The sun rose, for which I was quite thankful. In my mind sunlight logically equaled warmth, which was a very welcome idea at the moment. I then began to survey my surroundings in the daylight. To the east and south was the beginnings of a town. To my memory it was called Hellatatrah. I was surprised, however, to see sparkling blue Mediterranean water to the west. I knew were close to the beach but I didn't realize how close.

We remained in our foxholes waiting for the rest of the army to catch up. Late that morning I heard a distant cracking noise followed by low, dull buzzing similar to angry hornets flying around our heads.

It was sniper fire.

I dove back into my foxhole and cautiously peered over the edge with my M4 assault rifle and Trigicon scope, trying to determine where the bullets were coming from. A nearby tank, however, identified the source of enemy fire before I did. A few well-placed tank shells in his building ended his relatively short-lived career as a Hamas sniper. He wasn't the only one, however, and we continued this pattern for most of the day.

Somewhere about lunchtime I actually began paying attention to the orchard itself. The trees themselves were fruitless, but they were surrounded by greenery that I originally thought were merely weeds. In reality they were peas. Nice, fresh peas in a pod. They were abandoned, forlorn, lonely... and really tasty. So Axel and I spent the whole day sitting in a foxhole, taking fire from an occasional sniper, and eating peas. It was then and there that we came up with a new personal objective for Operation Cast Lead. We were going to eat our way through Gaza.

Then nightfall came. As soon as the sun set we made our way to a nearby, make-shift logistics center to re-supply. While refilling our water and food as well as finally getting rid of the missiles we heard a burst of nearby gunfire. The shots were followed by a commander from a sister platoon screaming and collapsing to the ground. I readied my rifle and scanned through my night vision scope for the threat. But it wasn't enemy fire. It was a freak accident. Somehow the 7.62 mm MAG machine gun mounted on an Achzerit armored personal carrier went off and hit the commander in the chest three times at point blank range. To my shock he miraculously survived. Somehow his ceramic body armor stopped all three bullets. I was quite surprised because the body armor is not supposed to be strong enough to stop 7.62 mm rounds at that close of range. He suffered a few cracked ribs and a punctured lung. But still, he survived and he will eventually have a full recovery.

Now we assaulted the town itself. Once again the bombardment began. Either it was heavier than before or, more likely, we were simply a lot closer to the falling shells and rockets. I particularly marveled at the missiles fired from the choppers. They made a strange, almost science fiction noise as they descended from the sky. And there is nothing, and I mean nothing, like an incoming Hellfire missile.

It was definitely a show. No amount of television or video games can prepare you for it. It is simply an overload of all your senses. You feel the rumbling in your body. You feel your ears popping from the pressure. You smell the sulfur and burnt flesh. Burnt flesh is a smell you can never forget. In one house particularly several Hamas operatives tried to make a stand. One incendiary missile ended that endeavor. I remained crouched behind a half-destroyed building watching the flames lick the night sky and hearing the terrorists scream.

We pressed forward. We ourselves, the paratroopers, encountered almost no resistance. Hamas was unable to stand against the mortars and air force. We continued moving and ultimately took over a small neighborhood known for Hamas activity. We entered the first house. Normally I am partnered with the platoon-commanding lieutenant, Captain America, and kick the door in and go in first. The platoon was divided into two squads: the lead squad and the missile squad. For this operation, however, the head sergeant requested to change the order a little bit and made me the lead missile specialist as well as the lead sharpshooter of the second squad. It had its advantages and disadvantages. It was definitely more my style to kick the door in, but in the second squad I was partnered with my best friend Axel as well as the head sergeant. The head sergeant is an Ethiopian Jew named Baruch that has accordingly earned the nickname "Commanding-Sergeant Baruch Obama."

Anyway Sgt. Obama sent me to one of the windows to give covering fire for Platoon 8 as they entered a neighboring house. With the other sharpshooters as well as our MAG machine gunner I started putting bullets in all the windows and other openings. Arab houses have a unique water system consisting of large plastic black tanks on the roof that stores water and heats it with sunlight. I couldn't resist putting a bullet or two into the water tank. Then the company commander gave the order to cease firing. All was quiet except for the trickling of large quantities of water. Apparently every other soldier had likewise given in to the temptation to put a few bullets in the water tanks.

Once again we had worked all night and now it was near daybreak, so we fortified ourselves in one of the Hamas leader's houses. Again we waited for dawn and the rest of the army to catch up. It was then that I discovered that by shooting all the water tanks now the plumbing in the house no longer worked. And when you have over thirty soldiers from two platoons stationed in one house for a long period of time with no working toilets... it's a bad scene.

Comment from YBC regarding the water tanks (1/28/2009):

Apparently there is a huge misunderstanding, even a debate, about shooting the water tanks. I will elaborate and clarify.

We went into Gaza in full war mode. Axel and I gave Operation Cast Lead the title of "The Roadshow of Destruction." Make no mistake. We destroyed the place. As you will see from future blog posts we did not randomly obliterate everything in sight. But when assaulting Hamas neighborhoods after confirming that they were genuinely Hamas houses we used absolutely no restraint in weaponry. First we mortared the houses. Then when attacking we strafed them with 7.62 mm and even .50 caliber machine guns, not to mention the automatic grenade launchers. Meanwhile the choppers would fire Vulcan cannons and wing rockets into the houses, and even occasionally a hellfire missile. If we couldn't get a door open… no problem. We would blow a hole in the wall.

It was a war. Our goal was to kill and to destroy. And we succeeded.

When approaching the houses we, the sharpshooters, would place bullets into all doors, windows, and all other hiding places while our own soldiers would move down the street and alleys. The idea was to cover their approach and entry into the house itself. This is what we were doing when we shot the water tanks. We were shooting at Hamas houses to make sure that no terrorists popped their heads out of windows or that there were no snipers on the roof.

It's called "covering fire." It was not cruel mischief or a juvenile prank. And it certainly was not an ethical violation of rabbinical codes or halachah. It was later encouraged even to shoot at them. Snipers and RPG teams have an irritating habit of hiding behind the large, black water tanks. And these were not the houses of innocent Palestinian civilians. They were the bases of operations for Hamas activity, in particular launching rockets and missiles at southern Israel.

Besides, when they see the 2 meter (6 ft) hole I put in the wall from the LAW rocket launcher, I seriously doubt they will even notice a two centimeter hole in the water tank from a 5.56 mm bullet.

I just didn't know that we would have to stay in these houses after we destroyed them.