For many Israelis, the Presidential election in America had a special urgency because of the increasing nuclear threat from Iran, and the hope that Romney would take a more militant stance than Obama. I wrote a short story on the tragedy of looking to America for our salvation, which appears in my award-winner collection of short stories, “Days of Mashiach” which was translated and published in France this year by a non-Jewish publisher, with reviewers comparing me to Voltaire and the famous fable writer, Jean de la Fontaine. Big deal. Anyway, enjoy the story, and for readers who value true Jewish literature, I invite you to check out some of my other books at Amazon.
ORDERS ARE ORDERS
By Tzvi Fishman
For the third time that day, Izzy was looking through the snapshots his wife had sent him when a rock richocheted off the guard tower. Outside in the dimming twilight, he couldn’t see a thing. It wasn’t the first time that a rock had hit the tower during his three months on the isolated Samaria hilltop. Arab kids had nothing better to do than throw rocks at Jewish soldiers. To be on the safe side, the young Israeli tightened the strap of his helmet. Orders were orders. And in the army, safety came first.
His gaze turned back to the pictures. How happy his son looked at his first birthday party, as if he understood its significance. Izzy had asked for a special leave to attend the celebration, but since he had only one week remaining in his Hesder army service, the request had been denied.
“Pang!” “Pang!” “Pang!”
Smashing against the metal guard tower, the rocks sounded like bullets. Down below, at the crest of the hill, on the other side of the sheep pen, a group of dark figures had gathered. Izzy stuck his rifle out the window in warning. Just to be sure, he called his two buddies, who were out patrolling the area in a jeep. Some people thought the settlers were irresponsible for staying put on remote hilltops like these during the Intifada, but Izzy didn’t agree. Israel was the land of the Jews, and a Jew had the right to live wherever he chose. It was the job of the government and the army to protect its citizens, whether they lived in Netanya or Hevron.
To his way of thinking, the situation was absolutely absurd. So what if a Jew wanted to live in a cabin on a desolate hill in the heartland of biblicalIsrael. Why should the whole world make such a fuss over it? Why should it bother foreign presidents and kings? Didn’t they have better things to worry about than what a handful of Jews were doing on the other side of the globe?
The twenty-one year old soldier tried his best not to think about it too much. Instead, he studied Gemara whenever he could. He spoke to his wife every day. In a week, he’d be finished with being away in the army, and he could get down to being a father to his one-year old boy.
When a brick smashed through the thick plastic pane of the window, Izzy instinctively ducked. Down on the hillside, a mob of Arabs was advancing his way. Across the dirt road, on the roof of the small wooden cabin, an Arab youth was hauling down the Israeli flag. As luck would have it, the settler who lived on the one-man yishuv was off at a wedding. Besides the barking dog, Izzy was the only defender on the remote, windswept givah.
Figuring he may need some back-up, he phoned his friends in the jeep, but they were being stoned too.
“We’re on our way,” they told him.
Rocks pounding the guard tower reverberated like popcorn popping in a microwave oven. Izzy fired off a few shots in the air to warn off the attackers, but the Arabs continued to advance on the tower. Like the good soldier he was, he wouldn’t fire at them until he received a direct order. His rabbis had taught him that the government of Israelwas holy, the Israeli army was holy, and so was its chain of command. Calling his Mem-kaf, he described the situation and requested permission to shoot.
“Hold on,” the young voice said. “I’ve got to check with the Mem-mem.”
The Mem-mem wasn’t certain. The truth is, he wasn’t much older than his soldiers, and the orders to shoot weren’t clear. With sensitive peace negotiations in progress, and a quasi cease fire in effect, he didn’t want to be the one to blow the Middle East situation sky high.
“Tell him to hold off until I get word from the Mem-peh,” he told the Mem-men.
The Mem-peh said he would call the Magad. After ten minutes of busy signals and crossed connections, the Magad was put on the phone.
“Why should I stick my neck out on this one?” he thought. “It’s the Machat’s headache, not mine.”
“Affirmative. I understand the situation,” the busy Machat said. “I’ll speak to the Mefaked HaUgdah and get back to you on the double.”
“Tov, tov,” Mefaked HaUgdah said with a sigh. As far as he was concerned, he didn’t know why the army had to babysit every troublemaker who wanted to live on a mountaintop in the West Bank. But since the rules about opening fire were reissued every week, depending if negotiations were stalled or progressing, he figured he had better forward the call to the Aluf HaPekud.
