A Cow (Part 2)

So, the cow.

Chaim told us a story. It touches me. I can’t explain why. I can see it in my mind. I can feel the soldier’s fear, perhaps his embarrassment. I can imagine it all, step by step.

On the base where Chaim was stationed a while back; the soldiers are trained to do patrols, to guard the perimeter. At some point back, there’d been an attack on the base. Nothing is left to chance. Lights flood the perimeters, guard posts every so often.

A soldier on his first night patrol is stationed at one outpost. That afternoon, the large search lights went out. No one has changed it. He’s got to stay there in the dark and watch. No matter what, he must not leave it. In the distance, he sees an object approaching. Too big to be a cat, a dog. This is real, he thinks.

He radios to base. They can hear him, but for some technical reason, he can’t hear them. He’s out there, alone, with no lights, no backup. This could be considered a nightmare. His first night patrol and already something happens. Something is approaching the base. Someone? A terrorist? Who would be out there in the dark slowly approaching a military base? It looks, perhaps, like a man, bending low as he slowly approaches the base. Not rushing forward, but steadily moving closer and closer.

The soldier has been trained. He knows what to do. He has a gun. Even if he doesn’t have backup. Even if he can’t reach base to speak to a commander and report what is happening, he knows what he has to do. He shouts out a warning. It keeps coming forward. He calls out in Arabic and in Hebrew as he has been taught. Still, it keeps coming.

He loads his gun, making a lot of noise. This is a warning. Stop. Still no answer from base. He is armed, and still it comes. He shoots in the air. Nothing.

And with no other option, the soldier shoots at the approaching object. A direct hit, as he has been taught. Only, as it makes a sound and falls dead, the soldier realizes he has shot and killed a cow. The cow was walking straight at him and so he couldn’t see its profile in the darkness – just some large, looming object that refused to stop on command.

It isn’t funny, is it? But I can see that soldier in my mind. I can feel the emotions – not terror, but realization that he has finally come to the test. Can he use the skills he has learned from training? There is a moment I think each soldier has…when he crosses that line from training to reality. It’s there when they are tested. Can they shoot when they need to…and can they live with the results?

That’s what got to me, about the story. It was a testing. We know it was a cow now, but he didn’t know. He followed protocol; he called out a warning – in two languages. He shot in the air. He did all he could do to avoid casualties…and then, in what he believed to be defense of his position, he shot. That is Israel; that is an Israeli soldier.

And yes, it was a cow. I’m sure others laughed at him. I can imagine the other soldiers laughing. We laughed at the table but the story lingers in my mind. I think, I hope, the soldier could probably laugh at himself. He shot a cow. But more, I hope he can realize, deep in his heart, that he did what was expected, what was right. It doesn’t matter. I hope the soldier knows this; I hope someone told him.

It was a passage from untrained soldier to fighter of Israel. It doesn’t matter that it was a cow. It matters that a threat was identified; procedure was followed. Had it been real, he met his challenge. It wasn’t real, and yet, he still met the challenge. Isn’t that what training is all about?

That’s my “cow” story.

29 Comments on A Cow (Part 2)

  1. cute story! I am sure he will be called cow-boy or cow killer for a while!

  2. Something similar happened to my husband when he was in the army. Only the cow mooed before he shot, so that saved it. But yes, it was still a test, and yes, the fear is very real.

  3. Yes, Elie was telling me that when he was training in the Golan; they had a unit meeting before, went over the rules, went to shoot during the training and someone yelled out to stop – there was a cow there. Training was aborted while they contacted the farmer to come get his cow.

  4. And if it had been a human being, say a deaf one, who could not hear him?

    Will the army pay reparations for the cow? Do they do it willingly or will the soldier who caused the incident have to participate in the costs?

  5. Dear Well….said:

    1. My first question would be: what would a deaf person be doing in the middle of the night, in the dark… without a flashlight, walking in the middle of a field… without a flashlight, approaching an army base – which can be seen, even at night, as it has lights…without a flashlight?

    2. Yes. The army does pay reparations for the cow if the farmer was not found to be negligent. For example, if the army had opened a fence and left it opened, or even if there was a fence left open by mistake, the army would pay for the cow. If the farmer didn’t have a fence on his land and the cow was on army property, I’m not sure. In principle, though, to answer your question – yes, the army pays for damage it causes, even accidentally. They do it willingly and no, unless the soldier was proved to have acted with negligence, he is not responsible for paying the cost of replacing the cow.

