A Twinkle in My Eye

by George Gauthier

Chapter 8

Spring 2024

The radicals at the university have sponsored mass demonstrations in support of Hamas, a key feature of which is their protest against Israel's counter-offensive which, they bizarrely claim, amounted to genocide.

Surely that shoe belongs on other foot, their foot. Genocide is what Hamas would do if it could. Their slogan in full really means "From the River to the Sea, Palestine Shall Be Free...of Jews". Unbelievable though one spokeman claimed that the what the slogan meant was freedom for everybody. I suppose he is right in the sense that the Muslims would be free to rule and the Jews would be free to die.

Fortunately the terrorists are too weak to constitute an existential threat to the State of Israel. But after their endless rocket attacks on Israel and the atrocities of October 2023, the Israelis know they need to destroy Hamas and forestall, at least for a time, further atrocities like those of October 7th of last year.

Sadly no final resolution of the conflict seems possible.The goals of the two warring parties are incompatible. What Israel wants is peace, security, and safety. That can happen only when the Palestinians finally accept the existence and legitimacy of the State of Israel. What Hamas wants is war, terror, and genocide, ending only with the destruction of the Jewish state and later all the Jewish people.

It was with these thoughts in mind that Kyle and I tried to steer clear of all the radicals, attention seekers, professional victims, and useful idiots on campus, many of them outside agitators not affiliated with the university at all. It was not hard to avoid the noisome tent encampment on the quad though you did have to go the long way around. More troublesome were the checkpoints and barriers which blocked student access to classes. The campus police could do only so much to remove them . Every time they tried, it attracted crowds which got in the way waving signs and chanting slogans and calling them names.

Kyle was working on his thesis, so he wasn't taking classes, but he did need access to the library and to his thesis adviser's office. I was working with archeologists and classicists. My task was to skim through the thousands of newly discovered documents in Koine to help organize the collection and to select the more significant ones for publication and translation, something I could do far faster than scholars who knew the Hellenistic Age and Koine only from documents and secondary literature.

So we snuck around and kept out of sight via the little known steam and utility tunnels beneath the campus. Sometimes though we did have to come up for air where our movements might be observed. That happened one evening when we were heading toward an unmanned exit behind the Classics building. Though it was locked, we knew that with our agility, we could swarm over the gate before anyone would notice much less stop us.

Then our luck ran out. An agitator spotted us and whistled for help. Soon we were confronted by seven radicals who hurled questions at us: who were we, what we were doing, where were we going, where had we come from, which side were we on.

To which we replied that we were coming from where we had just been, that we were going to where we were headed, as for what side we were on, we were on our own side, just the two of us, and by the way, they needed to get out of our way and let us go about our business.

"Some of you aren't even affiliated with the university. You shouldn't even be on campus, much less question those of us do have a right to be here. So who are you to stop and question us?"

All right, that was not the most diplomatic approach, but we weren't going to get through to these guys anyway. They were suspicious, and we were disinclined to tolerate their vigilante tactics. They demanded that we state our position in plain English. I did so. Pointing straight at it I told them that our position was just behind the Classics Building on the North Campus.

Our contemptuous attitude provoked their leader, a big guy who seemed at least five years too old to be a student.

"A pair of comedians eh. Let's see some ID."

"You first, ID, badges, and credentials."

"Don't get cute."

"We already are, cute that is, or is the light here so bad that you cannot tell?"

"They're fags. Boyfriends," someone said, explaining the obvious.

"Yeah, that would make Red here the top while little Blondie here is his bottom. Isn't that right?"

"What isn't right is the use of a demeaning slur to describe members of the protected and often oppressed social class of which we are members. For shame!"

And so it went back and forth. We did not give an inch, figuring that sooner or later they would give up, get out of our way, and leave us be. But they didn't.

"Forget all this talk back and forth," someone finally complained. Let's just beat them up and be done with it."

That sentiment met with unanimous approval. Kyle shook his head and told the leader.

"Don't you realize that a resort to violence means people will get hurt. Do you really want that?"

"As a matter of fact, yes!" he said smugly.

