How to write a rightist story

Remember, IDF soldier, when that knife is coming at you, that orders are orders.

Tags: Firing Orders
Tzvi Fishman

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On Motzei Shabbat, March 12, Arutz 7, in cooperation with the Bet-El Community Center (Matnas) and the Regional Council, is sponsoring a special evening on "Jewish Cinema" with actor, Yehuda Barkan, and director, Tzvi Fishman, and moderator Uzi Baruch from Arutz 7. Clips from their films will be screened. Questions from the audience welcomed! 8:30PM in the Cultural Hall of the Bet-El Matnas. Tickets 20 shekels. Students, 10 shekels. If you want to see true Jewish movies, movies with real Jewish heroes and a positive Religious Zionist message, come and make your voice heard! 

A teacher of media and filmmaking at one of our high schools for religious girls (ulpanot) called me on the telephone. She said she enjoyed reading my articles on Israeli cinema, but she had a question. “What do you mean by a story with a rightist theme?” It seems there was no such category on the Ministry of Education’s list of recommended literature or films.

“I can’t encourage my students to make a rightst movie, or to compose a rightist story, when I don’t know what one is myself,” she confessed. “It’s terrible, but like you said, there are no patriotic or Zionistic movies made in Israel. Just the propaganda of the Left, dressed up to look like art.”

I told her that a writer starts off with an idea he wants to express, and then he creates a story which communicates what he wants to say, without having to come straight out and say it. For instance, let’s say that you think the Israeli army is crazy for tying the hands of our soldiers, who are afraid to open fire when their lives may be in danger, for fear of violating some rule of ethical conduct.

Here’s a short story from my book, “Days of Mashiach,” which deals with the issue in a literary way:

Orders are orders

For the third time that day, Izzy was looking through the snapshots his wife had sent him when a rock ricocheted off the guard tower. Outside in the dimming twilight, he couldn't see a thing. It wasn't the first time that a rock had hit the tower during his three months on the isolated Samaria hilltop. Arab kids liked nothing better than to throw rocks at Jewish soldiers. To be on the safe side, the young Israeli tightened the strap of his helmet. Orders were orders. And in the army, safety came first.

His gaze turned back to the pictures. How happy his son looked at his first birthday party, as if he understood its significance. Izzy had asked for a special leave to attend the celebration, but since he had only one week remaining in his Hesder army service, the request had been denied.

“Pang!” “Pang!” “Pang!”

Smashing against the metal guard tower, the rocks sounded like bullets. Down below, at the crest of the hill, on the other side of the sheep pen, a group of dark figures had gathered. Izzy stuck his rifle out the window in warning. Just to be sure, he called his two buddies, who were out patrolling the area in a jeep.

Some people thought the settlers were irresponsible for staying put on remote hilltops like these during the Intifada, but Izzy didn't agree. Israel was the land of the Jews, and a Jew had the right to live wherever he chose. It was the job of the government and the army to protect its citizens, whether they lived in Netanya or Hevron.

To his way of thinking, the situation was absolutely absurd. So what if a Jew wanted to live in a cabin on a desolate hill in the heartland of biblical Israel? Why should the whole world make such a fuss over it? Why should it bother foreign presidents and kings? Didn't they have better things to worry about than what a handful of harmless Jews were doing on the other side of the globe?

The twenty-one year old soldier tried his best not to think about it too much. Instead, he studied Gemara whenever he could. He spoke to his wife every day. In a week, he'd be finished with being away in the army, and he could get down to being a father to his one-year old boy.

When a brick smashed through the thick plastic pane of the window, Izzy instinctively ducked. Down on the hillside, a mob of Arabs was advancing his way. Across the dirt road, on the roof of the small wooden cabin, an Arab youth was hauling down the Israeli flag. As luck would have it, the "settler" who lived on the one-man yishuv was off at a wedding. Besides the barking dog, Izzy was the only defender on the remote, windswept givah.

Figuring he might need some back-up, he phoned his friends in the jeep, but they were being stoned too.

“We're on our way,” they told him.

Rocks pounding the guard tower reverberated like popcorn popping in a microwave oven. Izzy fired off a few shots in the air to warn off the attackers, but the Arabs continued to advance on the tower. Like the good soldier he was, he wouldn't fire at them until he received a direct order. His rabbis had taught him that the government of Israel was holy, the Israeli army was holy, and so was its chain of command. Calling his Sergeant, he described the situation and requested permission to shoot.

“Hold on,” the young voice said. “I've got to check with the Lieutenant.”

The Lieutenant wasn't certain. The truth is, he wasn't much older than his soldiers, and the orders to shoot weren't clear. With sensitive peace negotiations in progress, and a quasi ceasefire in effect, he didn't want to be the one to blow the Middle East situation sky high.

“Tell him to hold off until I get word from the Captain,” he told the Lieutenant.

The Captain said he would call the Major. After ten minutes of busy signals and crossed connections, the Major was put on the phone.

