Catch-14, or Yossarian in Gaza

Chapter 1, in which our airman antihero from World War II finds himself donning a reservist's uniform in Operation Protective Edge. By Joseph Heller (as told to Amir Oren).

Amir Oren
Amir Oren
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Alan Arkin as Captain John Yossarian in the movie of Joseph Heller's 'Catch 22'Credit: Paramount Pictures
Amir Oren
Amir Oren

“We won,” said Colonel Scheisskopf, cutting the air with his hand, a gesture that underlined his forcefulness. “The talks have resumed. We did not capitulate.”

“How is that a victory?” asks Yossarian, struggling to contain a yawn.

“We announced that there would be no talks under fire.”

“You said that you wouldn’t discuss a cease-fire as long as the attacks continued.”

“Quite right.”

“But surely you can discuss a cease-fire only when there’s fire, no?”

“And once the firing stops, there no need to talk anymore,” said Scheisskopf, who meantime had been promoted to general.

“But if you don’t talk, the cease-fire will end, won’t it?” asked Yossarian.

“Obviously. In any case, it was limited to 72 virgins.”

“Hours. 72 hours. You got confused with what awaits martyrs in paradise.”

“There’s no trusting Hamas,” Scheisskopf said, shaking his head. “After 72 hours, they could start firing rockets again. That’s what happened on Friday.”

“On the contrary,” said Yossarian, trying to follow the twisted logic. “That just proves that you can count on Hamas. They said all along when the cease-fire would end and they started shooting again right on time. Will there be any progress in this round of talks in Cairo?”

“No,” came the measured response from Scheisskopf, who had just been named defense minister. “We won’t talk as long as we are under threat.”

“What threat?”

“The threat of renewed rocket fire.”

“Is there such a threat?”

“There’s an implied threat. They know that we know that unless there’s progress, the rocket fire will resume. That is a kind of threat and we won’t talk as long as we are under threat.”

“If we won’t talk while there’s rocket fire, and we won’t talk when the rocket fire could resume — when will we talk?”

“During a lull in the fighting,” Scheisskopf explained.

“What’s the difference?”

“There’s a semantic difference, Yossarian. You can call it a time-out, a window, an opening, an aperture or a crack. Anything that means a situation wherein rocket fire is halted. As long as you don’t say ‘cease-fire.’”

“And then we’ll talk to them?”

“To whom?”


“Are you kidding?” a shocked Prime Minister Scheisskopf replies. “Talk to those bastards who are firing rockets at us? Negotiate with the very people who dig tunnels and fire mortar shells? You want me to talk to them?”

Yossarian, who had engaged Scheisskopf in conversation only because he wanted an exemption from reserve service (for reasons of insanity), suddenly realized that he could never prove he is more insane than anyone else. “So who are we talking to?”

“With the people who can halt the rocket fire.”

“Hamas is firing the rockets, no?”

“Of course.”

“And whoever is firing the rockets decides when to stop?”


“And if we want that to happen, we have to talk to them, no?”


“Isn’t that what we’re doing in Cairo?”

“Not us. We have a rule: No talking to Hamas.”

“Are there other rules?”

“You bet there are. We talk to whomever Hamas is talking to. That’s permissible. We can also talk to whoever is talking to whoever is talking with Hamas.”

“At this rate, do you really believe you can reach understandings within 72 hours?”

“Why do you ask?”

“Because I want to be exempted from reserve duty.”

“Forget it. We may have to call up a whole division.”

“And if I live in the area on the Gaza border?”

“Then you can go home. The operation is over and deterrence has been restored. The world is your oyster. You’ve got a little under 72 hours. Move!”

The knife landed, missing Yossarian by inches, and he left to go on maneuvers.