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Wednesday, September 26, 2012

A Rocky Encounter With Wiley Coyote

My daily commute takes me and my scooter roughly an hour (each way) through a mostly empty landscape where someone from New Mexico would feel right at home. Lots of scrub, rolling hills, earth tones… and rocks.

It’s the rocks that will be the focus of this discussion… or at least the catalyst for it.

You see, there are rocks everywhere. There are big ones and small ones, poking through what remains of the dry soil on the hillsides, and heaped in piles where the seasonal rains have washed them against one another.

Over the millennia, enterprising farmers have used some of the stones to build terraces on the hillsides. The rationale being that since there is little or no vegetation to keep the soil from washing off the hillsides, a terrace can at least catch enough of it to make little pockets of agriculture – grapes and olives mostly – possible.

As arable areas of the hillsides were parceled off by tribal leaders and absentee landlords over the centuries for the purposes of collecting rent, more of the idle stones were put to use building and mending walls between these parcels.

Robert Frost would feel at home here.

I was passing through a series of sharp bends about halfway through my morning commute when ahead in the roadway I spotted a clutter of stones. These were the softball sized rocks that I’ve come to recognize as the hallmark of a rock attack on passing cars recently concluded… or still in progress

I quickly scanned the steep hillside and spotted the lone figure of a young man just above where the roadway was littered with stones. But instead of standing poised to throw more stones, he was busily engaged in trying to use a stick to lever a precariously balanced boulder into a bounding dash that would land it onto the roadway below.

The boulder in question was twice the size of the boy, and it didn’t take an advanced degree in physics to understand that the likelihood of him succeeding in dislodging the enormous rock where thousands of years of erosion and gravity had failed, were slim at best.

But I’m not a gambling man, nor very familiar with physics. Just because I wasn’t going to get squashed like a bug didn’t mean this kid wouldn’t eventually win his battle with inertia and push this, or some other, boulder down onto an innocent motorist.

I continued a couple of hundred yards around to the other side of the hill, pulled my scooter onto the shoulder, and contemplated what to do.  I didn’t have any authority in this inhospitable place, but before calling the cops or the army, I wanted to get another look at what the teenager was really up to.

So I walked up the rocky incline and crested the hill just above where the young man was busily working with his improvised fulcrum. I watched him for a few seconds, and for all the world he reminded me of ‘Wiley Coyote’ setting a trap for the Road Runner.

The only difference was that once he lost interest in the boulder he was working on, he’d probably go find another one… or go back to tossing smaller rocks at passing cars. It didn’t matter that the Acme Company didn’t deliver out here.  I could see by the determined effort he was applying to his stick that he’d get his Road Runner… one way or another.

I took out my phone and dialed the local Army operator to report what was going on.  Once I started speaking into the phone, Wiley looked up the hill in surprise, but instead of running away (as I though he might), he started shouting at me in Arabic and waving his stick in the air.

I gave the relevant information of what was going on and where I was to the operator and hung up to consider my next move.  I really hadn’t thought things through very well.

Just then, a passing tractor stopped on the road below and an older man who had been driving, and a young man who had been sitting behind him, jumped off and jogged up the steep hillside to a spot between Wiley and myself.

With a few softly spoken words in Arabic, the young man who had been the passenger on the tractor relieved Wiley of his stick and tossed it away.

I wasn’t sure if he did so to show me that it was no longer a threat, or to introduce plausible deniability if /when the police or army showed up.  Oddly, the gesture didn’t make me feel better; Just less sure of the justice of my position.

The older man walked up to where I was standing and asked me in heavily accented Hebrew what had happened.

I pointed down at the roadway near his tractor and told him that the young man had been throwing rocks (which was obvious from the scattered stones), and that when I stopped he’d been trying to use his stick to dislodge the boulder and roll it down the hill.

The old man asked me if I had called the police.  I told him I had called the army.He looked distraught.

With words and gestures the old man began pleading with me to call them back and tell them everything was okay.  He explained that the young man I now thought of as Wiley Coyote was not right in the head and was not responsible for his actions.

