This is the last post I am going to make looking back at a war and a time that I never want to live through again. The last post that I’ll reprint here (and thank those of you who allowed me to take this journey again), was called Thoughts of a War. Elie was home; the bar mitzvah of my youngest son just over. I was concerned, almost consumed, with the thought that deep inside Elie there would be remnants of the war – there still are today; and perhaps psychological scars – there really are none.
There are memories but there was and there is an acceptance. This is what he had to do, as he did it. Those that died there were the inevitable result of Hamas’ firing rockets and a war that had to be fought. There is peace in his heart as he prepares to take a wife and begin building his family. Above all things beyond health and safety one could wish for one’s son – there is peace.
Thoughts of a War – January 26, 2009
After long talks with Elie, here are my thoughts (and his) on what came out of this war:
What came out of this war: A sense of unity, of a well trained army working together.
The army worked as a unit – each part doing their share and protecting its flank. Artillery was there, every step of the way, and their role was critical. For fear of writing too much, I will write too little. But I will tell you that the war was run as correctly as possible, each part doing what it was supposed to do. The credit for this brilliant campaign may be taken by the politicians, but they are not the ones who coordinated – they are only the ones who will take credit.
What was accomplished was done so by the planning of generals who finally focused on their goal, one that had to be done. Politically, it is not easy to bomb a mosque. Militarily, they had every right to do so – it was not a mosque, but an arsenal with a minaret. In this war, the generals won and thus Israel won. We bombed the mosques with rockets, the schools with missiles and for once we held Hamas accountable. If you do not care about your own people, Israel told Hamas, it is left to us to do our best to protect them. So we dropped leaflets warning the civilians to move away from the terrorists, to leave certain areas. I know this to be true – I have such a leaflet with me now because so many thousands were dropped over Gaza that with the wind, many blew the short distance into Israel and Elie caught one.
“Save it, Ima,” Elie told me. Perhaps he too feels the need to remember that we fought a just war, a fair war. We did not target civilians. I’ll save it because my son felt the need to hold on to it in the middle of a war; to bring it home. He knows. He knows that civilians died in Gaza, possibly by his own hands – certainly by his orders to fire. But every shot that he and his unit fired had a specific target. Not once did they simply release such devastating weaponry without thought as to where it would go.
Sometimes, they did it to destroy their weapons, their strongholds, their “army.” And sometimes, they did it to protect our own. To help our boys get in or out under the cover of our artillery. In all cases, their targets were true, their aim proper. Civilians were warned – I have the proof and I will save it for my son.
What came out of this war: A sense of spiritual faith, strengthened and grateful.
Elie told me that during the war, hundreds of pairs of tzitzit – a four-cornered garment with strings that men are commanded to wear – were distributed. The army simply could not keep up with demand. Elie told me that five pairs of tefillin (phylacteries – a religious article that is tied to the arm and to the head during the prayers – typically in the morning, that contains parchment with words from the Torah), were donated to his unit and it was in constant use throughout the day. One boy who is not religious at all – put on tefillin every day of the war. These are the shields of Israel, a vital part of who we are and as our sons faced this war, they understood this.
From the most religious to the most secular – even perhaps those who say they don’t believe – still prayed for the safety of our soldiers and our southern residents.
What came out of this war: A sense of pride in being a nation that cares about others…even if this is not recognized.
Throughout this war, we shipped in humanitarian aide to our enemies – name me a single other country in history that has done this. When other nations besiege, intentionally attempt to weaken the enemy by surrounding and cutting off their food and water supplies, Israel – even under fire, shipped in thousands of tons of humanitarian aide – food, water, medicines. We took our enemies into our hospitals and gave them better care than they would ever get in Gaza…because we invest tremendous resources in our medical equipment, personnel, technologies. Israel is at the forefront of research and development – because we care enough about ourselves and others.
What came out of this war: Men who were boys; men who had learned war.
I can’t write about this because Elie doesn’t really talk about it. It is too deep to explain to one’s mother; too serious to talk about with someone who can’t understand. I’ve never shot a bullet, let alone a cannon. I’ve heard the explosion – but only in training or over the phone. Elie heard these explosions thousands of times. More, Elie helped create these explosions. He knows exactly how many times his unit shot. He’s brushed off, nicely but firmly, my attempts to get him to talk too much about this aspect. He’ll tell me what he did – because there is no shame, none whatsoever. He knows what he shot at, and the results of this shooting. But he won’t talk about himself or what he feels.
