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A Time to Kill, And a Time to Heal

Yuval examines Ahmad Abu Hamed, a Palestinian from the Gaza Strip. Above right, Yuval mans his Cobra, in which he flies night combat missions over Gaza, targeting Palestinian fighters.
Yuval examines Ahmad Abu Hamed, a Palestinian from the Gaza Strip. Above right, Yuval mans his Cobra, in which he flies night combat missions over Gaza, targeting Palestinian fighters. (Laura Blumenfeld - The Washington Post)

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By Laura Blumenfeld
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, November 25, 2007

HOLON, Israel -- The 2-year-old's flawed heart beat backward, pumping blue blood to his lips and inking rings around his eyes.

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Ahmad edged across his hospital bed, toward his mother, Nasima Abu Hamed. Nasima, a Palestinian from Gaza, had brought Ahmad to Israel for an operation. She moved uneasily through hospital halls decked with Israeli flags -- but the Jewish doctors could save her son.

A pediatrician named Yuval walked in wearing a white coat. Nasima smiled. Yuval high-fived Ahmad, who was wearing toddler-size army fatigues. Yuval said in Arabic, "How's he doing?"

Nasima shrugged and asked, "When is the surgery?"

Nasima was eager to return to Gaza. There was trouble at home, clashes with Israeli soldiers. Fear had kept her family up all night, the chop of hostile helicopters. Two years ago, a missile fired from a helicopter had killed two cousins. If Nasima ever met an Israeli pilot, "I would faint and die from fear."

Yuval patted Ahmad on the head. The surgery would be soon. Later, Nasima called Yuval "our savior of the children."

Yuval is a savior of children. He is also an attack helicopter pilot. It was Yuval in his Cobra -- though Nasima didn't know it -- hovering over her town, as Israeli troops battled armed Palestinians. By day, Yuval works as a pediatrician. By night, he fires missiles for the air force.

One of Yuval's supervisors, physician Sion Houri, sees no contradiction between Yuval's two jobs. "There's reality A; there's reality B. It's not a dichotomy -- it's us," said Houri. "It's our life as Israelis."

After decades of war, what might be madness in another society passes for normal in Israel. As negotiators meet this week in Annapolis to try to resolve the Middle East conflict, Israelis find ways to resolve the conflict in their own lives. In the Bible, Ecclesiastes declares: "There is . . . a time to kill, and a time to heal." Yuval is doing both, at the same time.

'It Sounds Like a Conflict'

Yuval walked through the door, home from work. His little girl toddled over.

"I missed you!" Yuval said, kissing his daughter as she peeled off his Velcro name patch and bit it. Yuval's mother-in-law, Nitzan, who was babysitting, said: "So, Yuval, are you a pilot or a doctor today?"

Yuval, a 40-year-old major in the air force, is prohibited by the military from giving his last name. He lives with his wife, two sons and a daughter on Palmachim air base, north of the Gaza Strip. The military has allowed Yuval to study medicine while he serves. When he isn't flying, Yuval treats children as a resident at a nearby civilian hospital.


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