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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)

"He's never home," his mother-in-law said. He's either on alert or on call. He's either dressed in a flight suit, carrying a ruler to calculate firing positions, or he's dressed in scrubs, carrying a measuring tape to gauge baby skulls.

"It sounds like a conflict, but he knows he's protecting us," Nitzan said. "You don't want to kill people, right, Yuval?"

Yuval didn't hear his mother-in-law because he was running his daughter's bath. Nitzan said, "Look, our situation is intolerable."

"Situation" is Israeli shorthand for the country's relationship with Arabs. It wasn't always intolerable, Yuval said. He grew up on a farm, where on Saturdays at 7:30 a.m., his father revved up the tractor. All day, Yuval picked oranges with Palestinians from Gaza. For lunch, Yuval brought bread and cheese; Palestinians boiled Arabic coffee. They became, Yuval thought, friends.

"Now it seems like ancient history," Yuval said, splashing his daughter's curls, so immersed in memories he didn't notice she had her socks on in the tub.

Yuval's oldest son was born in the 1990s, after the Oslo accords. He dreamed that his son wouldn't be drafted. Then, in 2000, the second Palestinian intifada erupted. Suicide bombers blew up Israeli discos and cafes. Israelis responded with force. Palestinians from Gaza were banned, including the men who labored with Yuval. Yuval flew targeted assassination missions, killing some 15 intifada members, he said. After a strike, Yuval said, he would emerge from his cockpit successful, yet feeling bad, his hair wet with sweat, his neck reddened with tension.

Some pilots quit. They criticized the military. Yuval called them "unforgivable." As he snapped pink pajamas on his daughter, Yuval said, "If you think you're more moral, stay in and fight the battle the way you think it should be fought."

Yuval's wife, Tamar, and their two sons came home. After dinner, the boys slid under Peter Rabbit sheets.

"Who's waiting for their 'kiss of protection'?" Yuval asked.

"Me!" said Imry, their 5-year-old. The kiss banishes bad dreams.

"About witches," the boy explained. "Dragons and ghosts."

Yuval started to smile, but then Imry added, "And the warriors, who want me to die."


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