    Even if he were found responsible and negligent, he would be fined a token amount and given a “jail” sentence for a period of time. In this case, there was no negligence; just an unfortunate incident which was, thankfully, not a real attack on the base.

  6. There was something in the news in the last year or two about Hamas packing farm animals, I think donkeys, with explosives and sending them across the Gaza border. So this soldier did the right thing and would have even if he could have heard it was a cow in the dark. Not a good idea to take chances in that kind of uncertain situation.

    I really, really hate to hear these stories about our sons left alone and vulnerable in the dark without even radio communication. Now there’s some negligence I’d like to see punished.

  7. Hi Barbara,

    I’m not sure the radio problem was realized because the soldier WAS heard by base…he just couldn’t hear them. I don’t know enough to conclude if it was or was not negligence, but yes, this soldier did the right thing.

    Yes, Arabs have booby-trapped animals (camels, donkeys, etc.) – I don’t know about cows, but that isn’t the point. The soldier did not identify that it was a cow and I’m not sure what he would have done if he did know. I assume he wouldn’t have shot at it.

    Chaim told us that they came across a herd of cows during a training exercise. They were told to throw rocks to scare them away and they were warned not to hit the cows with the rocks, lest they hurt them. So that’s what the soldiers did – scared the cows away from the area they were supposed to be training. Elie has told me of several cases in which whole artillery training exercises in the north were canceled because the cows got loose.

  8. I’m so thankful it WAS a cow. If it was an enemy soldier, we’d be crying instead of laughing. I value human life far more than animal life. And, I am sad that your young men and women have always had to defend your land.

  9. It is better to shoot a cow then to be “safe” and allow a terrorist to shoot you.

    That is the mentality of the IDF (Once of the US Army) and keep the soldiers alive.

    The IDF is an army. These aren’t Boy Scouts out on a hike, camping for fun. These are serious men and women, protecting their nation from those who would kill them: Hamas, Hezbollah, Fatah, and the occasional cow (Just had to put that pun in.).

  10. I experienced a similar situation in Lebanon many moons ago. There was a warning about booby-trapped animals and the guard in the tower swung the searchlight around to see what he had seen. In doing so he tore the cable of the light – so he opened fire. We all were out of our sleeping bags and in position as trained. Only then did I understand what the annoying alerts on basic training were about.

  11. Really, I did not understand the story. I thought that your soldier shot because he could neither see, nor hear. And that his not seeing or hearing was caused by a deficiency in the communication equipment.

    So I understood: If he could have heard his fellow soldiers telling him it was a cow or if he could have turned on the lights to see it was a cow, the shooting would have been unnecessary. So I understood that the death of this cow was “collateral damage of army equipment not working properly”?

    I find this story neither cute, nor funny. What if this was a human being, Israeli or other, who could not hear the warning signals, for some reason?

    I am also appalled at “they came across a herd of cows during a training exercise. They were told to throw rocks to scare them away”

    Who tells people to throw rocks in order to scare cows away? I suppose, there are other means to achieve the same goal… But since those soldiers seem to be all city-boys who never saw a cow in their lives, the army has to resort to the good, old, middle-eastern tradition of stone throwing…

  12. The soldier could see into the field and knew something was approaching. The soldier could not hear from his commanding officer. He reported what he was seeing, but was not told what to do because he couldn’t hear base. Base could hear him and was aware of what he was seeing. If he couldn’t see the “target,” he would not have shot at all. He couldn’t turn a light on because it had blown out that afternoon. He couldn’t turn anything on; he couldn’t abandon his position. He radioed in what he was seeing, but didn’t know that they could hear him.

    He warned the approaching “object” because he was afraid it was a terrorist. He warned in several ways, all according to protocol. When it kept approaching – and obviously did not make a sound to give him a hint that it was an animal, he shot.

    No, the cow was not considered “collateral damage” – collateral damage is, to some extent, expected casualties in a war. This was not expected, planned or wanted.

    One would assume, if it was a person, that they would have heeded either the warning in Arabic or in Hebrew and/or the sound of a gun being cocked and/or the sound of a gun being shot in the air.

    One would assume that a deaf person would not be wondering out in the middle of the desert, near an army base, in the middle of the night. Unless you want to say the person was deaf AND blind AND alone, even a deaf person would have seen an army base ahead of them and not approached.

