I was getting ready for bed, using a torch to avoid waking the other guys when the CO came running in, turned on the light and shouted to his regular crew to get to the jeep straight away - an Israeli army lorry had taken a wrong turn and ended up inside of Ramallah. They dashed into their gear and zoomed off into the night, leaving me scratching my head trying to figure out how one makes such a stupid mistake.
Ramallah was the city where 2 IDF reservists, Vadim Norzhich and Yosef Avrahami, were lynched in October 2000, when they took a similar wrong turn. Since that time, roadblocks in the entrance to the Arab cities have prevented Israelis from entering, either by mistake or on purpose. To blunder into one is pretty much impossible, thus my consternation that it had happened.
In this case, Coco (presumably a nickname but who knows?), the driver of the lorry and certainly not the sharpest tool in the shed, had been escorted by a jeep from one of the other two companies in our battalion whilst taking heating fuel to army pillboxes (defensive position, amusingly called a "Fillbox" in Hebrew). Having made the delivery to the first pillbox, a jeep from the other company took over escort duties. This second jeep was due to finish his patrol and, rather than accompany Coco all the way to the end, stopped a couple of hundred metres short, pointed him in the right direction (straight - not too complicated) and started making a U-turn to go back to base.
Upon completing the U-turn, the jeep commander spotted Coco, going not straight, but making a turn at Kalandia, the main roadblock between Jerusalem and Ramallah. Not a problem however - when Coco arrived at the roadblock the soldiers manning it would surely correct his error and send him on his way - right?
Wrong - soldiers at a roadblock will stop pretty much everyone - except for an army vehicle - the only type of vehicle which has free access in and out - Coco was waved through cheerily. Having driven a few hundred metres, looking around at the locals I would imagine the thought going threw his brain was "Coco, you're not in Kansas anymore".
A combination of factors saved Coco from a second lynching: it was fairly late on a cold and rainy night so not too many locals were around to notice his error. The jeep which had given him directions, waited to make sure that he had been turned around and when it became clear that he hadn't been, sounded the alarm immediately. Our base was close enough that several jeeps were able to get in quickly enough.
A tiny error, no matter how stupid, can mean the difference between life and death. Despite the IDF's best efforts, these things can happen. Thank goodness the right people were on the spot to make sure a tragedy was prevented. On another day, with different circumstances, another family could very easily have found themselves mourning a lost son, husband, father.......