Saving life in a war zone. Stories #6

Everything written in these pages is based on personal experience. Overall, this is the way I remember what happened. And everything, of course, is based on actual events. Unfortunately.

“How did an ordinary day look like in Lebanon?” asks Berg.

    My suicidal thoughts have begun to subside. I don’t think about it every day in any case. I had actually tried to work a little bit. 

As part of a so-called active sick leave. Berg doesn’t talk to me about Lebanon very much anymore. Mostly about mom and dad. I really don’t know what to answer Berg. Ordinary days? Do they really exists?

Metulla Border Crossing 1300 GMT

 

The narcotic trafficking had increased dramatically in the past few weeks. We often ran into smugglers who stood and threw packages of narcotics over the borders to people waiting on the other side when we came driving by. We couldn’t do anything about it, of course. This took place outside our AOR and usually in no-man’s land or in Israeli-
occupied areas.

During this time we were ordered to stand guard duty at the Metulla border crossing. This meant that one MP corporal every day followed the first column from Saqi to Israel and accompanied the last column back when the border closed for the night. We sat there all day with an Israeli liaison officer and had a relatively alright job. 

 

Metulla gate

The border crossing was built like an ordinary military camp. A long asphalt road without buildings led to the actual border area where we sat.

The street was wide and easy to monitor. Cement blocks and huge iron crosses were positioned on equal distance from each other to prevent potential car bombers from reaching us before they were stopped. Or before the bombs detonated.

 Just a few weeks ago the blocks had served their purpose. It started out to be just an ordinary day. Hot and boring. It was so early in the morning that we hadn’t yet managed to move ourselves out of our warm prefab security booth. Since it was so early, there weren’t many soldiers around. The ones who were there had their shirts hanging out of their pants and their toiletry bags under their arms. On their way to and from their morning wash-up. Of course, all of them had their obligatory M16’s under their arms. You never saw an Israeli soldier go anywhere without it.

I was having a conversation with the liaison officer when we suddenly heard intense gunfire from hand-held weapons farther up the road. We jumped up and look out. And saw nothing. Only Israeli soldiers who were running here and there in the area in front of us.

“What’s happening?” I ask my easily confused liaison colleague in English. 

He moved his head. “Don’t know.” 

The shooting increased and I began to look around for cover. Soon we heared the gunning of a motor at high
speed and the area in front of us is suddenly devoid of soldiers. All the soldiers who previously had been only halfway dressed were now lying in their firing positions around us.

What I witnessed is one reason for the Israeli army’s success. When it comes down to it, I’ve never seen such a fast reaction. In just seconds all the soldiers were ready for battle. The liaison officer and I had barely managed to stand up to see what was happening.

Farther up the road we saw an old Volkswagen bus barrelling down the hill. I bolt out of the booth and throw myself flat behind some barrels filled with cement. I didn’t bring my rifle. For one thing, I had handed it over that morning when I arrived, and for another thing, there were already enough of people shooting at the bus.

Completely out of control, it came down the road toward us. The distance was about 150 meters. I crossed my fingers. Hoped no bombs would go off. The car finally stopped against one of the iron crosses and stood still. After a  
long time – at least half an hour – an Israeli soldier walked slowly towards the car. He was wearing body armour. If a bomb was in the car  and it went off, it did not matter how much protection he was wearing. It did not matter for us either.

He opened the door on the driver’s side. Clearly satisfied, he turned and waved for the bomb team. They came running and began working on the car.

The bullets got him first.

Afterward I heared that there was a man with a bomb. But he didn’t manage to detonate it. The bullets got him first.

A rather uneventful job

Guard duty was otherwise a rather uneventful job.

It was very hot in the booth where we were sitting. Usually we sat under a cedar tree a little outside the booth and walked the few meters back each time a UN vehicle or UN personnel wanted to enter. Next to our booth there was an area where we could pull aside vehicles for closer inspection.

Behind the border post toward Israel there was still about 100meters of asphalt road before you came to the actual border crossing. On the Israeli side, the asphalt road was surrounded by a 2.5 meter high fence.