    So, therefore, one would assume that if someone had been out there, he/she was up to no good (or now that we know, perhaps one would assume it was a cow).

    Finally, who tells people to throw rocks at a cow…what would you have them do? Would you like them to ride out on horses and use lassos? They did not throw stones AT the cows – they were warned to make sure not to hit them…which is a heck of a lot more than what most stone-throwing Arabs do.

    I can tell you that I have no idea how to move a cow. City-boys? Why are you name-calling? The fact is, they didn’t harm the cows; the cows shouldn’t have been there in the first place.

    But rather than harm them, either training was canceled, or the soldiers were told to try to move the cows.

    Me thinks your agenda here is beginning to show.

  13. That brings back a fond memory–or should I say “moomery…”

    Back in 1987 or 88 when I was on the Overseas program at Ben-Gurion University in Beersheva, we took a program guided trip to the North.

    Being the typical gung-ho NY Jew, I always convinced the Shomer to let me carry the Uzi and bullets (sure a minor violation of protocol–whatever).

    At one point in our hike we began to climb up a hill. I was first up.

    Within a few meters as I get to the top there is a bull standing there, watching me.

    I quickly flipped the safety off all the way up to Aleph (for Automatic). I pulled out a clip and positioned it right below the receiver.

    I whispered down to everyone to move slowly and behind me and to keep going once they got up the hill. There were probably 16 of us.

    Thankfully the bull never charged but I always remembered that moment of decision.

  14. which agenda?

    I remember that once a person could not stop at a check point because the brakes did not work. The person was shot death.

    What I thought back then was: Wow, they are terribly nervous over there and look how it causes casualties.

    This is what I thought when I read your cow-story.

    I think that instead of saying this story is cute or funny, the soldier(s) involved should do some soul-searching as to how defective army material can cause casulaties. In this case it was an animal, but it might also be a human, friend or foe…

    And, by the way, it has happened in the past that israeli soldiers shot (at) deaf people who could not hear their order to stop.

    Just saying: Tell your Chaim that from now on, he should be aware of that possibility.

  15. I have been trying to comment on your blog (I love it) for months now and my comments never go through. If this does get to you, please let me know what to do…..

  16. its amazing how some people can take a cute little story and make it into so much more!

    too many angry people in the world…

  17. Dear Perlsand – sorry about your other comments; please keep trying. Thanks for reading!

    Hey Mamma-mia, yeah, I’m kind of surprised at the # of comments, but it was a great story and yeah, it was meant to be light and funny but has opened a world of discussion, which is good.

  18. Dear Anonymous,

    What you describe is more than a slight break in protocol, but a major violation. The guard should not have handed the gun to someone who was not trained and Uzi’s are notoriously unstable. He should lose his license for that. I’m grateful that none of the others (never mind the bull) was not hurt. It’s one thing to ask a young American kid to carry your gun – it gives them a thrill, usually no harm done. But to give them bullets/ magazine – to let them get to the point of loading and aiming the gun, that’s crazy.

    I don’t blame you, but I do blame the guard. I can imagine that at the time, it seemed like a minor thing, but it is not something that anyone with any respect for a gun would do. Elie has handed me his gun…I would never think to point it at anyone and he only gave it to me because it was that or have me start lifting the hood of the car and checking out the engine. Had there been anyone else, I’d be last in line. When Chaim had a medical test, he handed his gun to Elie, who is licensed for it. Anyway, thanks for sharing your story and reading my blog. Don’t be annoyed with me…I just think the guard was irresponsible.

  19. Ah Well…

    Of course soldiers on a checkpoint are alert and of course they will be tense when a car barrels through a checkpoint without stopping. Is there some way to differentiate between a terrorist barreling through a checkpoint (happened to many soldiers) versus a non-terrorist? The danger is there; the soldiers have seconds to identify and react. When they don’t react. People die. There are many examples of this – Sbarro Pizzeria in which 15 people were murdered; the terrorist slipped through with a girl on his arm and the explosives in a guitar case.

    Yes, there are tragedies but the vast majority of the time when someone barrels through a checkpoint, it is because they are running through it for illegal purposes. You point to the extreme and want to make it the rule. It isn’t.

    I like how you point out that Israeli soldiers have shot deaf people. Do you have a date, a location, the name of the person shot? Or are you just throwing out a statistic?
    I know that there was a case a while back of a man who crossed the border from Lebanon with a plane trying to crash it into Israel. You could say Israel was not justified because according to the Lebanese, the man was mentally unstable; but crashing planes kill people even if the person flying it is insane.