Kyle told him coldly: "You are making a mistake, but so be it. You'd better have your health insurance cards on you. You're gonna need them."

[Kyle later admitted that his remark was inspired by the scene in Season Two of Reacher where the big guy breaks the hands of three young bravos leaving one kid whole so he can drive them to the hospital.]

That provoked a snort and an inexpert roundhouse swing at his head, a punch a former middleweight boxing champion like Kyle had no trouble slipping. Kyle's left jab loosened a couple of front teeth and started the guy's nose bleeding. He backed away, crying out for help.

"Oh yeah", Kyle mocked. "He's only got sixty pounds on me so of course he needs help."

One of the radicals gestured and asked. "Can't you guys count. It's seven to two. You don't stand a chance."

That was my cue to demonstrate some moves from Thai boxing, which put a pair of them on the ground, clutching themselves down there and moaning.

"Correction! Only five to two."

Actually with their leader still trying to collect himself they had only four in the fight at the moment. After all the trouble recently a melee like this was something we had trained for and developed battle drill for, Kyle and me. We were a team. The opposition was uncoordinated, fighting as individuals. Soon all of them were down.

To make sure that no one popped up again we stomped on their groins. Twice.

"Ouch! That's gotta hurt, hurt bad, wouldn't you say so Kyle?"

"Definitely, Troy."

To drive the point home to our downed foes, Kyle went on at length about the rationale for our next step.

"Now, shall we break some bones to discourage any thoughts of a rematch. Otherwise, you know what will happen, Troy. Pretty soon, maybe an hour from now, these guys will start telling each other that the fight was really closer than it looked and that it might easily have gone either way. Soon they will be indulging themselves in a fantasy exercise in Woudda, Coudda and Shoudda after which they'll go looking for a rematch. We are not interested in rematches, are we?"

"Definitely not. No, once done is done for good."

"So Kyle, which bones shall we break? Keep in mind that we are the good guys, so no permanent disability."

"The heavens forfend! No, only minor damage easily mended by Mother Nature and Father Time, with a minor assist from the staff in the Emergency Room."

"I know! Let's break their pinkies. You can't throw a punch with a broken finger, even a pinkie."

"Excellent suggestion! So just the pinkies on the right hand."

"Except for the southpaws." I corrected.

Our cocksure attitude had its effect. Not even waiting to get their little fingers broken, they backed away, a couple of them literally crawling on hands and knees. I resisted the urge to kick butt.

Now while our moves were rehearsed, our remarks was ad libbed entirely. I was gratified that I had remembered to Just Press Record so we had a transcript of our clever repartee, which was much like the banter of comic book super heroes. The next day I printed it out, had it framed, and hung in my foyer.

So another one in the Win column.

October 2023

Like all students of the recent history of the Near East and of the conflict over Palestine I was startled in October of 2023 by the total failure of the vaunted intelligence services of the State of Israel, the second such failure in half a century. For it was almost fifty years ago to the day that the armies of Egypt and Syria launched attacks on two fronts, catching the complacent Israel Defense Forces utterly unprepared for the onslaught.

At least the surprise attacks of 1973 were by recognized states. The attack of October 2023 was by a terrorist organization, Hamas, which governed the Gaza Strip from which the Israelis had withdrawn their army and Israeli civilians in 2005 ending their occupation of that territory. In effect, the Palestinians in 2005 got a state of their own.

Look what they did with it. Instead of turning Gaza into another Singapore, they turned it into another Beirut.

Before Hamas took over. the borders had been open. Thousands of Gazans commuted daily to jobs in Israel proper. Then Hamas won the elections of 2007 and started launching rockets by the hundreds and then the thousands into Israel. In self-defense Israel responded with a tight blockade by land, by sea, and by air. The Israelis nevertheless continued to supply Gaza with fresh water and electricity. Meanwhile with no industry or jobs and only limited agriculture Gaza survived on Western charity.

In 2023, as they had a half-century earlier, bad actors resorted to the propaganda technique first described by Adolph Hitler in Mein Kampf, the Big Lie, one which was too outrageous NOT to be true. People accepted the lie because it was simply inconceivable that anyone "could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously", as he put it.

