Wounded Israeli Soldiers Want to Finish Job
Wounded Israeli Soldiers Want to Finish the Job
By Sarah Ann Haves
Tel Aviv, Israel
It is the 19th day of the war. Today, I drove to Tel Hashomer Chaim Sheba hospital to visit Israel’s wounded soldiers. The parking lots are so filled with cars that it is hard to find a space. Wounded soldiers are scattered throughout the various hospital wards, depending on what their condition is, and what surgeries have been scheduled. Many young men and women in green IDF uniforms, as well as family and friends, carry sacks filled with presents. Most are being distributed to the soldiers who have just come off the Gaza battlefield.
Tel Hashomer is the largest hospital complex in the state of Israel, sitting on 150 acres of land, boasting excellent medical services, patient care, and advanced research facilities. To get from one end of the campus to the other you have to drive. It is too far to walk.
At the rehabilitation center, I meet Yvgeny, 20 years old, and originally from the Ukraine. He is an Israeli army sergeant with the elite Givati Brigade. On Sunday, January 4, two days into the IDF ground incursion, Yvgeny was shot in the left leg while fighting Hamas in Gaza. There are 30 soldiers in his squad, but only 16 went into Gaza when he did, along with several commanders. Five soldiers were moderately wounded. Another two received light injuries and have already been released from the hospital.
For one week before the war, Yvgeny’s unit trained specifically for urban warfare. They understood that there would be booby traps, ambushes, attempts to kidnap soldiers, and bombs in houses where Hamas gunmen were using young children and women as human shields. They knew what to look for and what to be aware of, because of their specified training.
Now, smiling, Yvgeny tells me his troop morale is high and they can feel the support of the Jewish state. More than 90% of Israelis support this war in Gaza. The war has garnered much greater support from the Israeli population than the Second Lebanon War of 2006.
Meanwhile, some of Yvgeny’s soldiers are still on the battlefield and he wants to join them soon. “I have a few weeks of therapy left, but I am hoping to return to the army and get my job back,” he explains.
When I ask him if he thinks there should be a cease-fire now, or should the IDF continue until they root out Hamas completely, he responds, “We have to finish it. I think all the soldiers want to finish the job. Everybody is very serious inside (Gaza). Nobody wants to leave. This is what we were trained for…. We are not going in there blind.”
On the way out of the rehabilitation center, I meet Dr. Yhuda Pilosof who has been making prosthesis materials for 40 years to fit the needs of his patients. He tells me that there is now a new prosthesis completed with special materials in place that cause movement, similar to fingers on a hand. Dr. Pilosof proudly shares that several years ago he made prosthesis materials to fit three teenagers who had come to Tel Hashomer from Gaza. It was difficult to fit them properly. One had a leg that was amputated above the knee; another had an amputation all the way up to his thigh. A third was fitted with a prosthesis that went into his hip area. All three were fitted successfully, and they were grateful for the help that came from Tel Hashomer.
The teenagers stayed in touch with Dr. Pilosof for three months after they were released from the hospital. Then, Hamas took over the Palestinian government in 2006. The contact with the teenagers stopped immediately. Dr. Pilosof could only speculate that his three patients weren’t calling anymore because they were afraid of what Hamas would do if the terror organization found out where they had been treated. But, Tel Hashomer, like many hospitals in Israel, treats Arab and Jewish patients together. One nurse emphatically told me that they consider every injured person the same and treat them accordingly.
Sarah, my friend and a hospital volunteer who has been caring for wounded soldiers through many of Israel’s wars, catches a ride with me to the main hospital on the Tel Hashomer campus. In the lobby, Snir a 19 year old combat soldier is sitting with friends. He explains that his arm was severely injured in a “friendly fire” incident. He also received light injuries to his legs. Snir is not sure exactly what happened on the battlefield, but thinks that those in charge of communications failed to tell an Israeli tank unit that Snir’s combat division was going into a certain building. Then, the tank soldiers saw movement, and thinking it was Hamas gunmen, fired a canon shot through the window into the building. Snir was wounded in the attack.
Sometimes there can be poor communications between tanks and infantry in the field, especially in urban warfare. While Israeli units are well-trained, tight urban settings provide great challenges to armies that are technically superior but not well adapted to densely populated areas. Soldiers can sometimes lose contact with one another and fail to know who they are firing on.
