Chanukah Miracle in the Lebanon War

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Darkness. Heavy darkness. Our replacement soldiers are here with us already. The night is full of stars. The skewers are on the fire. The coffee is on the coals. The dog is yelling. She senses that we are leaving tomorrow. The Georgian and the Bedouin are brothers; the Persian and the Yemenite are brothers; the American and the Moroccan are brothers; the Ashkenazy and the Sephardic, you better believe it, are brothers too. It is a true, incredible situation.

It was a different story yesterday. A roadside munition exploded not far from here. Two soldiers were killed and sixteen were injured. Two of them critical. The mother of Amir from kibbutz Shamir—who was killed in that attack—was also killed by terrorists. Amir hated this war. He sensed it would kill him, but he didn’t refuse to come. He enlisted and died. On his bed, in his small room, they found his lonely guitar.

A respected journalist from a very popular newspaper arrived at the devastating terrorist attack’s location, where the 70-kilograms roadside explosion threw a truckload of soldiers 20-meters away. She came to see the charred remains of the truck. There was hardly a word about the dead in her report. She now sips cafe au lait at a breezy, trendy coffee place on the boardwalk in Tel Aviv. Maybe noshing on a butter croissant.

The local population, the papers further tell their readers back home, received the Israeli soldiers with cherries, flowers, and kisses in the air. The other side of the story is a lot less celebratory, and a lot more depressing. We don’t even receive smiles anymore. Only the kids, inexperienced in war and politics, sometimes raise a hesitating hand for a wave as we pass on the road. They stand on the roads’ shoulders, littered with burned armored vehicles. Above them, swarms of blood-sucking mosquitos constantly hover.

But tonight is a different story. The jokes and the laughter fly with the burning sparks into the night. We sing “How beautiful the nights in Canaan,” and “Hey to the South,” and “My flak-jacket is my Lover.” Since the regular war-songwriters didn’t write any war songs this year, only the wrath-poets wrote wrathful poems, the soldiers are forced to write their own songs. So we sing the most known soldiers’ song of this war, with one additional stanza of mine:

Go down on us airplane, take us fast to Lebanon; we will fight for general Sharon, and in a coffin come back home.
How it happened that the conquest, suddenly turned into bitter defeat; you should ask the pawn, deep in the king’s killing field.

We light the first Chanukah candle on a makeshift Chanukiah, made of standing rifles. The two candles are waxed into the mouth of two rifles. We sing ‘Ma’oz Tzur’. It’s our ‘Finale Party’ after all, so we allow ourselves to break some army rules. At the ‘Finale Party’ of the previous company, they didn’t sing. They didn’t tell jokes and didn’t roll laughter into the air. At their ‘Finale Party’ they stood in attention. A moment of silence for three of their comrades who got killed. They lit not Chanukah candles but memorial candles.

My commander is 50-year-old. His head is balding, his eyes need glasses constantly. His reserve duty service is voluntary. In his civil life, he is a high-school principal. He leads by personal example: stands on duty-guard at nights with his soldiers, goes out on patrols, sweeps the yard, and washes the dishes. He never raises his voice. Sometimes he is on the point of losing control of his nerves, but quickly regains control and resumes his duty. My commander is truly an exceptional person. He hates the war in Lebanon. He even said that much to a governmental security committee inquiring about the war. He stated that what’s being done to us here is equal to the Biblical story of “Uriah the Hittite.” Generally, he hates army life and wars. So why the hell is he here?

Why the hell all of us are here?…

Still, we are lucky: The next day, late at night, we pass the Rosh HaNikra checkpoint at the border in one piece. What a miracle? A Chanukah miracle. We cross from north to south, from Lebanon to Israel.

