THE SHORT STRAW: PART ONE
© 2015, Gadi Bossin
P.O. Box 20
Kiryat Bialik, Israel
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. This book contains material protected under International and Federal Copyright Laws and Treaties. Any unauthorized reprint or use of this material is prohibited. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system without express written permission from the author.
THE SHORT STRAW: PART ONE
I’m writing this in the second half of February 2015, not quite 30 years after the events I’m describing took place.
March 11, 1985. Monday morning.
Major S, newly promoted, arrives at the house that is the headquarters of our small IDF unit in the town of Metulla on the Lebanon border.
I’m one of four soldiers assigned to do 30 days of reserve duty overseeing the entry and exit of UN personnel and vehicles into and out of Israel via the Good Fence. Major S, 28, is in charge. He’s in the regular army, no longer a conscript and not a reservist like me and my colleagues.
Three of us are at the house. The fourth member of our team is already at the Good Fence on duty. He’s working the day’s early shift. We’re all family men in our thirties.
I’m 38, the father of two. In civilian life I teach part-time—two courses in Reading Academic English—at Haifa University. With a partner, I also run a 600-pupil afternoon English-language school. We teach in schools and community centers in the Haifa area.
The other three reservists are an accountant, a sales rep and a businessman.
Major S calls us into the tiny front room of the house. We sit around a table.
He says, “Today, one of you will have to go into Lebanon.” And he names a village I’ve never heard of as the destination of the ‘lucky” one who will draw the assignment. “It’s about 12 kilometers inside,” he says.
Then he describes the task at hand.
“We need to accompany two UN military policemen to the village and then back to the Good Fence. The village is UNIFIL headquarters in the area. A truck convoy of soldiers and equipment will be leaving the village and coming to the border. Then the trucks will continue on to Ben Gurion Airport. Whoever it is who goes today will ride in the UN MP jeep in both directions and watch over the loading of the personnel and equipment into the UN trucks.”
At 38, I should not be as naïve as a young soldier is. But I am. Though I’m not keen to be the one chosen for this mission, I tell myself I’m willing to do what Major S asks of me if it falls to me.
Today, in 2015, I can say that I didn’t understand how absolutely ludicrous the assignment was. And it was especially ludicrous and senseless—and DANGEROUS!—most especially in light of the events of the previous 24 hours.
I glance over at the other two reservists. The expressions on their faces tell me neither one of them is any more keen to be the one chosen to go than I am.
Major S sees what I see and says, “Very well. We’ll choose straws to see who goes.”
The day before at ten minutes to two in the afternoon, a loud blast shook the house. We ran outside. We figured it was a land mine or some other kind of explosive device on the road our IDF convoys used when transporting troops into Lebanon.
We ran to a vantage point where we could get a clear view of the road. Less than a kilometer from where we stood, we saw soldiers running back and forth between the roadside and the broken and smoldering vehicles their comrades had been riding in. They were laying out the bodies of the dead and wounded side by side on one side of the road.
Later we would learn the bloody details of the blast and what we were witnessing on that road: A red Chevrolet pickup truck had blown up, its explosives triggered by its suicide bomber driver.
Twelve IDF soldiers were killed in the attack and 14 were wounded.
In Israel the attack on the convoy became known as the Safari Disaster since the trucks in which the Israeli soldiers were riding were called Safari trucks.
The rear part of the truck was covered by camouflage-green canvas and had four benches for the soldiers to sit on. Two benches were along the sides and two were back-to-back in the middle. The canvas partially hid the soldiers from sight, but otherwise offered them no protection.
We draw straws. I get the short one.
It’s important for the reader to know that to this point in my career as a soldier I have served almost exclusively in administrative positions and I have had very limited combat training.
I know how to shoot my M16 rifle and how to use a grenade.
But I have never fired my rifle anywhere other than on the firing range. Nor have I ever thrown a grenade apart from one single time in a very rudimentary three-week basic training course.
And I must confess that when I see that short straw it occurs to me immediately and in a way I can only describe as visceral that if I encounter any force hostile to the IDF—and the events of the day before have made it absolutely clear that there are such forces in the field in Southern Lebanon—then I will find myself in serious peril as a lone IDF soldier, despite my being in a United Nations jeep under the supposed auspices and protection of the two UN MPs.
Major S senses my unease and says, “Well, on second thought. I’ll go.”
“Now that makes sense,” I say to myself. That’s my first reaction to his offer.
And then I realize I cannot allow Major S to go in my place. Fate has chosen me. If something happens to him—I know he has been married for less than two years and is the father of a two-month-old infant—I could never forgive myself.
I say aloud, “No. I’ll go.”
An hour later, I’m at the Good Fence with my gear on.
Major S has told me to keep my ammunition belt and helmet on at all times.
“And keep your hands on your M16.”
I shake hands with the two UN MPs and climb into their jeep.
We drive north and east along narrow roads into what for me is the unknown. I’d been in Lebanon before, but only along the coastal road in a bus, not in this sector but between Rosh Hanikra and Nakura. And we were escorted by heavily armed UN soldiers—French combat troops—in two jeeps.
I haven’t been equipped with a map. I’m entirely in the hands of the UN MPs.
We don’t interact at all other than the handshaking, their tightlipped smiles and just a few words. They are clearly ill at ease and hesitant speaking English. There is nothing more between us.
They are not officers, just regular policemen, and they do not follow any kind of gentlemanly code.
I don’t remember their nationalities. Maybe they were Scandinavians, perhaps a Dane and a Norwegian. But don’t quote me on this. After all these years, I’m just guessing.