Monday, November 26, 2007

The Ultimate Double Life

A Time to Kill, And a Time to Heal
by Laura Blumenfeld
Washington Post
Sunday, November 25, 2007

A church friend wrote to make sure that I saw this article, and I was so glad that I did not miss it. Blumenfeld writes candidly about the life of an Israeli man known only as "Yuval." Yuval is a pediatrician who also flies a helicopter at night for the Israeli air force - combat missions over Gaza. Yuval recounts harmonious, even friendly, relationships with Palestinians that he had as a child. Those days are long gone.

In the hospital, Yuval treats both Israeli and Palestinian children. The Palestinian parents are unbearably grateful for what he does to save their children, and they have no clue that he is also a fighter pilot. One mother says disingenuously that if she ever met an Israeli pilot she "would faint and die from fear." Yuval describes the strange feelings that he has when he aims missiles toward suspected Palestinian terrorists. He wonders if any of them are people he knew as a child, or parents of children he has treated. The soldier Yuval is not without ethics - he considers one mission that he describes a "failure" because he only hit two of four alleged terrorists. However, the reason he did not fire on the remaining two was that they changed their location and he thought the risk of civilian casualties was too high. The physician Yuval is kind, skilled, and compassionate, but not without prejudices. He says he estimates that over 90% of the Palestinians children he treats will grow up to be terrorists. It is hard to imagine being objective with your patient when you make that assumption about them.

Yuval also says, though, that he does his best to treat the child and not consider "the situation" as he is practicing medicine. He recounts one powerful scenario when he was treating a four-month-old baby girl in cardiac arrest. Yuval says that as he worked he thought "It didn't matter that she was from Gaza. All that mattered is that she was blue and she must be pink."

In the heat of the moment, that really is all that matters. The contrast between Yuval working frantically to save this little blue baby and the descriptions of him placing dark, indistinct dots in his crosshairs to fire on them made my heart ache. Certainly all the factors that go into a soldier's instinct to kill someone are complicated, but it surely must also be true that we can learn from the direct simplicity of Yuval's instinct to save the life of his patient, regardless of her geographic background or ethnic origin. It must be so difficult for him to separate those instincts.

I have a feeling that when we are directly confronted with the suffering of another human being, especially a child, it is much harder to demonize them. Clearly, Yuval believes he is doing the right thing in both his vocations. Without wading into the morass of Middle Eastern politics, I wish his healing impulses (and those of so many unnamed others) would carry over into some type of reconciliation between the Israelis and Palestinians. For the sake of all children of God, I pray that the day comes when Yuval can give up his night job.

Reverent Reader


At 11/26/07, 10:18 PM , Blogger jbl said...

My reaction is that doctoring and combat piloting do not mix. If I were Yuval, I would take another look at the Hippocratic oath he took when he became a doctor, and quit the zero sum game of destroying others at night, saving them during the day. If he is serious about being a physician, I don't see how he can live with himself.

At 11/26/07, 11:02 PM , Blogger reverendmother said...

It was a great article.

I am writing my piece for Denominational Magazine on Ecc 3, and am trying to figure out how to incorporate Yuval's story without bogging it down.

For me it brings up issues of compartmentalizing. In each arena he puts aside aspects of his "other" self, but can't completely succeed at this. Our goal as humans is a life that is *congruent*, isn't it?

At 11/26/07, 11:09 PM , Blogger Reverent Reader said...

Hi friends - JBL - I too wonder how Yuval can live with himself. I did not want to have my post get too detailed, but some of his dogmatism was off-putting, like the way he said that it is "unforgivable" when people choose to leave the Israeli army. See reverendmother's comment - I think she nails it when she says Yuval must do an amazing amount of compartmentalizing. I can't help but think, though, that at some point those carefully constructed walls within his soul are going to come crashing down and he is going to be really in a bad way. Sadly, it will be too late to save the lives he has destroyed when that happens. Reverendmother - I will be eager to see your piece on Ecclesiastes. Good luck with everything over the next couple of weeks! LAK


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