I asked him if he was Wiley’s father, and he said that he was ‘a relative’ (which could mean anything).  I asked him what it mattered if Wiley was ‘not right in the head’ if he killed a passing driver (a young father and his infant son were killed this past year in a rock attack not far from where we stood)?

He shrugged and said I was right, but that it was still just a mistake.Wiley wasn’t supposed to be out by himself and people usually looked after him to keep him from getting into trouble.

By now, the younger tractor passenger and Wiley had walked up the hillside to where I was talking to the older man.  The tractor passenger who looked to be about 20 had a quick intelligence about his face.His expression was guarded, but his eyes took in everything at once and seemed to be waiting for further data.

Wiley, who upon closer examination looked about 14 or 15, seemed like a blank slate. Now that he had been taken in hand, he looked neither hostile nor angry. But he didn’t look contrite, either. He simply looked like a kid who’d been interrupted at one activity and was only mildly curious to see what the next activity might be.

I told the old man to look at the roadway again.  I explained that any one of the rocks down there could have killed someone. Could have killed me!

The young tractor passenger asked me if he’d thrown anything at me. I told him no, but that the only reason he hadn’t is that he was busy trying to roll the boulder down into the roadway.

Then the old man asked a disarming question. He asked me what I thought would happen when the army showed up.

I told him that they would probably arrest the person responsible for trying to kill passing motorists.

He then asked me if I knew what would happen to the boy once he was arrested. I admitted I didn’t.

He explained that for a lot of the boys it was a point of pride to be arrested and thrown in jail. For many of them their first time in custody was for stone throwing. Later, once they were labeled in the system as security problems, they wouldn’t be able to get work permits and would turn to the gangs and get into bigger trouble.

I stopped the old man and said, “How is that my problem? It all starts with the fact that this kid was doing something that could have killed me or anyone else unlucky enough to pass while he was up on this hillside.”

The old man nodded sadly and said, “Yes, but this one is different. He isn’t angry like the others. He isn’t throwing stones to hurt anyone. He is doing it because he has nothing else to do”.

I asked, “Do you think that would matter to my wife and kids if he’d killed me?”

Before he could answer a jeep pulled up behind the tractor and four soldiers got out and started walking up the hillside towards us.

The old man became frantic. “Please don’t tell them to take him away. It is our fault for not watching him. If they take him his life is over. He’s sick in the head. He’ll go into jail a rock thrower and come out a terrorist. Is that what you want?”

It took the soldiers a minute or two to reach us, and in that time I stood with my hands in my pockets wondering what to do.

I hated that I was being manipulated to feel like I was in the wrong. I hated that I had gone from being a good Samaritan; concerned about the safety of passing traffic, to being accused of wanting to turn a (possibly) mentally ill teenager into a hardened terrorist.

The most senior of the soldiers walked up to me and eased me a couple of steps away from the others with a hand on my arm, while the other three soldiers remained by the three Arabs.

When we were a few steps away the officer asked me what had happened. I told him that I had been driving past and had seen the rocks in the road. When I looked up the hillside I’d seen an Arab trying to roll a big boulder down into the roadway.

The officer looked down at the roadway filled with rocks, and at the tractor parked in front of his jeep and asked, “Where’s your car?”

I told him that I had been riding a scooter and that it was parked on the shoulder around the bend on the other side of the hill.

He yelled for one of the soldiers to go take a look and make sure nobody was messing with my scooter, and one of the three broke off and jogged over the hill and out of sight.

The young officer turned back to me and asked me which one had been throwing rocks.

I looked at the little group of Arabs and soldiers and said nothing for a moment. I hated having this kind of power over another human being. I knew I was in the right and should report the kid. But my moral compass was spinning… unsure of where the high ground might be.

I hedged. I said, “I didn’t actually seeing anyone throwing the rocks. They were already in the roadway when I pulled up. I just came up to confront the kid who was up here because I saw him trying to roll a big rock towards the road.”

The officer asked again, “So which one was up here when you stopped?”.

I looked at the old man, his passenger… and at Wiley Coyote, and said, “He ran away before I could catch him. These three arrived on the tractor and stopped when they saw me running after the kid. I was asking them if they knew who he was.”

