Capt. Dan Gordon's day job is a Hollywood screen writer. When war comes to Israel, he becomes a spokesman for the IDF and a bard for life under fire. Here's another of his dispatches from the front lines of Israel's unfolding history.
From whence cometh my help
The woman on the pop music show on army radio in Israel has a sexy voice; Not sexy like she’s trying to vamp you. Sexy like cute, like friendly, like you want to take her to the prom, like you want to share an ice cream cone with her or hold hands in the movies. That kind of sexy. Friendly sexy.. Easy going sexy. Hasn’t got a problem in the world and is ready to go to the beach with you sexy.
She’s just finished announcing a Michael Jackson song as if she had just heard it for the first time, as if that Michael Jackson song is the biggest, brightest, coolest thing in her day. She says it in a way that you’d never know there was a war going on. Now that’s not unusual for Tel Aviv girls because if there’s a war going on in the south or the north, the girl from Tel Aviv, like her tall and tan and young and lovely counterpoint from Ipanema, just goes walking, while everyone else, especially the soldiers fighting the war in the north or the south, just go awww.
But the odd thing is, there are rockets falling on Tel Aviv too and still her voice is cool and calm, friendly, soothing, not rushed, not panicked, just there, tall, tan, young and lovely and friendly and reassuring as she says after the Michael Jackson bit, “And please remember if you’re driving in your car and you hear the air raid siren go off, pull off to the side of the road, turn off the engine and take shelter. Lie flat and cover your head with your arms and stay that way for 10 minutes because just because you heard one explosion doesn’t mean there aren’t more on the way, Ok? Take care of yourselves.”
And then she plays another song, Queen singing “Find Somebody to Love.”
And I think to myself how very, very much I love this country and this people, who refuse to let war put fear into their voices, much less their lives. And as I am experiencing that reverie and wondering what the girl on the radio actually looks like, the air raid siren goes off. I am just entering Ashkelon and per the drill I pull the car off to the side of the road as do all the drivers in front of me. We have 15 seconds to take cover. A religious couple is in front of me, the husband with his arm protectively covering his wife’s head. I can see the rocket, can trace its arc. Interesting war in which almost none of Israel’s soldiers are under fire and almost all of its civilians are.
Suddenly I hear the husband reciting the words of the 121st Psalm. It’s a psalm that is part of the Sabbath service and though Shabbat is over the words seem to be written for right now, this very instance, as the Grad rocket traces its arc over our heads, “I will lift up my eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help?”
And I remember 2012, lying in a ditch by the side of the road with a rocket coming straight toward the small group of people with whom I’ve taken shelter, except I think the rocket is coming directly for me. I think it has Captain Dan Gordon written on the side of it and I am taking the whole thing, in the words of Sonny Corleone, “very personally.” Then suddenly out of nowhere, like Mighty Mouse, an Iron Dome missile swoops down and blows the Grad rocket with Captain Gordon’s name on it to smithereens.
"My help cometh from the Lord, who made heaven and earth. He will not suffer thy foot to be moved, he that keepeth thee will not slumber. Behold he that keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep…The Lord shall preserve thy going out and thy coming in from this time forth and forever more.”
And out loud I find myself saying “amen,” and I also find myself thinking,"That’s another difference between Hamas and us. We build our missiles to defend our women and children and they use their women and children to defend their missiles.”
The rocket passes overhead and after a few minutes the drivers get up from the side of the road, get back in their cars and continue with their day as if nothing had happened and I try to imagine that scene on the 405 in LA or the Long Island Expressway and I love this people, and the Lord who watches over her even more.
I’ve come to Ashkelon to interview Dr. Ron Lobel.
Because his hospital is the nearest to the Gaza border, I ask if he has any Palestinian patients.
“Only from Hebron and Bethlehem, not from Gaza,” he says.
“Oh,” I say, quite reasonably, “After the war you stopped admitting them?” That makes sense to me. Why would you treat the people who are trying to kill you?
“Not at all,” he says, “We would never turn them away. Hamas stopped letting them come for treatment.”
“And before the war?” I ask.
“Before the war on any given day you might find a Palestinian, possibly someone who was trying to infiltrate or plant an I.E.D. [improvised explosive device] who was wounded by one of our soldiers, and in the next bed you might find an Israeli who was wounded by a rocket that one of the first guy’s friends shot off. And the Palestinian might be treated by a Jewish doctor and the Jew might be treated by either an Israeli Arab doctor or a Palestinian resident,” he said.
