Shalosh Sha’at; Hermon’s Thunder (Part I)

Six months earlier

– – –

Captain Samuel Ratz saunters into the living room of his apartment to find his nine year-old son crafting a picture of what appears to be tall grass and distant snow-capped mountains. It is an odd dreamscape for a young child raised in the hilly, mostly arid oasis that is Israel. A threadbare leather football once in Samuel’s possession sits idly near his son, and the light painting long shadows upon the carpet-on-wood floor suggests it is early in the afternoon.

“Ari,” the Captain calls, “time for lunch. Go meet Ima in the dining hall.”

Ari mumbles a prolonging response as the paintbrush continues to occupy his focus while Samuel walks into the kitchen to find his wife, Rebekah, cooking seasoned latkes atop their cream-colored stove. Subtly wrapping his hands around her waist as not to startle her as she cooks, unflinchingly she continues to stir the crispy potatoes in its glistening oil.

“He is becoming very talented for his age” he whispers.
“It’s lovely, but it is beginning to be an issue at the Yeshiva. Rebbe Malochim told you he seems distracted when reciting his Praises.” Rebekah mentions with a tone of worry.
“You know, my age I was all about füssball, and I continued on to my Bar Mitzvah with no problem.”
Motek, you know Ari takes on after you. He is both occupied with football and art.”
“…And one day he will make an excellent young Jewish man, football player, and artist.”

Rebekah’s smile shyly bends below the curls of her profuse ashy-blonde locks, acknowledging Samuel’s impish comment with half-hesitancy. He kisses her on the cheek while anticipating a mute response, regarding her busyness. But the Captain’s hands, sitting on the waist of his wife’s blouse, continue to advance through the navy wrinkles and rosy camphire flowers decorating the cotton covering the bulging bump of her stomach.

“…and an excellent young brother” he follows. The sun’s rays intensify and their luminescent columns retract on the floorboards towards the window which they shine through. Noontime.

Ari! Wash up!”

The three are settled down at their dining room table, enjoying the copious amount of potato pancakes Rebekah has made. The family’s physical unity is a becomingly rare occasion, much to the mother’s discontent, but something she treats with silent appreciation through an equally rare and unique tendency to grin.

The son prays over the meal, his sidelocks dipping with every bit of grace spoken; a noting color marrying Rebekah’s eccentric blonde hair and Samuel’s thick, raven curls. The latkes are heavenly, and the milk complimenting. In a moment of silent eating, Rebekah speaks on Ari’s painting.

“It’s Mount Hermon” he responds pridefully.
“It’s a beautiful painting,” his mother appraises with the uplifting pitch of encouragement parents distinctly give, “you know, I am sure your father has flown over that mountain plenty of times.”
Ari’s eyes intriguingly shift to his dad’s.
“Yes, Ari. I have seen it many times. I will be sure to show my squadron your art once you finish. Tell them how proud I am of you.”
His anticipation turns from an ingratiating agape to a beaming smile, revealing his one missing tooth.
“Really? Can you fly with it once I am done? It’ll fit right in the cockpit, you can roll it up!”
“I am sure they will let me take it along. If not, I’ll sneak it aboard.”
Rebekah’s eyes shimmer with an affectionate gleam as Sam grasps the hand of his animated son.
“Perhaps I’ll even take a photograph of it from the air and print it for your room.”

The telephone rings.

Without delay, the Captain stands and walks toward the wall-mounted rotary dial and answers.

Hallo?” Samuel mutters, still washing down the debris of cooked potatoes.
“Captain Ratz? This is Daniel Baruch, Mr. Rabin’s consort. We need you at Knesset now.”
“May I ask if there is an emergency?”
“We’ll have more information when you arrive. Are you decent?”
“I am.”
“Good, we have a Jeep on the way to your residence. Clear up all conversation and don’t tell anyone where you’re headed.”

Rebekah stares an intrigued and confused glare from across the stretch of kitchen as Ari silently minds the rest of his messy plate of food.

“Of course.” Samuel caps the conversation and rests the phone back on its hook with a polishing click.

“I’m sorry love,” Samuel interjects, “I don’t know when I’ll be back.” Rebekah nods with a disappointed understanding as her husband breaks for the door with nothing more than his civilian attire.

From the evanescent plumes of heavy cigarette vapor, a black crown of beaucoup and wavy hair sits atop the head of the distant and analytical Major General of the Israel Defense Forces, Yitzhak Rabin. Dressed in as little as his sleeveless Haganah fatigues this chilly November day, he is preparing for a meeting that may determine the survival or extinction of his young nation.

Toting in his hands the documents of cross-border raid reports that has poisoned (if not further nullified) the relationship between Israel and Jordan, Rabin recounts in pain the words he is about to argue in a secret War Committee called to decide the next step in Israel’s national defense. His young confidate Daniel Baruch enters the darkened room to find him staring a thousand yards into the brittle and abused papers resting atop a manila folder. The igneous flicker of a cigarette butt orbits from the still shadow of Rabin’s figure, dipping into an ash tray filled with the cinders and corpses of already consumed tobacco rolls.

It is the Major General’s way of acknowledging an entry without appearing disturbed.

“I didn’t interrupt your davening, did I sir?” the confident young soldier asks, wearing a mask of timidity.
“You know I don’t believe in that bullshit.” Rabin responds in a critical tone, with the slightest inflection of sarcastic amusement, “Is everything going as planned?”
“Sir, I’ve summoned the Chief of Staff and his prospects. They should be joining us shortly.”
“Very good,” the General responds, his voice growing coarse after a long and unwavering career undergirding the State and his growing fondness for nicotine, “inform Mr. Weizman I intend to enter in a few minutes.”
Ken Hamfa’ked.