Snir has only been in the army eight months. He’s in the famous Golani Brigade. He wants to fight again when he is released from the hospital. “Israel, my country; Israel, my land,” he tells me in broken English, and adds, “In war people die. We have an army. We have power. We have to use it. We can’t be afraid of injury or death. We’re not afraid. We have a mission. We have a target. I hope we will do it. This is the best army in the world.” Snir also thinks the IDF should finish the job in Gaza and root out Hamas before any cease-fire is in place.
When I tell Snir that I have heard about miracles taking place in Israeli cities where rockets are falling, Snir relays to me that there are also miracles on the battlefield. He explains that a lot more Hamas members are being killed than is being reported in the media; while at the same time many Israeli soldiers have been protected during the war. One story he shares is about a soldier who went into a house in Gaza. The soldier saw a bomb. He ran away. And, within seconds the bomb exploded. The soldier was unharmed. To Snir this is a miracle he will not forget.
As I am talking to Snir, I notice several young ladies coming to see two soldiers sitting in the lobby. So, I walk over to Mickey, a 25 year old company tank commander. As an officer, Mickey is responsible for 60 men in his army unit. He’s been serving in the IDF for 6 l/2 years. Mickey’s finger was crushed by an accident that happened in his tank. He has already been back in Gaza to fight. But, now he has to go through rehabilitation for two weeks, and will not be able to join his unit until his finger is healed. Mickey thinks the war will be over soon. But, he believes fighting the war was necessary so that Israel could defend itself. “Everybody wants to be in Gaza and fight. It’s very important for all Israel. It’s a big war,” he explains.
Mickey’s buddy, Ronen, is sitting next to him, embarrassed by all the attention he is getting from the young girls who are visiting. An officer over 25 men, Ronen has been in the IDF for 3 l/2 years. During an explosion in Gaza, he was hit in the right soldier. He says it is no big deal, but admits to me that the injury is painful. Both soldiers are reluctant to have their pictures taken, but they appreciate that all these people have come to visit and bring them gifts. It seems to be the personal attention that makes them feel like heroes, and helps them to forget their injury and pain, at least for a moment in time.
Sarah and I find our way to the third floor of the hospital to visit 21 year old Daniel. He accepts gifts from us — a large bag of “Bomba” (a popular Israeli salty snack), and a big stuffed animal, which Daniel cuddles while smiling for a picture. Many friends and family are visiting with him, and they explain to me that Daniel just arrived to the hospital on Monday, January 12. A girl friend of Daniel’s translates his testimony into English.
While in Gaza, Daniel was holding his position in a house with an open gate. Suddenly, there was a shot from outside. He started running, and then was hit by a Hamas gunman in the back. Another soldier pulled him out of the combat zone, and they waited for an Israeli helicopter to rescue him. According to Daniel’s report, the bullet entered his back and exited through his stomach. He is not paralyzed, and he is expected to recover from his injury.
Daniel is a sergeant with the Israeli Paratroopers, and wants to go back in the field. Three others from his unit received light injuries. Yet, he claims the soldiers are very strong. “They want to kick Hamas in the buttocks, and they are not afraid. They should finish the job,” he says.
As soon as Daniel is finished with his testimony, his mother Sophia walks in the room. Instinctively, I hug her, and she warmly hugs me back. Our eyes meet, and I see the concern on her face for her son’s well-being. Following her, an entourage of soldiers in uniform, friends, and more family members come into the room. It is now very crowded. A group representing the Tel Aviv “Hapoel” football (soccer) players brings Daniel a scarf to wear with their logo on it.
As I exit the hospital room, two soldiers talk to me about the Gaza war. One of them is in charge of border security with the Nahal unit in the north of the country. He reports that four rockets were just fired from southern Lebanon into Kiryat Shmona, a town on Israel’s northern border. Israeli units immediately retaliated in the direction of the rocket fire and killed one of the terrorists.
I ask him if he thinks that a war is now going to start with Hezbollah in Lebanon. The Nahal soldier explains, “Hezbollah is afraid of what happened in Gaza. We think they will do nothing.” He adds, “I think Israel has no interest in a cease-fire because then we have accomplished nothing. We need to demolish the Hamas infrastructure and get all the leaders, weapons, and rockets.”
Standing right next to him is his friend, Yaniv, 21 years old, and in charge of an artillery force in the north. Yaniv is not in uniform. He received an injury some time ago, and is recuperating, so he is not on the northern border with his squad. He reveals that he is a commander over 12 people in the Alon platoon. According to Yaniv, “to each solution there are consequences. We have to enter Gaza and destroy the infrastructure. If not, our civilians will be injured.” I ask Yaniv, what about the civilians of Gaza who are caught in the cross-fire? Yaniv responds, “Before the air force bombs buildings, the army has ways to warn the people before they bomb.”
