Israel in the News Mar/Apr 2009
Behind Enemy Lines
Editor’s Note: An Israel Defense Forces (IDF) soldier named Aryeh, who spent a week deep inside northern Gaza fighting Hamas terrorists, spoke with Israel National Radio about his experiences. His reflections explain what the war was like for these young men, and they highlight the clear difference between the Israeli and Arab mindsets. Here are excerpts, as reported by Israel National News.
No atheists in foxholes
I’ve been in Gaza for a week. We’re in an armored reconnaissance unit, which means we are infantry that goes in front of the tanks….The army was very tight with us about security. They took away our cell phones, made sure we don’t have cameras, etc.
[Asked what it is like when they actually entered Gaza:] Right before we went in,…rabbis were giving out Tehillim [little books of Psalms], and every soldier took one or two or three or four—even the guys who just two days ago were arguing with me against religion. They act as if the Tehillim are bullet-proof, and they put them all over their bodies, saying “I don’t want to get hit here or here or here.”…Anyway, before we went in, there were jokes. But then, when we actually start going in, it gets very, very quiet, people thinking their own thoughts, like who might not be coming back, or about their families, or whatever.
When we actually went in, it was very surreal. On the Israeli side, even with all the rockets and shells falling around us, you sort of feel safe. But when you cross over, you feel like you have left the safe cover of Israel….You hear a lot of booms, mostly from our jets and copters and tanks and things. The first kilometer or two was open area, and then, when we got to the built-up areas, it really was pretty scary.
There are snipers and stuff, but there were two things that were particularly hard for me. One is that almost every single house is booby-trapped—even with families inside!Because it looks good on the news [against Israel] to have a whole family killed…the people are forced to stay there, or sometimes they stay on their own. This is insane. We can’t comprehend this….It’s scary kicking in a door and thinking that the entire house might collapse on you.
But even scarier is the fact that there are tunnels everywhere in Gaza, not just the ones that people know about in southern Gaza. I don’t know how many there are, but there are tunnels between houses and headquarters and the like, not only for reinforcements but also because one of their main goals is to kidnap soldiers. That is really terrifying. You see a bush, and suddenly the bush moves and a hand sticks out, trying to grab a soldier’s leg and pull him inside. It happened a lot….Or we’re in a house trying to get some sleep, and you don’t know if a floor tile will suddenly move and someone will try to grab you. So on the one hand, you try to sleep very little; but we also work very closely together, looking after each other, helping each other, and certainly not doing anything by oneself.
[Asked what the feelings seem to be among the Arabs:] The mindset of the enemy is so alien to us. By us, the death of any one soldier is terrible, a national tragedy; but by them, it seems that they want as many deaths as possible. In Israel, schools even dozens of kilometers from Gaza are closed in order to minimize the risk, which is pretty small. But in Gaza, where there are bombs all over the place all the time, we’ve seen kindergartens filled with 150 or 200 children, and the kindergartens are booby-trapped! They even shoot rockets from inside mosques and these places.
Finish the job
The soldiers’ morale is very high, and all of them definitely believe that the war is just and important. No one likes fighting; people want to be with their families. I’ve seen some 35-year-old guys almost crying about how much they miss their families. But at the same time, no one wants to leave now. Of all sectors, it’s the soldiers who do not want a cease-fire, not because we want to fight but because we know the job is not finished yet. We don’t want to have to go back again in a year or two or three….I think there has to be a hard push against Hamas, even harder than we have done until now. This will take a real sacrifice, we know. But to think that we might leave and the rockets will still fall, what did we do?…True, Gaza is now largely in ruins. But they’ll get lots of money to rebuild, and they’ll use a lot of the money to get more weapons as well. We have to go in deeper and stronger, and make them understand that it’s just not worth it.
Letters mean a lot
[Regarding packages of sweets that the soldiers receive from the home front:] Even though we’re often hungry, the first thing a lot of soldiers go for in the packages is not the food, but rather the letters and words of support. You can’t imagine what it does for us to read them….I have about nine of the really special ones; and when I had a little time, I would go over to some corner and pull them out and read them….They give so much strength.
I just want to tell this really special story that happened to me: Some of the letters have phone numbers on them. So I called one of them to thank her for her letter—an 8-year-old girl named Eden. Eden told me that she was so happy I called and that she had just been in the hospital for an ear operation….But then her mother got on and she was all emotional and told me, “It’s so amazing that you called because Eden’s two older sisters received calls of thanks from soldiers, and she was feeling sad that no one called her. And now you called!”
Hamas Thwarts Aid to Its Own People
THE JERUSALEM POST—Hamas in January raided some 100 aid trucks that Israel had allowed into Gaza, stole their contents, and sold them to the highest bidders. Meanwhile, Israel established an Israeli-run field hospital to treat the Palestinians.
The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) said that since terminal activity is coordinated with the United Nations Relief and Work Agency (UNRWA) and the Red Cross, Israel could do nothing to prevent the raids, Israel Radio reported.
On January 12 the Israeli army ceased all military activity in Gaza and again established a “humanitarian corridor” to help transfer supplies.
It also established a border clinic staffed with emergency specialists, pediatricians, family physicians, gynecologists/obstetricians, trauma experts, surgeons, orthopedists, and other experts. A World Health Organization official told The Jerusalem Post he doubted Palestinians would be allowed by their leaders to access it.
Since the beginning of Operation Cast Lead, the IDF has facilitated the transfer of close to 900 trucks into the Gaza Strip, with more than 20,000 tons of basic foods and medical supplies.
According to an army estimate, slightly more than 900 Palestinians have been killed since Operation Cast Lead began in December 2008. Based on intelligence and information obtained by the Gaza Coordination and Liaison Administration, the IDF has determined that at least 400 of those were known Hamas operatives. The IDF further believes that among the remaining 500, a significant number were also Hamas operatives.