    Honestly, I have yet to hear a rational explanation for what a deaf person would be doing out in the middle of a field in the middle of nowhere in the middle of the night without a flashlight – oh, wait, a blind, deaf man person because he’d have to be blind not to see the army base too. So, really, if the man were blind and deaf…WHY was he near an army base alone in the middle of the night?

    You blame the soldier for a cow’s death. Okay, it’s true. And when soldiers shot a donkey near Gaza and it exploded because it was booby-trapped…do you blame the soldiers or the terrorists who wired the donkey?

    That’s the agenda I was referring to – the one in which you persist in trying to blame the Israeli rather than the situation in which we find ourselves.

    Why are there checkpoints? Because Arabs consistently attempt to smuggle explosives, knives, guns, bombs into Israel to hurt/kill/maim people. Yet you blame us. Sad…

  20. Dear Well…

    I mentioned this post and your concern that the soldier could as easily have shot at a deaf person who would not have heard his calling to my son, Elie, who immediately said, as I did, that it makes no sense that a deaf person (let alone a blind, deaf person) would be wondering the hills alone in the middle of the night. But he also said, had it been a blind person, he would have been able to SEE when the soldier fired in the air. “Reshef” is the fire that comes out of the gun. I’m sure someone can help me with the English term, but the point is – a gun is not just HEARD, but can be seen firing at night.

    According to Elie, the army does instruct the soldiers not to throw rocks at cows, but in practice, there really is no simpler way than throwing rocks NEAR the cows. The rocks roll and the cows are afraid and move. “What do you want a soldier to do when he’s on patrol at night and there’s a cow near him?” Elie asks. I have no answer…do you?

  21. Poor Cow and poor soldier! I can’t imagine what the soldier was feeling when he saw the object coming towards him and not seeing what that object was. I love your blog because I get to see the “inside” of Israel that I normally wouldn’t. I can’t wait when I’m going to Israel in January with my dad to look at university of Haifa. I’m counting down the days.

  22. Dear Soldier’s mom,

    thank you very much for the extensive answers to my post.

    I have the feeling that there is some misunderstanding here, and also that, perhaps, you are so used to be or feel persecuted that you see enemies even where they are not.

    You reported that Chaim could have seen the cow if the lighting equipment had worked and that he would not have killed the cow if he had seen it. Nor would he have killed the cow if he could have heard the voice of his commander telling him not to.

    So this animal casualty is clearly due to faulty equipment of the army, isn’t it?

    Therefore I would view it as normal that the army considers this a “near-incident” or “incident” in it’s security program or quality management program and draws the lessons from it.

    That’s how quality management is done in our days: You look at what could have happened and do what is necessary to avoid it in the future. It is sad that a cow had to be killed, but one should certainly not wait till a human – friend or foe – is killed due to the same type of equipment default.

    Therefore, I find it inappropriate to brush such a story away with “how funny!” or “how cute!”. I think it opens the eyes to a very real risk, and this risk should be addressed.

    Furthermore, I do not think that having shot a cow makes Chaim more of a soldier than he was before. On the contrary, this is an unfortunate incident that should not have happened, and I wish chaim that he will never find himself in a similar situation and react in a similar way.

  23. Another good post, Paula. Chaim did the right thing. He is well trained and acted appropriately. “Well Said” can postulate millions of “what if” scenarios, but the procedures are designed for real world, terrorist warfare.

    Two or three hundred years ago, most people would have thought it unrealistic to think of women and children strapping explosives onto their own bodies to go to a non-military venue to kill innocent civilians. That was not the way war was conducted — such is not the case today. Israel lives with this threat, and MANY more, daily.

    I wonder if “Well Said” is as concerned for Gilad Shalit as he/she is concerned about the cow… from the points made so far, I suspect not.

  24. I believe the word you are looking for in english is actually 2 words: muzzle flash. Not to be grim, but what do you do with a cow that has been shot to death—it isn’t exactly kosher…

  25. Hi Prophet Joe,

    Just to be clear – it wasn’t Chaim that did the shooting, but another boy from his unit. Chaim was simply the teller of the story, though yes, I believe the soldier did the right thing and yes, it was the wrong outcome and yes, I hope and believe Chaim would do the same.

