Sunday, June 13, 2010

A Psalm in Jenin

My latest article in Kaminando y Avlando, the Sephardi Hebrew Congregation of Cape Town's monthly publication:


When reading stories about the IDF in newspapers from around the world, I am usually left aghast by the image they paint of our soldiers. Gone are the days when our soldiers were looked upon in a positive light. Nowadays, if most newspapers (including some Israeli ones sadly) are to be believed, IDF soldiers are vicious, blood thirsty lunatics who actively seek to eradicate Palestinians. In the past decade, newspapers have inflamed the worldwide anti-Israel sentiment with stories like the Mohammad Al-Dura death (the 12-year-old boy was killed in cold blood on live TV by IDF troops. Months later it was proven that Israeli soldiers were not stationed in a position where they could possibly have shot the boy – he was killed by Palestinian fire); the Jenin ‘Massacre’ (too many newspapers printed the ‘500 Palestinians killed, mostly civilians’ lie, when in fact only 50 were killed, of which over 80% were terrorists); the organ harvesting article last year...the list goes on and on. Too few articles, or books for that matter, paint the truthful image of the IDF – an army, which despite mistakes, strives to ensure the Palestinian population it works around is protected from unnecessary confrontations even at the risk of its very own soldiers’ lives.

One book that does do our soldiers justice is Brett Goldberg’s A Psalm in Jenin, which places the reader side by side with the soldiers who fought in Jenin during Operation Defensive Shield in 2002. What the book does well is it leads the reader from the ‘difficulties’ of the soldiers’ civilian lives straight into the difficulties the same soldiers, be they the 20-year-old kids or the thirty-something reservists, faced as they went from one booby trapped house to another in the heart of Jenin. It’s a must-read book – one that will give anyone who hasn’t served in the army a far better understanding of the human beings who fight to protect the land of Israel, and the many struggles they face while fighting a few miles from their homes. One of the book’s most powerful chapters takes place when the soldiers commemorate Yom Ha’Zikaron, Israel’s Memorial Day. During a break from fighting, a soldier organizes a ceremony during which he reads a letter by Gadi Ezra, who was tragically killed in Jenin:

My beloved Galit,

If this letter reaches you, it means that something has befallen me.

This morning I received word that the operation planned yesterday will take place, G-d willing. I told you that the operation had changed and that it was not what it was originally supposed to be – because I didn’t want you to worry you, my dearest. It was very hard for me not to tell you the truth, but I preferred to do so rather than to drive you crazy with worry. “One can tell a lie for Peace,” it is taught, and that also includes the peace of mind of the person that you love more than anything else on earth.

My beloved, I feel that on the one hand there is nothing that I would like more than to be with you, to love you, and to raise a family with you. But on the other hand, there is nothing that I want more than to go on this operation and deal such a great blow to the terrorists that they will never dare perpetrate another bombing or terror attack. That they will take into account that each time they commit an atrocity we will hit them in the most painful place possible and will be willing to pay the price. I am willing to be that price.

Do not be angry at me, my loved one, but in moments like this one must be guided by the greater good of the people of Israel, and one needs to deal a blow to evil as if one has no private life. As it is written, “In the armies of King David a conditional letter of divorce was granted before going off to war.”

My dearest, do not forget: everything is for the best, and if this is what the Master of the Universe has chosen, so be it. To us remains the task of accepting it all with love.

Everything the Lord does is for the best. Everything is for the best, even this. I promise you that I am in the most wonderful of places, without suffering, without regret. My only sorrow is for those who remain – for you, for my family, and for my friends.

Spread the good news, my dearest one. “Never despair, be only joyous.” That is what I ask of you even, if it is difficult.

I know that I can ask this of you, because I know well the joy and bliss that radiate from you naturally, those qualities with which I fell in love. They are what drew me to you when I first laid eyes upon you.

My dearest, my beloved. I love you and will always love you. Promise that you will continue onwards, and will not allow Sodom to triumph. You be the triumphant one. That is what must be.

I will love you to all eternities, and will always be yours.

The letter is often read during Yom Ha’Zikaron ceremonies nowadays. It’s painful evidence of the dedication and sacrifice our soldiers are willing to make to ensure this country eliminates the dangers facing her. Galit followed Gadi’s advice and ‘continued onwards,’ she got married and had four children.

Though I’ve always been a big fan of this book, it took on a whole new meaning since I joined my miluim (reserve duty) unit in 2006. On another one of those long guard duty stints, the topic of Jenin came up. By the time the conversation was over, I’d found out that a few of the soldiers in my unit were the Golani soldiers who fought in Jenin with Gadi Ezra and quite a few of the people mentioned in the book. During each stint, I discuss more of the book with them. They’re all my age, most of them married with kids and they still talk about those nights as if they happened yesterday - their fears, the long nights and close brushes with death, their friends, the blood and the funerals. The conversations normally end with a similar outcome, “It was hell, but we must continue on. It will be ok, יהיה טוב.” It’s as if Gadi’s words were engrained in all of them…

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