Even though Hamas itself released its own videos of the atrocities which it was so proud of having committed, their supporters claimed that no Arabs had crossed the border and attacked Israel that day. The whole thing was a false flag operation, one where where crisis actors portrayed both aggressors and victims. The videos and photos were was Jewish propaganda intended to make the Palestinian cause look bad.

One of the worst of the liars was the so-called moderate head of the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, Mahmud Abbas. That should have come as no surprise from a man who had published a PhD thesis about how the attack on the Soviet Union in 1941 in Operation Barbarossa was a joint endeavor of the Nazis and, wait for it, the Jews!

October 1973

Eight months after my enforced stay in Bolzano following that temporary loss of memory which I wrote about, and after I had fully established myself under a new identity in the Austrian city of Innsbruck, I went on vacation to Italy, Greece and Israel. No stopovers this time in Olympus for an appointment with Asclepius for new fingerprints. I simply wanted to visit some of my haunts of yesteryear.

Florence is one of my favorite cities. It may not have been the birthplace of the Renaissance, but it where it flourished best. The city center retains enough of the physical fabric of those days that you can almost imagine yourself on the streets with the giants of those days such as Lorenzo the Magnificent. Florence is much smaller and on a more human scale than modern Rome. It is more livable and I like to think that the restaurants are better.

Of course Rome has all those monuments of antiquity whereas hardly anything remains of ancient Florentia. You won't find an ancient arena or amphitheater still in use like the arena in Verona with its open air opera productions. The fabric of the amphitheater of Florentia is long gone. The only trace it left behind is the right of way of the street which ran along its boundaries, which today is a street arcing in a semi-circle across the old city.

I always make a point of visiting the science museum which displays some of Galileo's telescopes. He did not invent the instrument but as an early adopter was the first to use if for astronomical observation. His discoveries include the four Galilean moons of Jupiter, named after the four paramours of Zeus. The largest of these plant-sized moons is Ganymede. Ahem!

So much has been said about the eternal city that I have nothing to add here other than recommend that every tourist take a walk along the Via dei Fori Imperiali, the avenue Mussolini laid out between the Colosseum and the wedding cake style monument to Vittorio Emanuele I, the first king of a modern united Italy. Five huge maps of the Mediterranean world show Rome's dominions in five different eras.

After some days in Rome I caught a train bound for Brindisi a port located in Apulia on the heel of the Italian boot. It was where I was to catch a sea ferry to the Greek island of Ithaca, home of Odysseus.

First though I had to pass through Naples, a city in lockdown against the arrival of cholera from North Africa, the latest advance of the Seventh Cholera Pandemic which began in 1961 and is ongoing. The very first cholera pandemic dates back only two centuries when modern means of travel and transport facilitated transmission of the disease. On old sailing ships, an outbreak could not sustain itself for very long and would die out.

It was weird passing through a city with its streets empty of traffic with no pedestrians and no moving vehicles. In the gloom of the evening hardly any lights were on. Naples was like a city of the dead. Ours was a sealed train crossing the city slowly without stopping. No one got on and no one got off. For me it was a foreshadowing to the lockdowns of 2020.

For international travel I needed a yellow Vaccination Passport from the World Health Organization to document a recent vaccination with the cholera vaccine. Without it I could not have left Italy. At the time no one complained, as so many later did during the Covid-19 pandemic, that proof of vaccination was an infringement on their human rights, something only Big Brother could dream up.

Then again, the anti-vax crackpots had yet to be heard from, one of whom is now running for president of the United States, a Kennedy no less, son of Robert Kennedy, he of the brain worm. Sadly the trinity of JFK, RFK, and RFK Jr. seems to exemplify the saying that History does repeat itself, first as tragedy and then as farce.