  26. Hey Cathrine,

    thanks for reading – feel free to contact me when you and your dad get to Israel – if the timing works out, maybe I can show you around a bit. My mother teaches at Haifa U.

  27. Hi Well….again

    A few corrections:

    You wrote: You reported that Chaim could have seen the cow if the lighting equipment had worked and that he would not have killed the cow if he had seen it. Nor would he have killed the cow if he could have heard the voice of his commander telling him not to.

    Answer: No, actually, I didn’t report that Chaim wouldn’t have killed the cow because he didn’t. Chaim was just telling us about it during lunch. Had the lighting been working, the soldier would have seen the cow and not killed it. Had the lighting been as it was (not working) and had the soldier reported to base (as he did) and had base been able to transmit a message, I have no idea whether they would have told the soldier to shoot (I believe they would have).

    I have no idea what the commanders ordered or didn’t order – these were not heard by the soldier and therefore not given over to Chaim.

    I don’t know that I would call a burned out light bulb “faulty equipment” but yeah, it wasn’t working – it went out just before the soldier came on and changing the light bulb likely requires bringing in special equipment. It isn’t just a light but something high on a pole.

    I don’t draw the same conclusion that it could as easily have been a human as a cow. A human would have heard all the various types of warnings the soldier offered except, as you say, a deaf (and blind) person…and honestly, as I know where the base is…NO ONE would be there at night, alone, in the dark, without a flashlight. It just wouldn’t happen.

    Yes, there are lessons to be learned – there always are in life.

    Since it wasn’t Chaim…let’s put it another way. I don’t think the soldier is more or less than he was before he killed the cow. Nor do I think my son is more or less because he was in the Gaza War.

    What makes my sons what they are…is not who or how or what they kill, but all they do to avoid the killing. This soldier did all he was trained to do.

    Had it been a human being not determined to carry out a terror attack; the actions would have alerted the human. You could blame God for creating a faulty being – a cow that can’t understand Hebrew or Arabic – I’m kidding.

    To be serious…I get your point. I really do. But knowing the army as I do, and soldiers as I do, I believe this was a sad situation that tested a soldier’s willingness to fire when tested. He didn’t know it was a test – that’s the point. Had he known, sure, he could fire. They test them all the time. But he didn’t know it was a test. It was real to him. It was real. Thankfully, it wasn’t a terrorist…this time.

    Next time, it might be – and so, this time and next, under these circumstances, the soldier was right to have fired.

  28. I don’t understand anything any more: they had a cow killed to test a soldier?

  29. You know, Well…you’re really beginning to make me wonder. I’m thinking there’s dense and then there’s dense. No, obviously, no one had a cow killed. What part of the story don’t you understand. I’ll try it simple:

    1. Soldier stationed on perimeter (that’s the edges) of a base.
    2. Light went out a short time before; it’s night – that means dark…you still with me?
    3. Soldier sees an object moving towards him (soldier is not Chaim, my adopted son, but another boy in his unit).
    4. Soldier radios to base; tells base what is happening. Stay with me – it gets tricky here….
    5. Base hears soldier. Is not aware that soldier can’t hear them.
    6. Soldier doesn’t get response from base (see # 5 – there was a problem with the communication).
    7. Object continues to approach soldier. Soldier has to decide what to do. Whatever base told him – he couldn’t hear so I don’t know what base was doing or what they might have ordered him to do (he didn’t know at the time either).
    8. Soldier does as trained – he calls out in Arabic and in Hebrew; he makes noise, cocks his gun loudly. He shoots in the air.
    9. Object continues to approach. As far as soldier can tell, object is ignoring him intentionally.
    10. Object gets closer, having ignored all warnings.
    11. If this is a terrorist, the base and the soldier are in danger. The soldier opens fire, killing object which, sadly, was a cow and not a terrorist.
    12. The cow was not a terrorist. The cow was not human. The cow was not a deaf person or a blind person.
    13. This was not a test. It was not a drill. Israel doesn’t use animals as part of a drill. This was a real situation; real…could have been something else.
    14. If this had been a terrorist, it would have made the news and the boy would be a hero.
    15. This was a cow, so the boy isn’t a hero…but he didn’t do anything wrong.

    Did I lose you somewhere? And if you say yes, or blame Israel or the soldier or even the army again… there has to be a reason.

Leave a Reply to ProphetJoe Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published.