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Monday, November 26, 2007

The pediatric cardiologist combat pilot

This is an "only in Israel" story of "Yuval," a pediatric cardiologist by day and a combat helicopter pilot by night. There's very little chance of any of the children he's treating who are from Gaza or Judea and Samaria growing up without hating Jews - they're brainwashed to that with their mother's milk. But the way he treats these kids proves yet again that we are different from them. I'm just highlighting a few things for you. You simply have to read the whole thing.
The 2-year-old's flawed heart beat backward, pumping blue blood to his lips and inking rings around his eyes.

Ahmad edged across his hospital bed, toward his mother, Nasima Abu Hamed. Nasima, a Palestinian from Gaza, had brought Ahmad to Israel for an operation. She moved uneasily through hospital halls decked with Israeli flags -- but the Jewish doctors could save her son.

A pediatrician named Yuval walked in wearing a white coat. Nasima smiled. Yuval high-fived Ahmad, who was wearing toddler-size army fatigues. Yuval said in Arabic, "How's he doing?"

Nasima shrugged and asked, "When is the surgery?"

Nasima was eager to return to Gaza. There was trouble at home, clashes with Israeli soldiers. Fear had kept her family up all night, the chop of hostile helicopters. Two years ago, a missile fired from a helicopter had killed two cousins. If Nasima ever met an Israeli pilot, "I would faint and die from fear."

Yuval patted Ahmad on the head. The surgery would be soon. Later, Nasima called Yuval "our savior of the children."

Yuval is a savior of children. He is also an attack helicopter pilot. It was Yuval in his Cobra -- though Nasima didn't know it -- hovering over her town, as Israeli troops battled armed Palestinians. By day, Yuval works as a pediatrician. By night, he fires missiles for the air force.

One of Yuval's supervisors, physician Sion Houri, sees no contradiction between Yuval's two jobs. "There's reality A; there's reality B. It's not a dichotomy -- it's us," said Houri. "It's our life as Israelis."


Yuval didn't hear his mother-in-law because he was running his daughter's bath. Nitzan said, "Look, our situation is intolerable."

"Situation" is Israeli shorthand for the country's relationship with Arabs [The Hebrew word for "situation" is "matzav." That's where this blog got its name. CiJ]. It wasn't always intolerable, Yuval said. He grew up on a farm, where on Saturdays at 7:30 a.m., his father revved up the tractor. All day, Yuval picked oranges with Palestinians from Gaza. For lunch, Yuval brought bread and cheese; Palestinians boiled Arabic coffee. They became, Yuval thought, friends.

"Now it seems like ancient history," Yuval said, splashing his daughter's curls, so immersed in memories he didn't notice she had her socks on in the tub.

Yuval's oldest son was born in the 1990s, after the Oslo accords. He dreamed that his son wouldn't be drafted. Then, in 2000, the second Palestinian intifada erupted. Suicide bombers blew up Israeli discos and cafes. Israelis responded with force. Palestinians from Gaza were banned, including the men who labored with Yuval. Yuval flew targeted assassination missions, killing some 15 intifada members, he said. After a strike, Yuval said, he would emerge from his cockpit successful, yet feeling bad, his hair wet with sweat, his neck reddened with tension.

Some pilots quit. They criticized the military. Yuval called them "unforgivable." As he snapped pink pajamas on his daughter, Yuval said, "If you think you're more moral, stay in and fight the battle the way you think it should be fought."


By the time Yuval reached his helicopter, four wire-guided missiles had been loaded. The crows roosting on the rotor blades had flown. Yuval strapped on his helmet and plugged into the cockpit radio. He recalled hearing:

"Your mission is to attack a group of terrorists. They launched a Qassam rocket at Israel and they're about to launch again."

In the past four months, the army says, more than 1,000 rockets and shells have been launched against Israel. On this night, the army said, four men from Islamic Jihad were attacking. Yuval entered the coordinates -- northeast Gaza, four miles from the Israeli town of Sderot -- into his electronic map.

The radio said: "All four are approved for targeting."

Yuval's heart, already beating fast, began to pound, he recalled. Usually, Yuval fired warning shots, or destroyed the launchers. Now Yuval and his wingman were supposed to take out a whole squad, he said. Kill four men, or be a failure.

"Ready for takeoff," Yuval said. It had been 12 minutes, almost 13, since the sirens had woken him. As the light of the helicopter lifted through the humid air, it looked to Yuval like he was rising inside a pitcher of milk.

The flight to Gaza took five minutes. Sometimes when targeting a Palestinian, Yuval flew for hours without firing. Once, Yuval circled a building every day for a month -- in his helicopter with the white, open-jawed snake painted on the side -- waiting until civilians cleared. One day, a boy sat on the roof. Another day, the target's secretary walked into his office. Finally, the Palestinian was alone. One, two, three missiles killed him.

On this night over Gaza though, there could be no delays. Yuval pictured an Israeli bedroom, exploding. He approached the launch zone tense and tenser, leaning toward the screen of his heat-sensitive targeting system. The rocket squad had crept into an orchard near a house. Yuval adjusted the contrast knobs, trying to coax four figures from the shadows, he recalled. Trees were gray. A house was white. The men were black hot.

"It's a terrible thought," Yuval said later, but it had occurred to him many times: The children of the Palestinians he had picked oranges with in his father's orchard were now launching rockets. "I'm sure I know some of them. You can't recognize them from the air."

All Yuval could see now were small, dark movements. Two figures behind a tree. A person crouching.

"This is it," Yuval recalled thinking. Yuval placed his cross in the middle of a thin, black figure. "I'm looking at someone whose role in life is to kill, and I have to stop him," he thought. "Now, now, now." Yuval's adrenaline surged.

His thumb pressed the red button hard. Yuval held his breath, hoping that "nothing comes into the cross, like another person."

But instead of turning the Palestinian into a black-hot burst, the missile thudded into the sand. His ammunition had malfunctioned, a dud. "No!" Yuval recalled thinking. He fired again. "Good hit," said ground troops, spotting for him. But by then, the two remaining rocket squad members had crawled close to the house.

Yuval had to decide: fly away and spare the civilians or fire again and fulfill his mission?

"Not good," Yuval said to his wingman, as they turned back.

After he landed, he tiptoed into his house and lay next to his wife. It was 5:30 a.m. Tamar rolled over: "Did you fly?"

Yuval said bitterly, "No, I went out with my buddies."

He lay there, he later recalled, so wrung out that he felt like he'd lost 20 pounds. He thought: "I have to wake up in two hours and go to the hospital."

Like I said, read the whole thing.

I'm not 100% sure, but for those who are interested, I believe that "Yuval" works in this program. There are enough hints in the article and the hospital where this program is located is in the right part of the country to be close to that air base.


At 3:14 AM, Blogger Daniel434 said...

Thank you for sharing this, Carl. Going to print it out and share it with my family. I feel as if I caught a glimpse of what it would be like to be in the shoes of Yuval.

At 6:16 AM, Blogger Yehudi said...

May G-d bless him and his family. It is because of men like him that Israel has remained not only free, but has also been an example of human rights, (regardless of what the world media reports and spins.)
Great post!


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