eival and saw the hospital’s neon lights, I felt a shudder down my spine.

Two days after this visit, our comrade Benny Meissner R.I.P. was killed in the Nablus Qasbah.


Avi Blum