Witch’s Broom — “Necessary Stories” from The Jerusalem Report

Haim Watzman

illustration by Avi Katz
Hey, I need a smoke after that, let’s stand here in the shade of this tree, yeah, this olive tree, you always had to say exactly what tree we were sitting under between exercises, but then you’re from a moshav, for us in the city all that’s important is shade on a sweltering day like this. It’s a beautiful tree, though, fine specimen, olive trees are my favorite, they’ve got strong roots, they’re rugged. Let’s stand under that round thing up there, exactly covers the sun, looks like the tree has sprouted a green basketball. I love trees with those things. They’re like a flare that suddenly appears in the sky and guides you through the night. Witch’s broom? Really? That’s what it’s called? Doesn’t look like a broom at all.

It’s a shame about Ilan. Salt of the earth. A warrior like from the old days. And they sucked his blood, sucked his blood, I tell you, until he didn’t have any left. Did you see Kochava, that’s class, no screaming or wailing like in my family, strong and silent, with the kids standing by her, and grandkids, dignity, I tell you, dignity, that’s what we used to have here in Israel and don’t any more.

Charge! I keep hearing him call out, Forward, charge! And we’d run up the mountain and shooting at those targets as if filling them with holes was going to save the Jewish people. There was something in his voice that made running up a steep slope on a freezing winter morning and plopping yourself on a bunch of thorns the thing you wanted to do more than anything else in the world. And it wasn’t just play. Remember, in Marjayoun, or was it Hasbayiyya, in Lebanon, I don’t even remember anymore, when he saved the entire platoon by spotting the mortar swiveling our way on that bastard Shiite’s roof? And with a single command he got us under cover and firing like maniacs until we took it out. He was a hero, in the pure sense of the word, the greatest hero I ever knew. And they sucked his blood, sucked his blood. Did you see Kochava? She’s at least fifty but she could pass for thirty-five any day, dark and slender, I’d say sexy but it would sound wrong, you’re not allowed to say stuff like that these days. My heart goes out to her. She doesn’t deserve it. The kid’s don’t. Ilan certainly didn’t deserve it, should have been put on a pedestal, given the Israel Prize.

When the story broke, the investigation on that TV show, it was just so obvious that someone was out to get him. Bribing officials in some godforsaken African country. I mean, who does business in Africa without bribes? That’s the way they work there, the black continent, that’s just the way it is. And selling weapons to rebel militias without a permit. Hey, you and me, we know how it is in business, don’t we? Well, I guess you don’t, you’re not in business, you work with your head, and you should stop shaking it, what do you know about business, you’re a thinking man, an intellectual, a lefty, you always were, but Ilan was your commanding officer, he saved your life and mine, and there’s no politics when you’ve been in a muddy shit-filled ditch side by side, when you’ve seen friends blown up one step in front of you, their brains splattered in your face. Hey, take a step over here, the sun’s moved, yeah, right under that witch’s broom.

It’s a disease? A deformity, that witch’s broom? The tree grows wrong because of a parasite? You don’t say. I never knew that. I guess I never even thought about it, I’ve seen trees lit up with these things before, but never thought about what they were.

Remember, we’d taken cover in that ditch, really the village sewer, and our sixty millimeter pipe took it out, the Moroccan, Azoulay, he was right next to me, he lobs a shell and makes a big hole in the roof, and we’re all ready to jump up and declare victory in the whole fucking Lebanon War and go home, you remember, that feeling that comes over you when you thought you were about to die but then you didn’t, and then I hear this little gurgle from Azoulay and his head slumps down and I see a red hole in the back of his neck, and all the sudden bullets are flying, and not ours, we’re under attack, the fuckers have ambushed us from the other side of the ditch and we’re sure we’ve had it, I start shouting Shema Yisra’el and I feel a thump on my helmet and there’s Ilan, I was his radioman then, you remember that, that’s why I feel so close to him, I was beside him all the time, and he’s talking into the mike, reporting to the battalion, and at the same time he’s turning us around, giving orders, quiet and firm. How did he do that, how could he talk to the battalion commander and talk to us at the same time, I mean, it was like he had two tongues, and there we are, in battle formation after five seconds of panic when we almost fell to pieces, and it was like, do you remember that feeling, I remember it, it was like I was a part of Ilan’s body, like he was moving me like I was his arm or his leg.