“Why should I stick my neck out on this one?” he thought. “It's the Colonel’s headache, not mine.”

“Affirmative. I understand the situation,” the busy Colonel said. “I'll speak to the Battalion Commander and get back to you on the double.”

“Tov, tov,” Battalion Commander said with a sigh. As far as he was concerned, he didn't know why the army had to babysit every troublemaker who wanted to live on a mountaintop in the "West Bank". But since the rules about opening fire were reissued every week, depending if negotiations were stalled or progressing, he figured he had better forward the call to the Commander General.

The Commander General didn't have an answer. He wasn't in a hurry to make headlines. If he messed up, he'd catch all the blame. Besides, he was an army man, not a politician. So he decided to call the Chief of Staff.

The army's top officer wasn't about to put his future career on the line when cameras from all over the world were focused on Tzahal. But since a soldier was in danger, he got through to the Defense Minister as fast as he could.

“I've got a soldier being bombarded by stones on a hilltop near Shechem. Can I give him a green light to shoot?”

“What are you asking me for?” the Defense Minister answered. “Call the Prime Minister.”

“The Prime Minister? You call him, that's your job.”

With a deep sigh, the Defense Minister called the man whom the nation had elected to bring security to the country.

The Israeli Prime Minister took a moment to think. This wasn't a time for gut reactions. He had to keep the whole complicated picture in mind.

“Get me the President,” he said to his aide.

“Our President, sir?” the aide asked.

“No, not our President. The President of the United States.”

The President of the United States wasn't in the Oval Office. He wasn't in the White House. He was on a two day vacation, playing golf.

“Tell him to wait,” the President said as he lined up a putt. Biting his lip, he eyed the hole and took a few practice swings. Then, concentrating on the flag, he swung the putter forward and watched as the tiny white ball streaked over the Florida green. The ball curved along a slight slope and headed straight for the hole.

“Get in there, baby!” the President shouted. But the ball hit the rim of the cup and bounced over the hole, coming to a stop a few golf clubs away.

“Damn!” the President swore, shaking his head.

“The Israeli Prime Minister,” his aide said, holding the phone out.

“Yeah, yeah, in a minute,” the President answered, striding over to his ball. Once again, he lined up the putt. This time, the curve broke in the other direction. Focusing between the cup and the ball, he gave the putter a flick. Once again, the ball hit the lip and bounced out, coming to rest only inches away.

“Damn it!” the President moaned.

With his golf cap, he wiped the sweat off his brow. After a few sips of cold water he looked around for his aide, who was standing at his side with the telephone.

“Hello, Mr. President, shalom,” Israel's Prime Minister said.

“Yeah, shalom,” the President answered.

“How are you, sir?” the Prime Minister asked.

“I'm on vacation,” the President answered, impatiently.

“Yes, sir, I know, sir. I'm sorry to bother you, but I have a soldier under attack and I want to know if he can open fire.”

 “Open fire? In the middle of peace negotiations? Are you people nuts?”

“We are trying our best, Mr. President,” the Prime Minister said.

“What's the matter with tear gas?” the President asked. “The wind blows it away.”

“Then use rubber bullets.”

“No one is afraid of rubber bullets these days.”

“Then start making concessions. On both sides. With a little flexibility, we can wrap this thing up.”

“With your help, Mr. President, I am sure that we will.”

Sweating, the Prime Minister set down the phone. Immediately, he had the Defense Minister back on the line. “The orders stay the same,” he told him.

“The same?” the Defense Minister asked in an uncertain tone.

“That's right. The same!” the Prime Minister barked.

“Sorry for the question, Mr. Prime Minister, but exactly what does that mean? You know as well as I do that the orders change every week.”

“They don't change every week,” the Israeli leader fumed. “The government's policy is clear. Orders are orders. A soldier is not to open fire unless his life is clearly at stake.”

“Yes, sir,” the Defense Minister answered. Even before he hung up the phone, he gave the command to call the Chief of Staff.

The Chief of Staff called the Commander General. The Commander General called the Battalion General. The Battalion General called the Colonel. The Colonel called the Major. The Major called the Captain. The Captain called the Lieutenant. The Lieutenant called the Sergeant.

 Without further hesitation, the Sergeant rang up the guard tower.

“Izzy, do you hear me?” the Sergeant yelled over the wire. “Izzy are you there? Do you hear me, Izzy? Izzy, are you there? Do you hear me? Izzy, are you there?”

Tzvi Fishman was awarded the Israel Ministry of Education Prize for Jewish Culture and Creativity. Before making Aliyah to Israel in 1984, he was a successful Hollywood screenwriter. He has co-authored 4 books with Rabbi David Samson, based on the teachings of Rabbis A. Y. Kook and T. Y. Kook. His other books include: "The Kuzari For Young Readers" and "Tuvia in the Promised Land". His books are available on Amazon. Recently, he directed the movie, "Stories of Rebbe Nachman." 



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