I keep forgetting whether I told this story yet, so just in case, I’ll put it down here.
K. was Elie’s commanding officer – the Mem-Pay (Company Commander – thanks George). During the Gaza War, for the first few days, the soldiers were awake and fighting almost around the clock. Artillery’s role is well documented and was seen as one of the most crucial elements in the success of the war. Casualties on our side, and on the Palestinian side, were decreased because of the important work done by the artillery.
They covered troops going in; they covered troops on the ground; and they covered them as they came in. This is no secret – the Arabs are well aware of how well Israel used its artillery and, by extension, how much more damage could have been done had the army not put a priority on minimizing human casualties.
Elie’s unit worked with almost no break for the first few days. They were exhausted, but they did what they had to do. There was no choice. Life had become unbearable for those living in Israel’s southern region, for our people in Sderot, Beersheva, Ashkelon, Netivot, and so many other places. Cast Lead was a military action that was initiated after Israel was hit by over 120 rockets in a single month.
To stay awake, the soldiers drank coffee. K. drank coffee. And each time, as he was finished sipping and his men were about to fire, he and the others would bend low near the cannon.
The problem was, K. kept putting his coffee cup on a flat surface above his head. The warning would come that the cannons were about to fire; the men would kneel down. The blast is huge. I’ve heard it. I’ve seen it. I’ve felt it. It shakes the ground; shatters the silence and the entire cannon shutters. And K.’s coffee cup would invariable tilt and spill.
And then in the sudden silence that followed the launch, Elie and his men would hear K. curse. His coffee had spilled, yet again, on him. K. would go change his clothes, again; Elie and his soldiers would laugh.
I don’t know if I have described this well enough; I don’t know if you can imagine that in a war, people still need to smile and laugh. There was no joy in the shooting of the cannons, though there was determination.
There was the incredible noise made by the cannons and then there was the voice of K. who once again had put his coffee cup on the side as he performed his job watching where the cannons were aimed and fired. Elie has told me this story so many times, and each time, he laughs at the memory. I hope K. does too.