The officer said, “And did they?”

I shook my head.

The look in the old man’s eyes was one of relief. There might have been gratitude there too, but I may have been imagining that. His young passenger was still looking on with his intelligent eyes and still had a non-committal look on his face. The jury was still out with that one.

Wiley Coyote was still a blank slate. He looked neither scared nor relieved at his reprieve. His lack of reaction lent credence to the claim of him not being ‘all there’. But it could also mean that he didn’t understand Hebrew.

Of course it could also be that I’d been played in a cultural game where I don’t know all the rules, much less have the ability to spot any of the other player’s ‘tells’.

After a few more words of little consequence, the three soldiers headed back down towards their jeep and I went back over the hill the way I had come.

By the time I was back standing on the shoulder and had my helmet and gloves on, the army jeep had driven around the hill to where I was and picked up the fourth soldier who had been sent to babysit my scooter.

As they stopped to let the soldier in, the tractor rounded the bend and passed us. I was sure I’d see only the old man and his inscrutable passenger on the tractor, and that Wiley Coyote would still be on the loose. But there were two passengers now perched behind the old man.

And for the moment, I am leaning towards feeling like I did the right thing.

But I’m not sure.

Posted by David Bogner on September 26, 2012 | Permalink


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I've been a long time reader but a very rare commenter. I enjoy your blog for so many reasons; its entertaining, informative and very often, helps me clarify my own feelings about something by putting it into beautifully written, thoughtful words. I was so surprised by this post that I just felt that I had to say something. I know you must have done what you did because you are a basically kind and good person who wants to believe the best in people. That's a wonderful trait. I know from your blog that you are politically mostly right leaning. It's also clear from other posts that you respect and support our soldiers. What I don't understand is why in this instance you showed so litte faith in the Israeli army. Assuming every word the old man said was true and the boy was mentally retarded, you should have told all of this to the soldiers who came to help. They are trained to know Arab culture. As you pointed out, you are not. They would have quickly been able to verify the story, and if the boy was retarded it's unlikely he would have been thrown in jail. My husband was stationed in Harei Hevron during his army service and he explained that what probably would have happened would have been that the unit who covers that area would have gone to the boys family and impressed on them the importance of making sure this type of thing doesn't happen again, and the soldiers in the area would have known to keep an eye on this kid to make sure he doesn't get himself into trouble. Please, if there is a next time something like this happens, remember that Tzahal is the most moral army in the world and trust them to make the right call.

Posted by: G | Sep 27, 2012 10:37:32 AM

I have a feeling that someone put the kid up to it.

Posted by: Rahel | Sep 27, 2012 2:24:48 PM

Have to agree with G. Hate to think that he might make another attempt in the future.

Posted by: ED | Sep 27, 2012 6:52:19 PM

Sounds like an awkward situation for all, both Trep and for the boy's family. We can all armchair quarterback the would haves and could haves. But he's the one who was in the spot and had to go with his gut. From his other writings he seems to have a fairly well balanced head on his shoulders (not that I've seen his head personally ;-) ). Granted there are cons everywhere, but again, he was there, we weren't. B'H he's okay, and maybe the boy's family got a good scare into them, whether from the soldiers directly, or from what came very close to happening.

Posted by: Nighthawk700 | Sep 28, 2012 3:12:09 AM

You do know that lying to the police to protect a perpetrator of a crime is obstruction of justice, right?

How do you know that the boy's father wasn't paid by Fatah to send him to throw rocks? It's the job of the police to investigate these sort of things.

I don't want to sound melodramatic, but the blood of the next motorist killed on that road might be on your hands.

Posted by: jacob | Sep 28, 2012 9:45:22 AM

I don't know if you did the right thing. Maybe yes, maybe no. But there is a way to find out: do more research about what happens to kids who go to jail for just a little while for throwing stones - and what they do afterward.

Doing what you can toward fixing any "weak" spots (whatever they may be) in the "system" vis-a-vis rock-throwing teenagers, to make sure that jail does what it's actually supposed to --PREVENT violence -- might save more motorist lives on that road in the long term than telling the soldiers the truth might have in this one individual instance.

