Almost immediately after Noam Adin Richter-Levi was shot and killed during a military operation, the army knew something had gone terribly wrong. It wasn’t, as some Arab organizations proudly claimed, any brave act on the part of one of their gunmen, but something Israel had to investigate. It was clear the bullet was one of ours and rumors began flying. Friendly fire? Perhaps a bullet from Noam’s gun?
A man came to my office to talk about cellular telephones, but in a country forever and always obsessed with our soldiers, it was inevitable that we would speak of our latest loss, of Noam. It was then, in frustration, that the phone representative explained it wasn’t possible that Noam had shot himself. He kept holding his hand out, as if holding a gun, and said, “an M16 is this big. Even a short one. How can you turn it and shoot yourself by accident?” He was convinced there’d been a struggle and that an Arab had turned the gun. In that, he was correct – only it wasn’t Noam’s gun that was turned, it was the gun of his commanding officer.
According to strict army rules of engagement, there seems to have been a major failure here. “There shouldn’t have been a bullet in the chamber,” explained the cellular phone representative/reserve soldier. “It shouldn’t have happened,” he said sadly.
But it did happen and the army found out what happened and reacted by dismissing both the Deputy Commander and the Commander of the unit. When I was visiting the family, I think they had a clue. They were waiting for one soldier who had been with Noam on the operation to come visit them. They said they understood if the young man found it too difficult to visit, but were upset at the thought that the army might be keeping him away. All the others from his unit had been there…just not this one soldier.
It seems the army has finished its investigation, taken action, and then the young man went to visit David and Sharon Levy. It was his gun that went off, not Noam’s. It was his bullet that took Noam’s life. What thoughts would go through a parent’s mind as this officer walked into their home? This is the man that shot their son, even by accident. If not for this young man, Noam would be alive.
That thought had to have crossed his parents mind and yet, what they did, upon meeting this man who must be tormented, was give him the greatest gift they could. They welcomed him, forgave him, and told him they do not hold him responsible. They are not angry with him.
When I was visiting, Noam’s mother made a comment that was so extraordinary, even more so because she thought it was so normal. She understood that Noam belongs to the people, that we all mourn for him and so she tried to give people comfort at a time when, by all that is right, she should simply be trying to find comfort for herself. She smiles as she talks of Noam. She asks you to tell her if you knew anything. She gathers the stories, the letters, whatever there is of him and she shares it. As you walk into the area where they are sitting and mourning him during this first week, there is a table filled with pictures. If you didn’t know our son, they seem to be saying, that’s okay, come meet him now. See how he smiles; see how beautiful he is.
All this, Sharon and David Levy think is normal, not heroic or extraordinary. I told her a story of how my youngest son lost his camera on a bus. The young man who found it didn’t see any name or identification attached to it. Most people, even ones that consider themselves to be honest and good, would likely give up and, deep inside, consider themselves lucky to have found such a nice camera. But this man took an extra step, he began scanning the recorded pictures seeing if he could find anything that would help identify the owner.
He found a picture of an invitation, and called the number to RSVP. The people, cousins of ours, explained that no, they had not lost a camera on a bus on a Friday afternoon. Again, most people who consider themselves good and honest, would be satisfied. They had tried. But not this man. He began scanning the other pictures and describing them to our cousins. He finally found a picture of our new bird, an African gray parrot.
When he described the bird to our cousins, they thought of my husband, figured it was ours, and gave this young man our number. All this may be considered either normal or extraordinary, but the part that amazed me was yet to come. The young man met our youngest son, gave him the camera and explained to him that he should take a picture of a card with his name and phone number on it. That way, he explained, “if you lose it again, it will be easy for someone to find who it belongs to and return it.”
The amazing part of this man’s action was not in his returning the camera, but in his assumption that all others would be equally as honest and dedicated to finding the rightful owner. Noam’s parents’ attitude, that we all need comfort, that we are all suffering from Noam’s loss and thus it is their responsibility to rise above their personal grief to help us, and finally, their ability to welcome this young man, not blame him, and help him is truly beyond words.
What they did, was give this young man back his life. No less. Noam was his soldier. It was his responsibility to take care of Noam, to be his guide. He was to take him safely in, and safely out. I know this from how Elie relates to his soldiers. That’s what he calls them, “my soldiers.”
Noam was this young man’s soldier and today that young man is suffering beyond almost anything we can imagine – except perhaps, if that young man was your son. Anyone, everyone will tell this young officer that accidents, especially in war, can happen. This accident was caused by an Arab grabbing his gun and in the struggle, the gun discharged. The accident was probably that there was a bullet in the chamber. Maybe it was something else. But it is likely that no one could bring this young man comfort for the results of this tragedy…other than the people who feel it even more than he does. Noam’s parents reached outside themselves and gave this young man their love, a precious gift to help him through all his days.
From everything that I have heard, Noam was an incredible young man – it is clear, from meeting his parents now and in the past, that he was what he was, because they are what they are, and what they raised him to be.
From Israel National News:
Soldier’s Family Not Angry with Soldier who Shot Him
Reported: 07:03 AM – May/14/09
(IsraelNN.com) The family of First Sergeant Noam Adin Richter-Levi met on Wednesday with the lieutenant of the platoon who accidentally shot to death Richter- Levi during military operations last week in Bir Zeit, near Ramallah.
The young officer, who was dismissed from his post due to the tragedy, spoke with Richter-Levi’s parents and explained what occurred during the military operations. The soldier’s family cordially received the lieutenant and told him that they aren’t angry with him and understand that despite the tragic results, he didn’t do anything on purpose.