Besides exploring Athens with a side trip via city bus to Cape Sounion the tip of the Attic peninsula, I booked three different guided bus tours. First was a tour of central Greece: including the Oracle at Delphi, and historic battlefields of Marathon, Thermopylae, and Chaeronea, where the very young Alexander fought his first major battle, leading the left wing of the army of his father, Philip II of Macedon. His spectacular career lay ahead of him in which he conquered the greatest empire the world had seen to that date. Equal parts genius and monster Alexander was an object lesson in excess.

Next I toured the Peloponnese peninsula visiting the main sites of the Mycenaean civilization including Mycenae itself with its Lion Gate and Tiryns and Pylos with their famous Cyclopean walls. It is only in the last few centuries that people have not needed to build such walls around cities and towns or to fortify hill tops. Back then civilization had to protect itself against the invaders, marauders, barbarians, bandits, and raiders who found it easier to take and kill rather than to build, grow, or make for themselves. Barbarians threaten our modern cities but from within, by which I mean our large criminal underclass.

I stopped off at modern Corinth where I caught a ride on a ship sailing through the sea-level canal which had turned the former peninsula into an island.

The canal is barely four miles long and only eighty feet wide, squeezed between nearly vertical rock walls three-hundred feet high. Atop the cliffs the canal is crossed by a railway line, a road and a highway. Remarkably the crossing at each end of the canal is at sea level, and no, it is not a swing bridge but a submersible one. Now that is something you don't see every day though I admit that those were built twenty-five years after my voyage.

It might not look like it on a map, but the canal shaves more than four-hundred miles off a trip from one side of the Peloponnesos to the other. It is too narrow for modern ocean freighters so is traversed mainly by tourist vessels, though only five years ago a cruise ship did squeeze through. Convoys of ships alternate the one-way passage.

Now I had wanted to see how the State of Israel had developed in the quarter century since its declaration of independence in 1948. So I booked a flight scheduled to leave from Athens airport just after the end of my tour of Greece.

Alas, October of 1973 was the very worst time for a tourist to visit the Holy Land, historically the cockpit of nations, indeed the prophesied site of the final Battle of Armageddon.

While on vacation I had not bothered to keep up with the news. I never picked up a copy of the English language newspaper published in Athens nor did I listen to local news broadcasts. My modern Greek was pretty weak anyway. I was much better with the Koine, the lingua franca of the Hellenistic age when the language was spoken as far east as the Greek cities of India and Central Asia.

These days our digital devices keep us connected to the world, but half a century ago, there were no smart phones or tablets or laptops. You would have needed to lug around a portable short wave radio to keep up with world events via the BBC. I did not bother.

So I arrived at the airport clueless. Yes, at check-in I was warned that fighting had broken out once again in the Holy Land, but I impatiently dismissed the outbreak as just another border clash, shrugging and ignoring the well meant warning with these exact words: "They're always fighting!"

In my mind there was nothing to worry about. Instead I landed in the middle of the War of Yom Kippur. I cannot remember whether my flight was fully booked, but I have always wondered with regret whether I had taken a seat which some Israeli reservist had needed to fly to the defense of his country.

When we came in for a landing at Lod or now Ben Gurion airport I saw that the whole country was blacked out like London during the Blitz. I was quickly appraised that Israel was at war on two fronts against Egypt and Syria who had attacked without warning, achieving both strategic and tactical surprise. Things looked bad for the Israelis, caught as they were between two fires.

Jordan at least sat this war out. Having lost the West Bank in 1967 and then fought a civil war against the PLO which sought to overthrow him, King Hussein had lost whatever interest he had ever had in the Palestinian Cause in particular or in the Arab cause in general.

Unfortunately there were no flights out. I would have to stay put till the war was won. Astonishingly the tour I had booked was still on. Ours was a group of fifteen, all tourists like me stranded till the fighting stopped. Our tour guide was Mordecai a veteran of the IDF but now too old for active service. So we kept to our itinerary as nearly as we might.