November 1982

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After Israel

Hayarkon River - Tel Aviv

Hayarkon River – Tel Aviv

As promised before my trip to Israel, here are some of my reflections and observations following that long-awaited visit. But since that previous blogpost was mostly of the personal nature, as opposed to the political one, allow me to start by saying – it won’t be long, don’t worry – that on that score, and on all fronts, the visit was outstanding. Above and beyond all my expectations, or as we say in Hebrew: מעל ומעבר. My family and my friends, males and females, embraced me with love and showered me with kindness; my mother turned 90-year-old and my one-year-old granddaughter learned how to climb steps on her own; I visited the places I wanted to visit, and – on a wintry, cold and cloudy day – I jumped head on into the natural spring pool I call my “fountain of youth,” as I’d used to do as a kid; I found Tel Aviv to be modern, vibrant, full of zest for life with so many young children and dogs in the streets and in the parks, like no other city I know (and I know quite a few). My only worry on this front, for the city and the country, is that this fast-paced growth and development will one day soon leave no piece of land without humans living on it, roads and building built on it; which would be a pity. But to surmise, I tell you this: I sent an email just before leaving the country to my younger son in America, and without thinking much wrote this in the Subject Line: “Leaving Home – Coming Home.” That’s how I feel and, of course, I would have to deal with the implications of that statement in the days and years ahead.

Now to the political situation in Israel. While admittedly I hardly watched the news on TV, three events/ developments had occurred while I was there – the saying “Never a dull moment” was invented with Israel in mind – that did not escape my attention. I didn’t invest a lot of reading on these three occurrences, but nonetheless here are my observations. First to shoot into news headlines prominence were the rapid developments related to PM Netanyahu two-pronged police investigation, which concerns claims that he and his family received hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of luxury gifts from businessmen, and a case deals with recordings of conversations between Netanyahu and Israeli media mogul Arnon Mozes in which the pair allegedly negotiated an illicit quid pro quo. You all heard about it by now, and know that “power corrupts.” No surprise here. It is surprising, however, that it is happening to the most astute, experienced politician there is in the country and on the global stage (together with Putin), and that he has allowed it to burst into the forefront before he had managed to have a full dictatorial control over Israel and its people (as his friend Putin has in Russia). What’s my prediction as to the outcome of this investigation you ask? How can I know. But roughly, I give it fifty-fifty chance that Netanyahu would be forced to resign and pay a substantial political price for his follies. No matter the outcome of this investigation, however, I believe it signals that his political career – a long career of a leader without any vison, or courage, other than hunger for power – may be coming to an end. In the sense that even if he would somehow, miraculously, finish his current term as Prime Minister, he will not be elected again. This is not a prediction, as predictions are meant for fools, but more like an assessment based on gut feeling. Needless to say, though, the damage he has caused to Israel and its people – from Rabin’s assassination to the victory of the settlers’ movement – would be a lasting one.

The second event to take place in Israel while I was there was the unanimous guilty verdict in the trial of the soldier, Sgt. Elor Azaria. Now, while his guilt – that of a coldblooded murderer – was clear to anyone with functioning eyes and working brain, the eruption of the blood-thirsty crowd in the streets, and the cacophony of corrupt and softheaded politicians – Netanyahu of course leading the way – in defense of the murderer, and in opposition of the long, studious verdict by the three-judge panel of distinguished army judges, was deafening (but maybe expected too). Though the trial has reached its conclusion, this matter is not yet over by any stretch of the imagination. Let me leave you with this thought: The most appalling, frightening slogan I’d heard being chanted in the streets was this: “Run, Gadi, run; Rabin needs a friend!” Gadi is the first name of the current Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff, Lieutenant General Gadi Eizenkot. The implications are obvious, of course: You’re next! Don’t be surprise, then, when another such political assassination does occur. You shouldn’t be surprised that Netanyahu didn’t really condemn these hooligans in the streets. Just as he hadn’t done a thing to calm down the crowds in the streets of Jerusalem when they shouted similar things against Rabin.

The third thing to occur was the terrible terrorist attack in Jerusalem on the cadets of an IDF Officers Course, with four of them dead as result, and seventeen others injured. What stood out to me, together with the deep sadness of the loss of young, innocent lives, and apart from the repulsion at the government officials and ministers who didn’t find the time to attend any of the funerals, as is the custom in Israel, was the clear, prominent thought that no matter how strong Israel and its army are; no matter how many nuclear bombs Israel possess; no matter how sophisticated the fighter planes and the submarines are – all it takes is a simple, basic truck with a driver to cause that much horror and grief. The only thing that can prevent these things from happening again – and they will, of course – is peace. Yes, that five-letter dirty word. But peace, and the future of the Zionist dream, that’s another story for another post.

Basel - Switzerland

Basel – Switzerland

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