As Adam M. and nine other Israeli soldiers walked toward the Palestinian West Bank city of Ramallah in the dead of night, a burst of gunfire shattered the stillness.
"They ambushed us as we approached," he recalled. "Those in front heard people speaking Arabic, and they opened fire on us when we were about 25 feet from an apartment building. We hit the ground and everyone returned fire."
Adam, 33, a former Dix Hills, L.I., doctor who made aliyah three years ago and is now a captain in the Israel Defense Forces, was carrying an M-16. He and his buddies quickly killed the two Palestinians who were firing from outside the building. They then ran to the base of the building in preparation for storming it.
All the while, two Palestinians on the roof of the unfinished eight-story building were firing down on them while another was firing from inside. One of the bullets caught Lt. Boaz Pomerantz, 21, in the neck.
"They were firing blindly and he was unlucky," said Adam. "I saw him get shot and fall down. I was standing 10 feet away. He was a good friend. … They dragged him inside the building and I treated him while they fired at the other three."
Adam, who is involved in undercover work and asked that his last name not be used, was unable to save Pomerantz’s life. He was the first of 29 Israeli soldiers killed in the six-week military campaign called Operation Defensive Shield that began March 29.
The firefight continued for 25 minutes until all five Palestinians were shot dead.
"That was my scariest night in the army," Adam said.
Despite the risks, Adam recently re-enlisted for another year, making his total service three years, and was promoted to captain and assigned to the prestigious special forces of the Golani Brigade.
"It’s too vital a time for the country right now," Adam said when asked why he re-enlisted. "They need good people in the army and I didnít feel comfortable leaving. I have been in a few incidents where I have treated [wounded] soldiers, and if I could save one more soldier’s life …"
The decision to re-enlist is the exception. According to IDF statistics, 80 percent of male soldiers and 89 percent of female soldiers did not re-enlist in the three years ending last year. And for Adam, it was a decision that was not made lightly because Adam and his wife, Keren, have an infant daughter.
"She knows it’s very important to me," he said during a recent trip to his parents’ home in Dix Hills. "I still think the soldiers need me. They need a doctor."
Adam’s entry into Ramallah came with the first wave of IDF soldiers into that city in response to the Passover Massacre in Netanya two days earlier that killed 29. The mission entailed a two-hour, five-mile hike in the rain at 1 a.m. As the unit of about 150 troops Ramallah, the soldiers broke into groups to cover different sectors.
Adam recalled that while he and his men were engaged in a firefight at the apartment house, a Palestinian ambulance pulled up to retrieve the bodies of the two Palestinians killed outside the building.
"We have strict orders not to fire on ambulances or medical personnel," Adam said.
But as the ambulance pulled up, Palestinians inside opened up with heavy machinegun fire.
"We fired back and hit the van but not the people inside," Adam said, adding that the ambulance driver threw the vehicle into reverse and hurriedly backed up.
"It’s a known phenomenon that the Palestinians use ambulances to smuggle explosives and terrorists in and out of areas," he noted.
Israeli soldiers, Adam said, are of a much higher quality than the Palestinians. "There is no comparison," he said.
"Our soldiers are better trained, motivated and smarter. Israeli soldiers don’t fire automatic weapons because they are less accurate and a waste of ammunition. They were firing automatic weapons all the time."
After the gun battle, Adam and his companions, wet and cold, searched other buildings in the area and met no resistance. They then went to a Palestinian home, knocked on the door and entered.
"They were scared," Adam said of the occupants. "We didn’t touch the civilians; not their food or their water. We were not allowed to take anything. The only thing we used was their bathroom.
"They had heaters and we were freezing. We hadn’t slept for 28 hours. We slept there in rotation while one of us guarded the windows and another guarded the family. We slept on the floor."
The Palestinian couple who owned the house, which was also occupied by two of their relatives, an infant and a visitor from Australia, spoke English "and didn’t hide their hatred of Israel. They told me that there needed to be a one-state [Palestinian] solution."
Before Adam and his companions left the house two days later for the compound of Palestinian President Yasir Arafat, Adam said they "asked for a vacuum cleaner and vacuumed the floor where we had slept."
At Arafat’s compound, where the Palestinian leader was confined by Israeli troops, Adam was asked to examine one of several Europeans who had walked past startled Israeli troops at the beginning of the siege and entered the compound.
"They claimed he had a heart attack and wanted to evacuate him," said Adam. ìThey brought him outside. He was OK; he just wanted to leave. But the army didn’t give him permission … and they sent him back in.
"One of my jobs there was to check the medication [that went into the compound] every day. He [Arafat] was taking medicine for diabetes, high blood pressure, glaucoma, Parkinson’s disease and anxiety."
Asked his reaction to 21 months of Palestinian violence, Adam said: "The feeling there is that Israel is alone. Israel needs all the support it can get now."