“It was humid and stuffy inside the Magach tank that sat on the ridge of Golan Heights, where rocky hills separate Israel from Syria. Abraham sat beside me, cleaning dust off his specs with a piece of cloth; they were thick as Coke bottles. Command said we’d have no air support. That’s why we were there in the first place. Syrian anti-aircraft were clipping Israeli planes a hundred a day, so the tanks went in to destroy them.
We’d been fighting for seven days and seven nights. Of our twelve tanks, five remained, four really, the Captain was observing from the cliff overhead, yesterday, the enemy had sixty-four he said, before they regrouped. You could tell they were Arab commanders, the Russians would’ve already left.
Abraham snapped a bar of chocolate in two and gave me half. He pushed his metal frames up the bridge of his nose, ‘do you see them,’ he asked. I wish he hadn’t, maybe if he kept his mouth shut they wouldn’t have appeared. The first shell ripped across the valley and removed a corporal’s head smoking from the cupola. His body fell like wet clay into the tank. His friends couldn’t fight anymore after that, most people can’t, so we had three tanks left. The Captain barked positions over the radio. Abraham calculated range.
He was the best spotter you’ve ever seen. Maybe it was his glasses. He pressed them against the telescopic lens and shouted meters: ‘503. Fire! 473. Fire! 523. Fire!’ After each shot, I’d change positions, steering the tank from one side of the ridge to the other. You can’t shoot in the same place twice. Never.
The goal is to hit the tank just below the belly, between the head and treads. That’s where the ammunition is stored. You always know when you hit that because the top blows off like Vesuvius. We fired from the co-axial machine gun first, to gauge distance and save ammo for the M68 cannon. Things were different back then, now there are lasers to do that.
After twelve hours, we’d destroyed sixteen tanks with forty-two rounds. The other crews did about the same. The remaining forces drove off, back down the ridge and out of sight.
That night we caught an Arab with a kalashnikov, ‘to protect his sheep’ said our translator. I invited him for tea and offered him bread and chocolate. He showed me his teeth, which were black and rotten—he couldn’t eat chocolate. Abraham was sipping tea beside me, flames dancing off his specs, gazing through the fire at the Arab. I asked him if he knew there was a war going on. The shepherd nodded yes. Abraham asked if he’d seen the Russian tanks. The shepherd nodded yes.
About a mile from camp, the dusty hills began sloping into themselves; boots slipped over roots and rocks, one lodged into my sock. I stopped to remove it—the stone was pushing into my blisters—I had to stop. Abraham was thirty meters ahead. The shepherd started to run. Abraham shouted after him. I don’t remember what he said before the IED exploded.
Cymbals smashed in my ears. I stumbled down the hill, bleeding from somewhere, limping on one boot and one sock. The air tasted like rust and rubber.
It was a small bomb, plenty enough to kill Abraham, but the shepherd was only wounded, crawling away with two arms and one leg. I caught him and turned him over. I called him a spy. He told me not to shoot. His swollen eyes said so. I dragged him up the hill with Abraham thumping on my shoulder. The rest of the brigade was waiting at the top, they’d heard the explosion and came running. We put Abraham on a stretcher, the Captain took his name tag. I pulled the spy in front of the translator and put a gun to his head; I wanted the truth.
I asked him why he did it, why kill Abraham? I knew there were better questions to ask. But I couldn’t think of any. The Arab shook his head, it wasn’t about Abraham, he just wanted to kill Jews. If he killed enough, Muhammad would grant him two wives.”
“And what did you fight for?” I asked the old jeweler on W 3rd street, who scratched his cheek and smiled: “a pension and a jewelry shop. And it’s been good to me, I should’ve died on that hill with Abraham, I know that now and I knew it then. I’m a great believer in luck.”
I wondered if the shepherd thought the same. I wondered if luck was a faith restricted to those who have lived long enough to see its reward, because so far, in my life, I was sure that luck picked favorites like a jeweler picked diamonds.
Austin Treat is a freelance writer now, living in Hollywood. Find him on Instagram @a.u.treat.
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