“You train Palestinian doctors here?!” I ask incredulously. “Yes of course,” he said.
It turns out that when Israel occupied Gaza up until roughly 10 years ago, Dr. Lobel was in charge of their health care system, supervising 5 hospitals, 28 clinics and three birthing centers.
“And do you still maintain relationships with some of the doctors there?” I ask.
He looks at me as if I were a slow witted child, “They’re my friends, “he says simply.
If it weren’t for Hamas, he believes we’d have peace with the Palestinians of Gaza.
“You really believe that? “ I ask. “Absolutely,” he says.
“And has the hospital ever been targeted, ever been hit by Hamas’ rockets?”
He nods his head. “In 2008, a Grad rocket landed 300 meters [yards] from the emergency room. And another landed 4 meters from the delivery room and nursery. Luckily the Iron Dome shot it down.”
“And you still think there can be peace? When they try to hit a hospital?” (Coincidently, while setting their own command and control post underneath THEIR hospital in Gaza City…the hospital the Israelis remodeled for them.)
“Things aren’t always like they seem,” he says.
And we talk about the case of Wafa al Bas. She was a Palestinian girl who had been burned over a good deal of her body when a cooking stove exploded in her home in Gaza. She was brought to Israel for treatment at Soroka Hospital and burn center [in Beersheba].
The doctors saved her life and she went home. A few years later she tried to cross back into Israel, ostensibly for additional surgery on her burns. At the border crossing she was stopped because the guards had received a tip that a female suicide bomber was coming to blow up an Israeli hospital. In fact that’s exactly what Wafa al Bas was intending to do, except at the last minute her handlers told her to hit a more Jewish hospital because there were too many Arabs being treated at Soroka.
When she realized she was caught, she attempted to pull the cord and detonate the 20 pounds of explosives she had on her suicide bomber vest. When the bomb failed to detonate she pulled it again and again, like an inconsolable child. They finally diffused the bomb and she was arrested. The Israeli public thought she was a monster at first. How could they not?! How could a person do that to the very doctors who had saved her life?
Then her story came out. When she had come back from the hospital to her parents’ home in Gaza, her father said she looked like a monster because of her scars. What man would ever want to marry her now? Now she was a burden on the family and so the Hamas dispatchers put the suicide belt on her in her parents’ house. This way she could die an honorable death and not be a burden on her family because she was so ugly. When she tried to detonate the bomb, there were no Israeli soldiers around. The only person she would have killed would have been herself, which is what she ACTUALLY wanted to do. It wasn’t that she wanted to kill Jews. She just wanted to end a life that had become unbearable.
Like the doctor said, things aren’t always what they seem. Of course when she was one of the prisoners exchanged for Gilad Shalit and was sent back to her parents’ house in Gaza, she issued a public statement urging Gazans to take another Shalit (prisoner) every year.
Like the doctor said, things aren’t always as they seem.
I ask the doctor if he minds if I ask a personal question. “Not at all,” he says.
“Do you believe in Hashem (the word religious Jews use for the Almighty).
“I’m not what you would call a religious Jew,” he says, “ but yes of course I believe in Him.”
“And have you ever felt him manifest in your life?”
“ Every hour of every day,” he says.
Then the phone rings. The rocket that missed me earlier that day has seriously wounded a 16-year-old boy with a piece of shrapnel to his head.
The doctor and his team will be doing everything possible to save him, and they will pray, as will I.
Hamas has fired almost a thousand rockets at Israel thus far. A THOUSAND!! And this is the first serious injury.
As I drive back another barrage of rockets slams into the country. As I write this, I count half a dozen exploding not far away. Iron Dome takes out the majority.
Just before I came here I got into a disagreement with a very pleasant, very well-intentioned American woman.
“War is never the answer,” she says.
“It is when people are trying to kill you,” I say. “And then you better be good at it.”
“I’d rather die than kill,” she says with that wonderfully innocent American Midwestern look, which means she’s never had to seriously consider either one.
“My people tried that once,” I say, “It didn’t work out well.”
Later today I’m with some very elite soldiers and in my hand is a Tavor assault rifle, and overhead are Israeli-made drones on their way to take out missile launchers in Gaza as the Iron Dome tags another rocket out of the skies above us.
“I lift up my eyes to the hills, from whence cometh my help? From the Lord who made heaven and earth” and by whose Holy Grace my people can finally defend ourselves, by ourselves, instead of hoping for the kindness of strangers or even friends.