Our first stop was right in Tel Aviv where we visited the vast cisterns under the old city built in Roman times which were rediscovered only during the Mandate period when Zionist prisoners held in a British jail dug an escape tunnel. Next we visited the Christian and Jewish monuments in the Holy City of Jerusalem. I walked the Via Dolorosa, the path Jesus supposedly took to his Crucifixion, though if there is any truth to that story, the stones of the old streets in Jerusalem which he had trod were buried under more recent layers. On another day, a guide claimed that the room we were in was the venue of the Last Supper. I shook my head and pointed to the cross-groined ceiling, clear evidence of Crusader construction.

As a reminder that we were in a country at war, on the highways we saw tank transporters, flat bed trucks with tanks aboard, transferring Israeli armor from the Sinai front in the south to the northern front near the Golan Heights.

We did get to visit the palace of Herod the Great and fortress atop Masada which overlooks the Dead Sea, but were barred from the shoreline. So we did not get swim in its super salty waters which was not such a bad thing. Swimming in water that salty is no fun. It makes you so buoyant you cannot swim properly, and your skin feels icky. Beside I had swum there several times in the past, so I had no need to check it off my bucket list in 1973.

Another place no one was allowed to swim was off the beach at Tel Aviv which I visited the day before our tour began. The beach itself was open though hardly anyone was there. Nearly everyone of military age had been called up, except the gays who in those days were barred from serving. Which is why, while I was sunbathing, one of our kind picked me up and introduced me to his circle of friends. We spent the evening and night together.

I did not speak Modern Hebrew, but my new friends spoke English quite well, as did so many Israelis. It is not an official language but it is very widely spoken. I had no trouble keeping up with the news on TV which in the beginning was very dire indeed.

Near the end of the tour our bus traveled to the Sea of Galilee but was halted at a checkpoint before we reached Nazareth. From the western shore we watched Israeli warplanes attack the Golan Heights, swooping down to drop their bombs. Now the terrain blocked our view of the explosions at ground level but we could see the shock wave in the air followed by the muffled KERRUNCH of the bombs. I did measure the distance by the flash to bang interval, but have since forgotten how far away the bombs landed.

Then we came under attack ourselves. Ten stealthy Syrian commandos had infiltrated far past the FEBA, the Forward Edge of the Battle Area, only to come across us. I never learned what their original mission had been, but our busload of Westerners made a soft target too tempting to pass up. They took us and our bus under fire, that is us and the four Israeli soldiers and their Jeep at the checkpoint.

So much for not being there when trouble happens. Like lemme outta here!

Seldom in my long life had I felt so helpless. There I was under fire with no way to shoot back and no cover but a thin skinned touring bus.

Our guide Mordecai directed the three women in the group to crouch behind the motor. He had several of the men lie flat behind the four rear wheels putting something solid between both groups and the shooters. The rest of the menfolk could do no more than lie prone in the ditch using the camber of the road and the ditch itself for shelter. I heard several pray aloud as if their omniscient deity did not already know about their peril, especially right there in the Holy Land, the home of his Chosen People.

Now the four soldiers at the checkpoint fought bravely, but they had been caught by surprise and were outnumbered. Only three were still in the fight and two of those had minor wounds. One soldier was completely out of the fight, still alive but unconscious, stretched out on the ground while still in the line of fire. His wound looked survivable but only if he were not shot again and got immediate first aid

I knew that if our defenders fell we would all be killed anyway, so what the hell. Time for me to lend a hand. I signaled to the three soldiers for covering fire then darted out to the fallen soldier and dragged him behind the front wheels of the bus, getting a graze wound to my thigh for my trouble. Our guide Mordecai produced a first aid kit and tended to our wounds.

"This is not my first rodeo." Mordecai explained as he expertly patched us up. "I served as an infantry medic in '56 and '67. Nowadays I am too old even for the reserves, or so they tell me, but I have kept up my skills just the same."

I nodded. "This is not my first firefight either. If you don't mind. I'll borrow the wounded man's weapon. I am a damn good shot, as you'll soon see."

"Go right ahead. I have my hands full with this man and my charges," meaning the fifteen tourists on the bus. "And if worse comes to worst, I do have my pistol and his hand grenades. Let them come into range of my pistol or of my throwing arm, and I'll go down fighting, doing my damnedest to take as many of them with me as I can."

