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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)

On this night over Gaza though, there could be no delays. Yuval pictured an Israeli bedroom, exploding. He approached the launch zone tense and tenser, leaning toward the screen of his heat-sensitive targeting system. The rocket squad had crept into an orchard near a house. Yuval adjusted the contrast knobs, trying to coax four figures from the shadows, he recalled. Trees were gray. A house was white. The men were black hot.

"It's a terrible thought," Yuval said later, but it had occurred to him many times: The children of the Palestinians he had picked oranges with in his father's orchard were now launching rockets. "I'm sure I know some of them. You can't recognize them from the air."

All Yuval could see now were small, dark movements. Two figures behind a tree. A person crouching.

"This is it," Yuval recalled thinking. Yuval placed his cross in the middle of a thin, black figure. "I'm looking at someone whose role in life is to kill, and I have to stop him," he thought. "Now, now, now." Yuval's adrenaline surged.

His thumb pressed the red button hard. Yuval held his breath, hoping that "nothing comes into the cross, like another person."

But instead of turning the Palestinian into a black-hot burst, the missile thudded into the sand. His ammunition had malfunctioned, a dud. "No!" Yuval recalled thinking. He fired again. "Good hit," said ground troops, spotting for him. But by then, the two remaining rocket squad members had crawled close to the house.

Yuval had to decide: fly away and spare the civilians or fire again and fulfill his mission?

"Not good," Yuval said to his wingman, as they turned back.

After he landed, he tiptoed into his house and lay next to his wife. It was 5:30 a.m. Tamar rolled over: "Did you fly?"

Yuval said bitterly, "No, I went out with my buddies."

He lay there, he later recalled, so wrung out that he felt like he'd lost 20 pounds. He thought: "I have to wake up in two hours and go to the hospital."

Brotherly Therapy at Week's End

On Fridays, Yuval drives his family to his parents' farm on Tranquility Street.


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