Yaniv is referring to the psychological campaign the IDF has waged in Gaza. They have distributed hundreds of thousands of leaflets warning Gaza residents not to stay in buildings where Hamas members dwell. They have told these same Gazans to be careful not to agree to be human shields. And, before the IAF (Israel’s Air Force) strikes buildings in Gaza, they make phone calls on thousands of mobile phones, telling citizens to get out of the area. Sometimes, Gazans go on the rooftops, hoping the IAF will see them and not strike. But, if the IAF plans to strike, they will fire warning shots, so the Gaza residents run out of the building to escape. No other state army, like Israel’s, has gone to such unprecedented measures to warn citizens of their intentions, which they continue to claim is not to hurt innocent people, but to kill the terrorists.
Yaniv makes sure I understand that the Islamic belief is to die on behalf of Allah, which Moslems consider a sacred act. So, the most simple of combat techniques learned by contemporary armies, doesn’t work on Moslem terrorists. “It is hard to fight them. They don’t mind dying,” says Yaniv. He adds that Hezbollah is worse, as they are tougher fighters. He admits that Hamas is learning from Hezbollah.
Yaniv’s friend joins in the discussion again. “Israeli kids here are educated to go in the army. They do it for the love,” he says, meaning that they do it for their country and people. “It’s part of the culture.”
What’s obvious from all these soldiers I meet is that love is extended from family member and friend to each soldier, and vice versa. Israelis are strong on family commitment, and they stick together. They have to, because they are fighting for the survival of the state.
Before leaving the crowds at the hospital, Sarah brings me to a special unit where an Israeli Druse family is being comforted by Myan, a 19 year old Israeli female soldier from the Golani Brigade. Her job is to counsel family members when their sons or daughters are severely wounded in combat. There are still many soldiers scattered throughout other hospitals in Israel she has visited. I ask Myan what the terms mean: lightly injured; moderately wounded; seriously injured; and critically wounded. She describes each term for me.
(1) Lightly injured is when there is no danger to the body or to a person’s life. Most soldiers lightly injured are treated and discharged from the hospital within hours.
(2) Moderately wounded is when there is danger of losing a part of the body. But, the person’s life is not in danger.
(3) Seriously injured is when there is danger of losing a part of the body, and also the person’s life is in danger.
(4) Critically wounded is when a person is between life and death.
In the case of Druse soldier, Wael, his family tells me he is critically wounded, and they are not sure if he will make it. Sitting around a table together, with some family members wearing the traditional white scarf on their head, their faces are somber. But, they graciously offer me Turkish coffee and something to eat. I decline the strong caffeinated hot drink and accept a glass of sweet orange soda, and a chocolate cookie. I listen intently to their stories, mostly in Hebrew. Hoping that I can give them some ray of hope, they explain that Wael was in a Golani unit that was hit in Gaza. He is in a coma with an injury to his head. If he makes it, he will need long term care.
Sarah gives more details. Many families, like this one, will stay in the hospital for days until their loved one has recovered. They sleep in hotel rooms nearby. Their children come and stay with them. It’s costly to these families who only get a small stipend from the government or charities. Sarah clarifies that more people need to give funds, not just to help the soldiers, but also the families who suffer along with them. Some families have to renovate their homes to accommodate those who are now disabled by permanent injuries.
Before I leave, Wael’s father, Adl, and his mother, Afaf, show me a picture of Wael so I will pray. His big sister Nasreen cries on my shoulder. And, his grandmother, Galea, hugs me and kisses me several times on the cheeks. They seem very happy that I have come to visit them, and they hope I will come, again, in better times.
As I walk out to the hallway, an elevator door opens up, and a mass of people exit with hands full of gifts. Taking my place in the elevator, I realize that those gifts are going to be distributed to the soldiers I have just visited. My heart is touched as I recall the smiles I have seen by those who know that love has no boundaries. This is what holds Israeli people together. The bond of love is so strong, and the gift of life so precious. Despite their injuries, they read Psalms and pray to the God of Israel. Somehow, they know He is watching over them, protecting them and their land forever.
“He who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.” Psalm 123:4 (This is a popular verse that Israelis have been quoting during the war).
Ms. Haves is a news analyst, reporting from Israel on political, diplomatic, military and spiritual issues affecting the nation.
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Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. Copyright ©1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.