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Stitching up the Enemy

Sima Borkovski, September 17, 2009

Dr. Ben Lulu with a Palestinian patient. (Photo: Nili Basan)

Picture this. A few people are gathered around a food stand in the Palestinian city of Tul Karem waiting to be served. One of them turns around as he is called by name. The minute he does so, confirming his identity, two men standing on each side tie his hands and distance him from the crowd, shoving him into a nearby car. The capture takes less than a minute, and they leave with the wanted person as quickly as possible.

This scene could easily be taken from a typical action movie; however, this is a standard mission operated by "Duvdevan" (cherry in Hebrew), an elite I.D.F. unit. The person taken is a "bad guy" with either Israeli or Palestinian blood on his hands and, once captured, will be interrogated by Israeli security services.

"Many people who served in this unit like to brag about the number of terrorists they have killed, but most of them usually do not tell the truth, as the purpose is to capture them alive. Only when our lives were threatened would we strike back," explained Dr. Oren Ben Lulu, 41, an orthopedist at the Ha-Emek hospital in Afula who served as a soldier and commanding officer in this elite unit for four years.

The first thing you notice when meeting Dr. Ben Lulu is his unusual height. The average person has to look up to meet his eyes, but his kind expression and mellow voice assures that there is nothing intimidating about him.

"My unusual height (6'6") was actually an obstacle preventing me from taking an active role in these operations. It was crucial for our units to blend into the local population and my height made me stand out. Not all the soldiers in our unit needed to have Middle Eastern features. Some had to be disguised as women and therefore be short with gentle features. There was one operation during which I was disguised as a woman but the nature of our activity, a surveillance mission during which we were sitting in a car, made it possible," Dr. Lulu recalled.

"I had no moral dilemmas regarding our activity as the people we captured were no angels, to say the least. They were brutal murderers who terrorized not only Israelis but their own people. For example, many women accused [by them] of being prostitutes were brutally killed or hung in the city square. Others were murdered in the same manner merely for 'cooperating' with Israelis. We couldn't tolerate such actions and therefore these thugs had to be captured. Obviously many of them were also involved in actions against Israeli targets. Being part of our unit demanded courage and mental strength and one of my duties as an officer was to release unfit soldiers. Nonetheless, I believe standing for hours at a checkpoint on a daily basis is much more exhausting both physically and mentally," he said.

Giving terrorists the best medical treatment is a kind of protest

Ha-Emek hospital is situated in the northern city of Afula and serves the rural population of Jews and Arabs from nearby villages. It is also close to the Palestinian city of Jenin, which many Palestinian terrorists use as their base. Some of them end up getting medical care at the hospital. Palestinian prisoners jailed in two nearby prisons, "Gilboa" and "Megido," come to the hospital on a regular basis for medical treatments.

"After working for six years at the Rambam hospital in Haifa I appreciate the quiet nature of my rural patients," Dr. Lulu said. "They are much more relaxed and polite than their city counterparts. Since I am acquainted with Arab traditions and know the language, many of my Arab patients mistake me for one of their own. Hospitality and respect for elders is the basis of Arab tradition, but unfortunately the younger generation deserted these ideals in the name of the struggle against Israel.

"Nevertheless, when Palestinian prisoners or wounded terrorists arrive at the hospital for medical care they are well behaved, since even they know when 'the game is over,'" explains Dr. Lulu. "Even though these people are fierce enemies of my country, I have never had second thoughts about treating them. I would probably even do my best to ensure they get the best medical care, as for some this would be their first encounter with an Israeli civilian. In my heart I hope that receiving such good care in an Israeli hospital will reduce the hatred they feel towards us. Giving these terrorists the best medical care is also some kind of protest on my part. In spite of their relentless efforts to hurt us we still have the decency to treat them humanely," he said.

"Once I had to operate on a terrorist who attempted a suicide attack on a regiment of Israeli soldiers. One of the soldiers wounded in this attack was a friend of mine. A technical mishap resulted in this terrorist getting wounded and not killed. When he arrived at the hospital I already knew about my friend being wounded but still I worked hard to save his fingers. Once the operation was over I joked that now his hands are in such perfect shape that he can use them against us once again."

Sima Borkovski is a freelance journalist based in Israel who writes consistently for magazines, websites and papers in the U.S. and Europe. She can be reached at sima@words4you.co.il and words4you.co.il.

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