15th of August 2005, in the Gaza Strip.
Two Israeli paratroopers jogged down a dirt road, and protesters rabbled around the bend. A short, thin, but vicious warrior, Lavi walked off the road. He settled down on a flat gray rock and checked his M16. The other paratrooper Ariel stood and stared, with his hollow green eyes, at Lavi.
“Why do you check it so much?” Ariel asked. “M16s they are always working.”
“I have my reasons,” Lavi said.
“Today’s reason? I’m stalling.”
“Why?” Ariel asked.
“Because I don’t want to do this.” Two methodical minutes later, the weapon checked out—it always did. “All the power to you*. It’s in order.”
“Wait,” Ariel said. “Let me check mine.” Lavi guessed that Ariel didn’t want to do this either. The rising sun’s orange light crawled towards the men. It covered a distant olive tree highlighting the green of the leaves and the brown branches, and the sun hung behind the tree, backlighting it.
A few miles down the road, Rabbi Shmurah watched the same sun rise out his empty kitchen’s window. Where is that damn news van? It’s time to pray already, Rabbi Shmurah thought. He walked over to his empty counter, inside his empty home. Flicking on an old orange automatic tea kettle—his lone remaining appliance—he paced the kitchen. The kettle whistled. Headlights blinked out the window, he rushed over, and waved at the white van. Out of his pack, he removed an ornate prayer shawl and tefillin, but he waited to put it on.
A reporter in a dark gray suit exited the van. He stood in the rabbi’s driveway in front of a camera. A frazzled man focused the camera, and counted back from five with his fingers. Once the reporter started reporting, Rabbi Shmurah wrapped himself in his prayer shawl; bound the tefillin to his arm, head, and hand; and started to pray.
“That,” Lavi pointed at the olive tree. “is why I wanted to run instead of wait for the escort.”
“Yes, I understand. I just thought it would be dangerous—this is Gaza.”
“Dangerous? Not today. No Palestinian would touch an I.D.F. soldier today.”
“Yes, why attack us? Better to watch us eat ourselves.” Lavi said. Finished with the M16, Ariel stood up, and they continued down the road. At least this part would be fun, Lavi thought.
The Rabbi finished his prayers. His phone rang. He pulled a purple Nokia out of his pocket.
“Ahllo, oh okay,” The rabbi said positioning himself in the center of the room. “What about here? The camera can see me? Good.” The rabbi’s brother was on the other line. “Ahllo.”
Around the bend the paratroopers passed a flaming dumpster. With each step closer , the mob’s furious cry grew louder.
“Oh, so this is why we are on foot right?” Ariel asked.
“Right.” They were more than a mile away. A child jumped into the road. The child’s yarmulke flapped off his head as he bent down and lifted a rock. The paratroopers soldiered on.
A man in the crowd ran behind the child and grabbed him under the arms. The child dropped the rock. Half a mile away now, the crowd rabbled louder still. A half dozen men stepped in front of the crowd, and they held rifles in their hands. And yet the paratroopers soldiered on. When they closed the gap enough for the crowd to see them well, one of the rifled men pointed at Lavi and shouted.
“Yes, hurry up,” Rabbi Shmurah said. He hung up the phone and tucked it into his pocket. Assaulted by guilt, the Rabbi paced around the room. He walked into the backroom, and the moment he exited the cameras range he began to cry. I don’t want to do this, he thought.
“Is that Lavi?” the shouting man asked. Lavi laughed. They don’t know what to do now. They can’t assault me. I saved so many of their lives, Lavi thought. He rubbed his bullet scarred chest. At least this was good for something.
Slinging their rifles over their shoulders, they stepped aside, and the crowd followed suit. That same child, who moments before brandished a stone at the paratroopers, popped out of his fathers grasp and ran towards the men.
“Lavi!” the boy said. Lavi scooped the boy up into his arms. They spun around together. Lavi placed the child in front of his father.
“Yes Moshe it is good to see you’re doing better. I brought you something.”
“What did you bring me?” The boy asked. Lavi handed the boy a chocolate bar with pop rocks inside it.
“Thanks.” The crowd laughed. They cheered for Lavi as he entered the settlement, and ran towards the rabbi’s house.
Still donning his tefillin, Rabbi Shmurah sat in the middle of his living room. His phone rang—his brother again.
“Lavi?” The rabbi asked. He deflated on the floor. Checkmate. How could I refuse Lavi anything? He ran through bullets to pull my family out of that rubble. Finding nothing better to do—nothing better to say—Rabbi Shmurah chanted the Magilat he read at his synagogue the day before. “I am become vile. Is it nothing to you, all ye that pass by? behold, and see if there be any sorrow like unto my sorrow, which is done unto me.”
Lavi heard the rabbi’s lament as he approached, and he saw the cameraman in front of the house. Lavi’s heart thumped in his chest. Yes, he was angry. The old man set himself up for martyrdom. Oh, how he whined out his chanting! Lavi hated the man. He chose to move here. He chose to build his home on top of another man’s grave. No army for his kids. Instead, I get shot while his son study's at some fancy yeshiva in Svat. Now he blathers on like the world has cheated him, Lavi thought.
Lavi walked past the camera, and he knocked on the door—hard—no answer. He knocked harder—nothing. At least he stopped wailing, Lavi thought.
“Rabbi, it’s Lavi,” Lavi said. “You said I’d always be welcome in your home. Please let me in.”
“The door is unlocked, and their is tea in the kitchen.” The rabbi waved at Lavi as he thundered into the room. Lavi darted up to the Rabbi. “Why are you setting me up? My whole life I’ll have to explain this moment.”
“You are here to take my home,” The rabbi said.
“Your home? You yanked this place out of the Arabs hands. Stop. It doesn’t matter. You owe me! Get up we are leaving.”
“I do owe you, but I can’t just leave.”
“I won’t just leave.”
“You will.” Lavi’s ears rang.
“We are commanded to live here.”
“Don’t tell me you think this place is kosher.” Lavi’s hatred evident in his tone.
“I remember as a kid. The rabbi explained why a stolen lulav is forbidden. Remind me why.”
“Mitzvah habah beavieyra. You cannot fulfill a commandment if it comes from a sin.” The rabbi shook his head no. “I dont care.”
“Don’t move.” Lavi hefted the old man over his shoulder, the rabbi wailed again. The camera followed them to the bus. Now that the rabbi was secured, Lavi radioed the rest of his unit.
“The rabbi is on the bus. Move in. We only have a few hours to clear the settlement before the bulldozers get here.”
*loses something in the translation.