“Does the army have you talk to people?” I asked him, hoping he would open more about it.
“If someone wants to,” he answered.
And again, my son was not in the war in the sense that he was not on the ground in Gaza. He can see the results of what they did – he knows of the destroyed buildings, the devastated neighborhoods and the need to rebuild. But he is at peace with all that he did, all that he was called upon to do because he knows that from these buildings his unit destroyed – his nation was attacked. From these devastated neighborhoods, Hamas choose to fire at Israel. When a vicious enemy hides among his people…how much of an obligation do you have to do all you can to avoid hitting the people? The answer is all that Israel did.
Some people left comments that my son was a murderer. Not even close. My son has never murdered anyone, though in this new reality that Hamas thrust upon us, there is a good possibility that my son killed. He knows this. He lives with it. Not with joy, but with determination. He came back from this war whole in body and in spirit.
There is a world of difference between killing and murdering. The commandment in the Bible says we are forbidden to murder. My son and the army of Israel did not violate this commandment. The Bible commands times that you must kill – the army of Israel killed. We killed those who would have killed us, murdered our innocents. And yes, it is likely that in hiding behind their wives and children and mothers, the Palestinians caused their deaths. If Israel killed Palestinian civilians, it is Hamas that murdered them.
And so, what came out of this war: with incredible gratitude to God, was my son and the boys from our neighborhood – and most of the sons of Israel. We lost sons there and many were injured and are still fighting for their lives. My youngest son explained to his little sister that this was a “milchemet mitzvah” – an obligatory war and that even a groom is commanded to leave his wedding ceremony to fight such a war.
This is what happened in this war. Aharon Karov is a soldier of Israel, a beloved son. On the Thursday night before Israel’s ground forces entered Gaza, Aharon got married. A boy in Elie’s unit asked to leave the unit to attend the wedding of his friend, but was denied. They needed him there, in Elie’s unit, ready to fire, and so he missed his friend’s wedding. Elie’s soldier knew, Aharon knew, his new wife and his family knew that Aharon was likely to be called to fight in this war.
And that’s what happened. Within hours after the ceremony, Aharon, a commander in the paratroopers, was called for a briefing. He was allowed to return to his new wife for the Sabbath and the celebrations for his wedding. But, in the early morning on Saturday, Aharon was called away from his new wife and went to war.
He entered Gaza with his men, as he had been trained and as he had trained them. As is the case in the Israeli army, he said, “Follow me,” and the men followed. He fought with his men, led them on mission after mission. And then, three days after entering Gaza, Aharon led his men into a booby-trapped house in Gaza. Aharon (his full name for those who wish to pray for him is: Aharon Yehoshua ben [son of] Chaya Shoshana) was critically wounded.
He was evacuated by helicopter to Beilinson Hospital in Petach Tivkah, where he underwent six operations during the course of 12 hours: on his head, his eyes, ear-nose-throat, mouth and jaw, chest, and an orthopedic operation.
It is a story that has touched many in the world. Some with great pride – that such a young man would give of himself and join his men in war. Some in anger – how could you take a man from his new bride and send him to war? But Aharon’s father answered that very question before his son was hurt – under the wedding canopy, surrounded by friends and family, knowing that soon his son would go to off to war.
Aharon’s father, Rabbi Zev Karov said, “In the main wedding blessing, we say, ‘G-d sanctifies His nation Israel via the wedding canopy and betrothal.’ Why don’t we say that He sanctifies the bride and groom? We see that the personal building is a part of the national edifice. This is the main point, this is what we are brought up on, and now is the test when we show that it is not just talk, but it is how we really act.”
This, perhaps is the main lesson of the entire war for all of Israel and for the world. The Arabs have tested us time and again – they tested us again now. And each time we answer. It is how we act – the bravery to go to war, to fight a war, and to fight it as humanely as possible against an enemy that will hide behind its own children.
What came out of this war is an Israel that is much stronger than the one that went into Gaza a month ago. We are not stronger because our enemies are much weaker (though they are). We are stronger because we conducted ourselves according to “what we are brought up on.”
With bravery, with courage, with fortitude, with compassion, with grace, with strength – Israel went to war. Hamas has claimed that they killed 1,583 of our soldiers. Hamas has claimed victory. Then again, Hamas claims we are the ones who are inhumane, the ones who aim at civilians. Hamas claims…and the world laughs at its lies.
The victory – if there can be victory in war, goes to Israel because, even in war, we continue to fight for peace. When the Arabs can claim the same – there will be peace here in the Middle East.