I had never told him how important it was for us to hug him after the war.
Yesterday I did.
More than two years after, no longer a soldier, he says he sometimes hears explosions all around him.
More than two years later, Lenny’s sons are in the army and preparing for the army. We don’t know if the next war will be with Hamas in Gaza or Hezbollah in Lebanon (or heaven forbid both). We don’t know when it will happen. We do know that it will …
How many people understand what we go through? Can you?
This is what I wrote, then (August 11, 2014)….
“So tomorrow we can go see him and hug him” I said. Lenny had woken me up to tell me that Haim had come home from Gaza [Operation Protective Edge].
Haim is the son of one of Lenny’s childhood friends. I’ve known Haim almost a decade. Lenny has known him since infancy. He was always charismatic. Even as a small child. Haim has a friendly charm that makes you smile and an exuberant personality that can’t be ignored.
He is a paratrooper and was one of the IDF soldiers on the ground in Gaza. Now he had come home.
Haim is just a few years older than Lenny’s sons and because of this Lenny had a visceral reaction to his life being in danger on the frontline. He imagined more vividly than ever before what it will be like to be in the position of a parent trying to go about his daily life, choked with fear for his son’s life. Every news update, every rumor on social media, every phone call and knock on the door could bring life shattering news: your beloved is injured, or worse, dead. You cannot protect your child or take the danger away. You are left behind, waiting, never knowing until the moment he walks back in the door and you can, once again, wrap your arms around him and hold him tight.
We went to see Haim the next day. It is hard to explain in words but it had become really important to look at him, to hug him. Maybe it was a need to see that he would be ok and in one piece. Too many of our soldiers did not come home. Too many came home not whole – arms or legs amputated, eyes damaged, hearing damaged…
Remembering the child, it was startling to see the man standing in front of us. Young but no longer a boy, Gaza had changed him.
Firstborn and the only boy, Haim had always been the delight of his family. Now they all crowded around him, talking, not really knowing what to say… excited. Watching them, it was like I was seeing two different worlds collide. Haim was in the midst of his loving family but he was also alone. None of them could ever know exactly what he went through in Gaza, only the people who were there with him could really understand.
His mother talked about the horrible heat he had to endure, the powder-like sand that got on and in everything, the inability to take a shower or change clothes. These all were certainly bothersome but they were the least of his worries. What is a sore and itching body compared to coming home alive or getting killed?
Even his father, grandfather or other Israeli men wouldn’t understand completely because the tactics used by the Hamas in Gaza are different from what was in previous wars. This was not the battle of soldiers meeting each other on a battlefield it wasn’t even like previously seen urban combat. The enemy hid behind and amongst civilians, sending children and mentally handicapped to shoot and throw grenades at soldiers. Women suicide bombers were sent to explode themselves in order to kill soldiers. Regular homes were weapons caches and launching pads for missiles. The Hamas hid in their tunnels in attempt to ambush IDF soldiers, to kill and take hostages. Everywhere they went, everything was booby trapped with explosives. Israel gave the Gazans so much advance warning of where the IDF would be focusing their efforts that it became easy for Hamas to prepare explosives in every place they wanted to stop the IDF (tunnel entrances, weapons stores etc.).
Haim told us of bullets flying, RPG rockets aimed at him and his fellow soldiers. He said: “It was like walking in to an American action movie – only real.” He told us of how terrorists tried to ambush them via one of their terror-tunnels (as they did when Hadar Goldin, Benaya Sarel and Liel Gidoni were killed). “We stopped them [unlike those who hadn’t managed to do so before it was too late],” said Haim. “We killed them.”
Haim said: “Gaza is full of miracles. We experienced lots of miracles.” Most people think of miracles as something spectacular that happens. He was talking about all the things that didn’t happen. The bullets that didn’t hit them. The terrorists that failed in their ambushes. The explosives, meant to kill them that simply didn’t explode. He told us of a house they had to enter – the whole ceiling was covered in gas balloons rigged to explode. They were meant to cause an explosion that would have incinerated the building and all the soldiers inside. But they didn’t explode. Haim and all the soldiers with him should have been dead. But they weren’t.
Thank God for miracles!
Haim’s family all had their opinions about the war with Hamas, what should and shouldn’t be done. Haim, the only one who had actually been in Gaza this time around, remained silent. When asked directly he said: “We successfully completed every task given to us. If now we are asked to do more, we will.”
His mother visibly paled at the thought of him having to go back but remained silent. She knew that he had only 48 hours to be at home and that wherever he’ll be sent, it will be dangerous. If he has to go back to Gaza, he will. If not, he will be sent to other, difficult and risky tasks. He will go because it is his turn. In two years Lenny’s sons will also go.
Each soldier has parents, brothers, sisters, wives and children that worry themselves sick each time their beloved is called up. No one wants to go to battle. In Israel it is necessary to do so because the lives of all our people are threatened. We are not protecting political strategic locations overseas. Our soldiers are protecting their own homes, their mothers and fathers, their wives and children.
What does victory mean to you? This image, making the rounds of Israeli social media, clearly shows what we fight for…
People who hate Israel look at IDF soldiers as brutal tools of an aggressive nation. People who love Israel tend to see the strength of our soldiers. Many know of their morality and decency. Few see the gut wrenching pain of the parents (and wives) who send their beloved to protect the nation, knowing he may never return. Few realize how much we need miracles to bring them back home again…
How ironic that the Israeli people, widely accused of war-mongering aggression, so deeply desire to see the day when we will no longer have to fight.