The rule was that only one vehicle at a time could pass between us and the Israeli check post, if clearance was granted by both sides. If clearance wasn’t given or if two or more vehicles drove at the same time, the mounted machine guns positioned midway along the asphalt road opened fire. Without warning. 

We were very picky about the clearances.

This was one of the military border posts. Here the Israelis allowed their own personnel, UN personnel and Haddad personnel to enter. Sometimes they allowed civilians to enter here, but only when they needed to be checked more closely for one reason or another.

 

Braking rules

The regular civilian post was located some distance away and, if possible, had an even a higher level of security.

Occasionally I took one of the narcotics dogs from the dog patrol with me. They were outstanding dogs with excellent trainers. We used that division to take random tests of UN personnel, but we almost never found anything.

One day as we sat in the heat with nothing much to do – the dog trainer, liaison officer and I – we noticed a Druze had almost totally disassembled the car in the area next to the booth.

It was just warm enough where we were sitting in the shade under the cedar tree, but it must have been a real oven over there where the soldiers were working and sweating.

Suddenly an officer came walking toward us.

He went over to the liaison officer and spoke in Hebrew. I noticed that the officer hesitated and reacted negatively. After a longdiscussion, we heard the translation.

“They’re looking for narcotics in that car over there.”

The liaison officer pointed toward the vehicle and the Druze who shifted back and forth on his feet.

“They can’t find anything, even though their sources say that there are probably narcotics in the car. They’re wondering if they can borrow your dog.”

I shook my head. Not a chance.

“We’re not permitted to help you capture civilians. It’s against the UN charter,” I said. 

The liaison officer turned toward the Israeli captain and translated what I had just said. The officer shrugged his shoulders, obviously disappointed. Then he said something again to the liaison officer who seemed more positive this time.

“He says he understands that, but it’s just one time. And …” He paused in order to emphasize his point. “This would mean very much. Very much if you can help us just this once.”

I hesitated. Didn’t like the situation. I knew what “very much” meant. It meant that if we didn’t help them, they would make a lot of trouble for us every time we needed to take some kind of action at the border crossing. At the same time, I didn’t have anything against capturing a drug smuggler. Whether he was a civilian or not. The dog
trainer was anxious to be useful and was naturally very positive toward helping them.

I turned toward him and said, “If we help them, you can’t mention this in camp. No reports, nothing can come out. It’s serious if we use UNresources help the Israelis at the border. Even though the purpose is noble enough. Do you understand?”

I emphasized my point by pointing my finger at him. He nodded.

I said to the liaison officer, “OK, we can let the dog do a search, but remove all the soldiers from the car and let the Norwegian dog trainer have free reign to work.”

The Israeli officer didn’t need any translation and shouted at the soldiers who were still turning screws and hammering on the Druze’s pick-up.

The smell of trouble

We got up and went toward the car. I think the Druze began to smell trouble as soon as he saw the dog come trotting toward the car. The dog found something almost right away. After having sniffed around the front part of the car, it went straight toward the ventilation duct and gave a definite signal.

The Israeli soldiers jumped all over the car again and screwed open the ventilation duct. I looked at the Druze. His eyes were blank with anxiety. It seemed as if he knew that his trip had come to an end here.

Then with a triumphant shout, an Israeli soldier drew out an oval-shaped plastic package with some grey, flour-like substance inside. 

The trainer, who had positioned himself next to me again, whispered,

“That’s at least a kilo of heroin.”

“So much?” I was surprised at the amount. I began to have regrets. Not for having helped capture a drug smuggler, but because I knew there could be an uproar over this.

The jubilation among the Israeli soldiers underscored my misgivings. I looked at my watch. Still one hour before we could return to Saqi.

“Let’s go back to the tree,” I said to the trainer in the hope of maintaining a low profile.

The Druze wasn’t rejoicing. He had gotten down on his knees and put his hands on his head. I almost felt sorry for him. Right afterward the civilian police came up to the check post and took him away. That was the last we saw of him. 

We never heard a word about the loan we had made. But we got good, and fast, service at the check post for several weeks afterward.

 

Wishing you a quiet and peaceful week.

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Knut Braa

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