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There Are Atheists in the Foxholes

The assault began shortly after midnight. The glorious moon, high above us in the starry night, still held its hypnotic grip on me, before I fully understood what was going on. A bullet did the job alright, when it grazed my helmet and threw me down into the shallow foxhole. You’re the commander of this unit, I had to remind myself, and in charge of protecting the strategically important Beam Position –Mutzav Keren – perched on a small hill above the Jordan River.

The cry of help from an injured soldier snapped me out of my temporary stupor, and I assumed command immediately. We were attacked from a short-range, and from all directions, except from behind, by small firearms. The attackers had already crossed the river, and were very close to us by now, intending on capturing our position. Some of my soldiers, veterans of the Six-Day War, were already returning fire, while I zigzagged along the winding foxholes, encouraging the younger soldiers to join them. I was able to spot where the rapid fire was coming from, and thus direct my soldiers to return fire. There were grenades thrown at us, though luckily they fell short of our foxholes. We were doing well enough to defend ourselves and our position, when quite suddenly prevailed.

It enabled us to regroup and take care of our wounded. But the quiet was ominous, and behinds us at the command center the “big heads” warned me to stay on the alert. And sure enough, I soon heard a muffled boom coming from far on the other side of the border, then a terrifying whistle, before the bomb landed two meters in front of us. The blast pushed me hard against the foxhole’s wall, covering me with dust. Then it rained on us: not today’s huge bombs, but whatever the Palestinian fighters were using at the time, Russian made mostly. In spite of the horror, and the cries of the injured, I was able to radio for help, receiving the Israeli army much superior firepower. It took some three hours of continuing fighting and bombardment before the surviving terrorists retreated back across the river. All fire ceased then, and our wounded were evacuated to Jerusalem.

I breathed deeply, reflectively, reassuring myself that it was all over: we won the day and no soldier of mine was dead. I was alive, floating in the predawn air – just an Israeli soldier defending the Jewish State, who didn’t say a prayer to God even once throughout the assault. Nor did I thank him now. No wonder, considering I was born to parents who left God at the concentration camps. I took my grazed helmet off, and against army regulation lit a cigarette, nodding my soldiers to do likewise. I blew rings of smoke into the gentle breeze, hypnotized again by the bright moon and its reflection, going down for a dip in the placid waters. I was celebrating nature – my true friend and guardian – and the standstill of time.

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