Our friend Nathan interviewed a group of Israeli citizen-soldiers and assembled their experiences in Reluctant Warriors,
The book deserves a look by those who might be interested in Israel's army and in the minds of soldiers in a nation which seems to be in a permanently self-protective stance, and in which almost everyone serves.
(Nathan is a child psychiatrist and a psychoanalyst, and is the Wallerstein Research Fellow in Psychoanalysis. He moved from San Francisco to become an Israeli citizen last year. As regular Maggie's readers know, Nathan is the guest author of our Aliyah Diary series.)
This is a selection from his chapter on "Yossi":
Yossi’s elite unit jumps in to protect the Jewish people where others might hestitate. I begin with him so that the reader can feel, in the moment of battle, how difficult is the tension between being a fine soldier and being a fine man. Listen and place yourself in this boy’s post-midnight position.
We have met many times during the Intifada, when he has a free weekend, or recuperating after injuries in action. One of six children, he has a rapid-fire delivery, especially of jokes, and can recite film dialogue by heart in two languages: he does Topol and Marx Brothers. His smile is winning.
This conversation takes place from midnight to three a.m. before he has to return to three-week duty, and just before a national crisis: an Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit, is kidnapped; the army re-enters Gaza, re-enters Lebanon. As I write this, I am worried about Yossi, as he is the type of soldier who will be the first to jump in to save a life. His story tells of courage that Aristotle did not describe.
We meet at midnight, as my schedule did not permit us to meet the one day he was home, and he politely offers to meet with me instead of sleeping his last night at home. He has until six a.m. before returning to base. At three a.m., after three hours walking, I am tired; he offers that he is free until six, but looks at me, and says that perhaps he should get the three hours of sleep. My sense is that he could have continued for the next three hours.
He begins with a question. As is often true, the first question leads to more central, troubling questions, in this case about his rapid, momentary decision to capture a terrorist alive whom they had been sent to kill, putting Yossi and his unit at greater risk. He once told me how upset he was that in order to capture a suspect alive, Yossi has to kill an attacking guard dog in midair; uses a silencer. That week, he returns home with a puppy for his family to raise.
Tonight, he begins tonight with his concern about one his trainees, who has done well until being sent to the field. Now, the fellow finds excuses to get a desk job -- what is demeaningly called a “jobnik” -- so that he can go home every night. Yossi is worried that this fellow will experience this drop-out as a failure, the first of many in his life. Yossi wants to know how to help him. As I listen more, I suggest that this boy is needing to return home nightly because of family problems that he feels obligated to solve. Yossi decides to try to get the army social worker involved and visit the home.
Then we move to another level, one that troubles him.
We had a forty-two hour action without sleep. Very tough for us, for me. Funny that what bothered us most at the end of the tour was who was going to get to shower first, having not changed clothes all this time.
But very difficult after what happened a few weeks before. One of my buddies got grazed by a bullet on the neck, starting spurting blood. We were taught about pressure points, so I punch my fist into his neck where I had been taught.
The helicopter got us and radioed the hospital; they tell me not to release. My fist turns blue, really hurts. When we get to the emergency room, I release after the doctors are ready. Then, blood sprays all over before they get on a pressure bandage. I look at myself, my uniform, my hand, covered with blood, not mine. He’s O.K. now. I have a rare blood type and tell the doctors. They take a donation, leave me feeling like a raisin.
But on this 42-hour action we start with a jump just a meter or so from the helicopter. I’m the second guy to jump out, but the guy who jumps first gets three bullets into his chest. I yank him back and we lift off. There’s a doctor on board. We strip the bullet proof vest off and blood is all over. The vest slows and deflects the bullets slightly, almost enough. One enters his left lung; one is in his sternum, the other breaks a rib and his heart beat, when we restart it, brushes against the bullet. We restart it. The doctor right away puts a breathing tube through his throat. Here (He points to his cricoid.). Then tells me to shock him with the paddles to restart his heart. I say, “I don’t know how!” He just shouts, “Like this!” I do it and I can see the machine showing his heart starting again.
We get to the E.R. and my buddy is alert: shouts at the doctors, “Save the bullets, save the bullets!” I tell him, they’ve got to save his life. After four months of rehab and a desk job, he’s back in our unit. And he has the three bullets mounted in his room at home.
But, we don’t stop there. We are to get to a known terrorist planner; kill him. We set off to the house; he’s is not there. While we are in the house, we get radioed information to find him in another house.
We get to the house. We take out the three guards with silencers. We enter his bedroom. He is sleeping. Next to his wife. This bothers me. We have this sleeping gas for the wife should she wake up. But I can’t kill him. Sleeping next to his wife. I inject him so he stays asleep: he shakes briefly, then goes limp. We roll him out of bed, his wife still sleeping. I carry him on my back downstairs and we are off. Deliver him to Shabak for questioning. I think this is good, since I think that they got a lot of information from him.
(There is a touch of uncertainty in his voice as he talks about not killing this man.)
Yossi continues with how exhausted he and the others were. Talk about how he was changing his mind about a career in the army. Think of medical school. Likes the idea of saving lives, working under pressure, working with a group. He feels a bit uncertain about whether he is good enough. I comment that the very systematic manner in which he trains his men to do a mission, stay alive, fits with the systematic thinking and action as a physician.
But, I ask that we think of his dilemma, his sleepless decision not to kill a known killer. I ask that we think about this as a form of courage, one with an informed heart.