Baruch departs from the dimly lit smokescreen as Rabin takes advantage of a final few moments to inhale the remainder of his comfort, coddle his mind in preparation of the strains and heated debate and reluctant concourse of his Prime Minister’s Sixth Congress. The Major General mobilizes his papers and hones his conduct, rises, and pursues his shadow cast by the lone lamp swinging from its ceiling above his desk toward the thick door leading out from his office.

The papers under his arm, confidential memoirs embodying the final moments of too many young boys who have been killed by terrorists serving under Fatah, a terroristic government operating to liberate Palestine, will serve as insensitive leverage for his desires to commence retaliatory action.

April 8, 1966, an Israeli farmer was killed by a mine in a Fatah cross-border operation from Syria.
May 16, the same scenario; another farmer killed.
Another Fatah mine-laying operation taking place in the early morning hours of July 13 resulted in the deaths of two Israeli soldiers.
The catalyzing hell finally broke loose from its humble skirmishes during the months of late summer, perpetuating an all-out artillery engagement on the Sea of Galilee on August 15.

If engagement is down-voted and its aegis scrapped, three-million cornered Jews may relive the terrors of what they have freshly egressed from in Nazi-occupied Europe; Rabin has encountered too many bereavements, attended too many funerals, and witnessed too many DOA (dead-on-arrivals) at local Tzahal military hospitals that serve as a perfect prelude to a second Shoah (catastrophe). With a mien of fire and a heart of promise, Major General Yitzhak Rabin, a warrior sworn to his people, will not let it happen.

The eighteen year-old nation will not suffer the same fate as the eighteen year-old soldier boys dying at the mines and mortars of Fatah, and a new threat which convenes this crucial summit, will not force Israel, in the vanguard, to relent.

Mulling words and confrontations alarm the Major General’s patience and poise.

“We are not sentinel’s over Israel’s security,” Nureddin al-Atassi, the fiery neo-Ba’ath Prime Minister, a puppet of the true Syrian military-Arab de facto government, spoke. Following an issued word of warning spoken by Israel’s balding and graying Prime Minister, Levi Eshkol, that Israel has been considering taking disciplinary action, this was Syria’s bellicose response.

Prime Minister Eshkol sits in the darkened Knesset– a persistently lively assembly of enthusiastic house members and dignified citizens alike, with curtains thrown open, attire lively, and the mood almost entertaining– and it could not become more critical at this hour. The usual ties and smiles are now replaced by epaulettes and grimaces.

Captain Samuel Ratz’s Jeep travels down the dry highway, trailing behind a scene of a typical gloaming Israeli November. A nameless driver he has come to ignore amicably due to the tense and curious nature of his summoning appears to be familiar, though more people are familiar than not in this small country. His pale eyes impressed with the irises of midnight stare calmly perturbed at the vivacious clouds and light warring for the sky and its supremacy.

A saunter of wheel on broken tar creates a bipolar turbulence, shaking the Captain from his thoughts and coaxing him back into deep musings and restiveness. The ten pillars of the Knesset building come into view– a stark, Western architectural behemoth standing stout and clashing against the rest of Jerusalem, trimmed in ancient Semitic domes and angles.

The driver parks awkwardly on the side of the road, lunges in a rush to release the Captain’s door, and briefly, silently, salutes Samuel as he salutes in return, eyes forward, contemporaries and routine allies of higher rank strolling rigidly into the building.

Levi Eshkol appears more pale than normal. The hairs of his distinctive mustache are beginning to bend and break into the wrinkles of his upper lip, reducing his once handsome Eastern European quality into one of a man who seems conflicted, two-faced; a displayed mental struggle against a weighted burden of national vice. Yet albeit his unhealthy appearance, he still carries himself meritoriously alongside his mentor, David Ben-Gurion, the original Prime Minister of Israel and an international icon for modern Zionism, who is seated adjacent Levi toward the end of their conference table.

Yitzhak Rabin traverses solemnly the colorless back hall, rigged with pipes and dark light, and approaches a stark figure soaring against the tall door entering into the Knesset commons.

“If it isn’t our pompous Air Force Commander,” the Major General insults woven with sarcasm.
Former, you forget. In your fatigues, Mr. Rabin?” Ezer Weizman, longtime pilot and once renowned Commander of the Israel Air Force, quickly snaps back.
“In our plain clothes? The Sabbath is over.”
“Like we sleep at all these days, am I right?”

For the two, so familiarly acquainted, shaking hands has almost become derogatorily cold.

“You’re late,” Weizman continues, “but I don’t think you have to worry too much. This is more of a declaration and debate more than it is a vote.”
“A hell of a declaration. It tears at my gut.”
“You and everyone else in Israel. Just wait until it hits the airwaves.”

The doors are braced by two idle grunts in Haganah fatigues similar, though subordinate by lapel and shoulders, to Major General Rabin’s. A minute platoon of helmeted soldier boys with guns strapped around their young shoulders guard a congregation of elderly scholars, politicians and Zionists-alike, bickering and withering under the stale airs of war waging; their inheritors: young, stalwart men who have physically reclaimed the thick wedge of the Holy City they currently meet in, not even two decades prior, stand resolute and submissive in the presence of their senior dialogue.

“Well, just wait until it hits here.”

_ _ _

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