I nodded. "Old soldiers never forget how; they just slow down a little."

Now the Galil rifle the soldier had carried was far from ideal. It was heavy and easily fouled by dust and sand and was not particularly accurate. If I had had my druthers, I would have preferred an AK-47, an assault rifle which laughed at sand and grit. However, needs must, and I made do.

I gave supporting fire to the other three soldiers, firing semi-automatically, one shot at a time, not so much to conserve ammo as to make the enemy keep their heads down for as long as I could. That covering fire gave one of the IDF soldiers the chance to climb onto the jeep and retrieve the medium machine gun mounted on a pintle. He got targeted doing so though fortunately the bullet clanged off his helmet without penetrating. Taking a prone position behind the jeep he started shooting at anything which presented a target. With this welcome addition to our armamentarium we held the line, but we had to wonder for how long. Would they try to outflank us?

The damnably familiar whoosh-bang of RPG rockets coming our way sounded a more serious note especially when two of them slammed into the body of the bus pretty much demolishing it. Another destroyed the jeep. Things were looking bad for the good guys.

By then I had slipped into the ditch from which I would fire two or three shots then move along to another firing position and then the next. I even backtracked to keep the enemy guessing where I would pop up from next. The enemy stayed in their initial firing positions. Evidently lifelong members of the spray-and-pray school of ground combat, they fired wildly, expending ammo at a furious rate.

I returned fire deliberately as did the IDF soldiers; even the machine gunner fired short controlled bursts. Then I got lucky when I spotted a soldier carrying reloads up to the enemy rocketeer. My first shot immobilized him, which gave me a stationary target: the four RPG warheads in his back pack. I didn't try anything fancy; the Galil is no sniper rifle. Instead I fired bursts on full automatic and emptied the clip, which normally is indicative of poor fire discipline, but was justifiable in those circumstances.

The machine gunner copied my move aiming his bullets where my tracers were heading. Our converging fire was rewarded with a quadruple explosion which took the fight out of the enemy. We never knew whose bullets did it, his, mine, or both. I think I can fairly claim the credit for target acquisition, but the machine gunner, by his much heavier volume of fire, had a superior claim to target neutralization.

The survivors withdrew eastward but did not get very far, cut down by the IDF unit which had come up in support. By then only two of the soldiers were still alive, the wounded man I had dragged to safety and the machine gunner, a nice Jewish boy who looked much too young to be in uniform. The fight over, I found him weeping over his fallen comrades. Also lost were three of the tourists, two German and one Italian.

Mordecai had gotten an assist from a feisty old lady who explained that she had been a licensed practical nurse before she retired. Together they treated the wounded: three soldiers and five tourists. It was she who had dealt with a panicky tourist who had started bawling, yelling that we would all be killed.

"Oh, for Christ's sake. Man up, will you!" she told him after delivering a terrific clap to the chops.

That was the end of my brief and impromptu service with the IDF. A few days later after release from a military hospital, I took my leave from the wounded soldier whom I had pulled out of the line of fire who looked to be on the road to a full recovery. Mordecai gave me a ride to the airport for my return flight to Greece.

A couple of months later, back in the US, I attended a brief ceremony at the Israeli embassy in Washington where I was formally thanked for my service and granted Israeli citizenship, passport and all.

And lest you wonder, I was not eligible to be honored as one of the Righteous Among the Nations. That honor is reserved for Gentiles who saved Jews from the Nazi Holocaust. My brief firefight in no way compared to the risks taken European Christians during the war, who risked everything to save Jews from the Holocaust during years of Nazi occupation.

I still keep that passport though now only as a souvenir, since it is of no use for travel. Not only is it long past its expiration date, there is no way I look like someone in his seventies. Regardless, citizenship is for life, so for the last half-century I have considered myself a dual citizen of the State of Israel.

Only recently could I write about these things, choosing, out of caution, to cast them as fiction, a series of fanciful tales of an immortal youth written under a pseudonym. My secret is safe for no one in these days of modern science will believe it. In this tale, everything except some the names is real. The events described really did happen just as I have written.

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