And we’re shooting, and he sends a fire team out of the ditch toward the hill we’re being attacked from, and the guys run and take cover and fire, and then another fire team, just like we did in our drills—that was you? Really? I didn’t remember that. And we advance, team by team, and then Ilan shouts, Forward, charge! And we run up the hill, bullets flying left and right and, by the time we get to the top, the two filthy Arabs there have more holes in them than any of the targets we practiced on, believe me. And after we check around and Ilan makes sure there’s no other enemies out to get us, we go back to the ditch and pick up Azoulay. Poor guy. But he was the only one killed, no one else even got scratched by anything more than a sharp pebble or thorn. That’s a warrior for you, a fighter, a leader. That was Ilan. And now he’s dead, dead because they sucked his blood, from a guy like that, that’s who they sucked the blood from, those media guys, they should be ashamed of themselves. I can’t get that picture of Kochava and the kids out of my head.

You don’t want a cigarette? You stopped smoking? Well, it’s been a long time, it’s been a long time. We used to get together, the guys, but it’s been a long time, everyone has their families now, and their jobs, and lives all over the country and even outside the country, and who has time like in the old days to get together for a beer or two or three like we used to. Hey, the sun keeps moving. Here, move to your left, into the shade of the witch’s broom. Love that name. Wonder who thought of it. I don’t usually smoke this much, but I’m upset.

When I saw that thing, I was ready to lob a grenade at the television studio. How can they lie that way about a guy like Ilan, a hero like from the ones from the Palmach, or from Hollywood, really like from Hollywood, I mean, in Lebanon, didn’t you sometimes feel like you were in a movie? Sure, we all did. Most of the time it was crap, but there were those moments, really, you have to admit it, because of Ilan, he was like, I don’t know, Clint Eastwood or Tom Cruise or those guys in Saving Private Ryan. That’s exactly how I felt. So how can a man like that, and believe me, next to a man like that we’re little boys, that’s a real man, how can he be a criminal? I mean, they had him there making bribes, and taking bribes, and that’s not enough, drug parties in the capital of that country, whatever it’s name is, with women, not women, little girls, I mean how can that be? Ilan? Ilan?

Look, between you and me, when a guy’s successful, women are all over him. And a guy who travels a lot for work, who’s away from home, well, we’re all human, I don’t have to remind you how horny you get after a couple weeks of reserve duty, well, none of us are perfect. And when you’re an officer, or a successful businessman, you’re away for longer than that. And I’m sure Kochava understands. The wives of successful guys usually do. They give them space. Understand that at the age of forty or so there’s a crisis, a guy needs to feel young again. Sigalit left me when I started something on the side but, hey, I’m not a hero, I had it coming. Frankly, why should a woman put up with crap from a guy like me, what have I ever done to deserve it?

Maybe with you religious guys it doesn’t happen. Maybe you’re afraid that God will zap you. But you know what? I don’t believe you. You’d do just what Ilan did if you were horny and some African babe came on to you. But they say he kept girls, ten, eleven years old. I don’t believe a word of it. You and me, we followed him like blind men in battle. He saved our lives. He was a rock. Rocks don’t do that. They don’t play around with little girls, they don’t steal. Maybe they aren’t saints when it comes to the letter of the law, but none of us are, right?

You sure you don’t want a cigarette? I don’t smoke much, but after a funeral, after a guy like Ilan dies in the prime of his life, don’t believe them when they tell you it was prostate cancer, the guy had more balls than any of us, they destroyed his life, the television stations and the newspapers, they should rot in hell for killing a guy like that and leaving his wife a widow and his children orphans.

So you say that witch’s broom is a deformity? A disease? Now that you said it, I can’t help seeing that ball of green differently. I always thought they were beautiful, sort of firework bursts of green in a tree, and you tell me it’s a defect, and now that you told me, well … the tree looks different to me. But, hey, it still gives us some shade, doesn’t it? Doesn’t it?


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