The Aluf HaPeku didn’t have an answer. He wasn’t in a hurry to make headlines. If he messed up, he’d catch all the blame. Besides, he was an army man, not a politician. So he decided to call the Ramat-kal.
The army’s Chief Officer wasn’t about to put his future career on the line when cameras from all over the world were focused on Tzahal. But since a soldier was in danger, he got through to the Defense Minister as fast as he could.
“I’ve got a soldier being bombarded by stones on a hilltop near Shechem. Can I give him a green light to shoot?”
“What are you asking me for?” the Defense Minister answered. “Call the Prime Minister.”
“You call him, that’s your job.”
With a deep sigh, the Defense Minister called the man whom the nation had elected to bring security to the land.
The Israeli Prime Minister took a moment to think. This wasn’t a time for gut reactions. He had to keep the whole complicated picture in mind.
“Get me the President,” he said to his aide.
“Our President, sir?” the aide asked.
“No, not our President. The President of the United States.”
The President of the United States wasn’t in the Oval Office. He wasn’t in the White House. He was on a two day vacation, playing golf.
“Tell him to wait,” the President said as he lined up a putt. Biting his lip, he eyed the hole and took a few practice swings. Then, concentrating on the flag, he swung the putter forward and watched as the tiny white ball streaked over the Florida green. The ball curved along a slight slope and headed straight for the hole.
“Get in there, baby!” the President shouted. But the ball hit the rim of the cup and bounced over the hole, coming to a stop a few golf clubs away.
“Damn!” the President swore, shaking his head.
“The Israeli Prime Minister,” his aide said, holding the phone out.
“Yeah, yeah, in a minute,” the President answered, striding over to his ball. Once again, he lined up the putt. This time, the curve broke in the other direction. Focusing between the cup and the ball, he gave the putter a flick. Once again, the ball hit the lip and bounced out, coming to rest only inches away.
“Damn it!” the President moaned.
With his golf cap, he wiped the sweat off his brow. After a few sips of cold water he looked around for his aide, who was standing at his side with the telephone.
“Hello, Mr. President, shalom,”Israel’s Prime Minister said.
“Yeah, shalom,” the President answered.
“How are you, sir?” the Prime Minister asked.
“I’m on vacation,” the President answered.
“Yes, sir, I know, sir. I’m sorry to bother you, but I have a soldier under attack and I want to know if he can open fire.”
“Open fire? In the middle of peace negotiations? Are you people nuts?”
“We are trying our best, Mr. President,” the Prime Minister said.
“What’s the matter with tear gas?” the President asked.
“The wind blows it away.”
“Then use rubber bullets.”
“No one is afraid of rubber bullets these days.”
“Then start making concessions. On both sides. With a little flexibility, we can wrap this thing up.”
“With your help, Mr. President, I am sure that we will.”
Sweating, the Prime Minister set down the phone. Immediately, he had the Defense Minister back on the line. “The orders stay the same,” he told him.
“The same?” the Defense Minister asked in an uncertain tone.
“That’s right. The same!” the Prime Minister barked.
“Sorry for the question, Dov, but exactly what does that mean? You know as well as I do that the orders change every week.”
“They don’t change every week,” the Israeli leader fumed. “The government’s policy is clear. Orders are orders. A soldier is not to open fire unless his life is clearly at stake.”
“Yes, sir,” the Defense Minister answered. Even before he hung up the phone, he gave the command to call the Ramat-Kal.
The Ramat-Kal called the Aluf HaPekud. The Aluf HaPekud called the Mefaked HaUgdah. The Mefaked HaUgdah called the Machat. The Machat called the Magad. The Magad called the Mem-peh. The Mem-peh called the Mem-mem. The Mem-men called the Mem-kaf.
Without further hesitation, the Mem-kaf rang up the guard tower.
“Izzy, do you hear me?” the Mem-kaf yelled over the wire. “Izzy are you there? Do you hear me, Izzy? Izzy, are you there? Do you hear me? Izzy, are you there?”
About the Author: Tzvi Fishman was awarded the Israel Ministry of Education Prize for Creativity and Jewish Culture for his novel "Tevye in the Promised Land." A wide selection of his books are available at Amazon. The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not represent the views of The Jewish Press
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