In other words, the ethics of your decision here is not clear cut because you don't have enough information. But using the incident as motivation to GET more information would be a great thing.

Posted by: Sarah B. | Sep 30, 2012 12:09:45 AM

Rahel- I hope you are wrong, though perhaps you are right. My feeling is, it's just as likely he heard other kids talking about doing it and wanted to join the action -- to look cool, or just because he was bored. That's how my charedi relatives say the kids start throwing stones at passing cars on Shabbat. There isn't an adult telling them they should; the word just gets passed around that that's what the kids are doing, and so bored kids join in because they think everyone else is doing it. The problem is the lack of adults telling them they should NOT. (Though my own relatives have made it very clear to their own kids that they are never, ever to throw stones at a car.)

Posted by: Sarah B. | Sep 30, 2012 12:13:26 AM

I'm wondering, Trep, how Zehava feels that you actually stopped to confront what could possibly have been a dangerous person.

Did you do the right thing? Who knows?--but I think I would have done the same thing (well, I doubt I would ever find myself in a situation like this...but theoretically). I think Jacob up in the comments IS being melodramatic; having a heart and going with your instincts just shows us your humanity, which I hope to G-d we never lose.

Chag Sameach.

Posted by: Baila | Sep 30, 2012 8:33:44 AM

David's only error was compassion. More of that is a good thing. Maybe this kid's family will remember this and do something someday to help a Jewish traveller along that road who is need of assistance. Maybe Trep, with the "fairly well balanced head on his shoulders" (yes, i've seen it) just saved a life with this act of kindness.

Posted by: ATenn | Sep 30, 2012 12:01:47 PM

The first thing I thought of when I read this post was the famous quote by Golda Meir, "We can forgive the Arabs for killing our children. We cannot forgive them for forcing us to kill their children.... We will only have peace with the Arabs when they love their children more than they hate us."

We can not control whether or not our neighbors choose to cultivate their humanity and learn to live -- if not peacefully -- at least quietly, amongst us. But I do know that if we sacrifice our own humanity in the process of trying to keep ourselves safe, then we have lost more than just a sense of security....

Posted by: zahava | Sep 30, 2012 3:47:09 PM

Without going into any details, I'll simply say I had a similar choice to make in a situation that happened many years back while in college.

And I'll also simply say I'm with Nighthawk and Zahava on this one...

As always, all the best and stay safe...

Mike Spengler

Posted by: Mike Spengler | Oct 1, 2012 3:36:34 PM

Another thing that would be interesting to find out is what DOES the army do with Palestinian wrongdoers (of any crime) who are mentally ill and under care of their families?

Posted by: Sarah B. | Oct 1, 2012 9:09:36 PM

Sadly, Islam trains its adherents to be masters of deceit - and absolute masters of the art of making themselves appear to be the victims even as they are attacking people. They are brilliant at the 'theatre of victimhood'. They use 'human shields'. They play goodcop/ badcop to perfection.

I personally have a feeling that you've been HAD.

I think you should have told those young IDF guys the truth - exactly what happened, no more and no less, who was doing what, where and when.

The lad might indeed have been not 'all there'...and that would be precisely why the Ummah, or Mohammedan Mob, would put him out on the front lines and set him to throwing - or rolling - rocks.

In order to be able to exploit the 'pity factor' if he's caught.

In Australia, the sweetest lil three year old boy was photographed holding up a placard reading 'Behead those who insult the prophet'.

And three exquisitely pretty hijab-wearing teenage girls, on the fringes of the same riot (15 September) were photographed holding up a poster that said, 'Coptics Cop This!', above an image of the face of the lately deceased Coptic Pope depicted as looking out of a toilet bowl.

In the Netherlands, it was children who were sent from an Islamic school to attack infidel Dutch funeral corteges...because the Muslims know very well that we Infidels are more lenient toward children who commit crimes, than toward adults who are caught doing the same thing.

Posted by: dumbledoresarmy | Oct 21, 2012 10:59:48 AM

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