Living in Canada, learning about Israel primarily through the media, we can easily forget that it’s a place where life goes on despite the constant threat.
Ronen Malik, JUMP’s Israeli tour guide who shared his story about
his terrifying experience as a reserve soldier during the Second
Lebanon War, is seen here educating the participants about Israel’s
ancient history. [Ori Gilad photo]
On the other hand, during a 10-day tour of Israel packed with sightseeing, adventure and fun, it’s easy to forget about the human cost of a seemingly everlasting conflict.
But when a group of Canadian students and young professionals travelled to Israel late last month on a subsidized trip organized by a new social networking group called Jewish Urban Meeting Place (JUMP), the trip staff wanted the participants to experience Israel on all levels.
The group travelled to Misgav Am, a kibbutz in the Upper Galilee that sits on a hilltop metres from the Lebanese border. There, at a lookout point where they watched clouds roll over Lebanese villages below, they met Arieh Ben-Yakov, a hardened, politically incorrect, 67-year-old kibbutznik who moved to Israel in 1961 from the United States.
Having served Israel on the battlefield and in the agricultural field, Ben-Yakov felt he was entitled to what he called his harsh, crass worldview.
“I have very strong opinions about lots of things, and you need to realize the fact that I’ve been a committed warrior for a long time. You don’t keep doing this without it having an effect on the way you look at the world and the way you see things,” he said.
Ben-Yakov spoke about “Arab propaganda” that perpetuates lies about the Jewish state.
“Contrary to Arab propaganda, we didn’t steal their country, we didn’t kick them out of their homes, we didn’t rob them of anything. They sold us shit and we turned it into gold. This country, the beauty of it and the development of it, we did it. Nobody else. And we’ve been doing it since the 1890s,” Ben-Yakov said.
“When Zionism started in 1890, we got permission from the Turkish authorities to purchase land for Jewish people in Eretz Yisrael. And the Turks thought that was a super good idea. The Arab landowners did not sell us good land. They sold us marshes and swamps and the mountain tops and all the places where nothing grows. And they thought they were doing a good job taking money for nothing.”
He said that after Israel’s War of Independence and the Six Day War in 1967, many who didn’t want to live under Israeli rule, fled to neighbouring Arab countries.
“They attacked us and they lost and then they ran like hell, and the rest who stayed bitch and moan about their rights when they lose. If they had won, there wouldn’t be a Jew left here…
“Understand, we did not come here to be crusaders. We just came to set up a home… In ’48 we didn’t even have an army and they attacked us from five different countries… They’ve been attacking us ever since and putting the blame on us.”
He said that during the Second Lebanon War, his kibbutz, which grows apples and cherries but also shares its property with the army, was bombarded from the first to the last day of the war.
“Unfortunately, more than 10 rockets landed inside… we spent most of our time firefighting.”
When it comes to achieving peace in the Middle East, Ben-Yakov said there is a very simple solution.
“Stop trying to kill me. Stop trying to kill me and you’ll have peace the same day. I’m not looking for trouble, I want to raise my children. But I’ve learned how to deal with trouble.”
Behind the tough exteriors of hawkish Israelis like Ben-Yakov, there are daughters, sons, wives and husbands who want nothing more than to live with their families in peace, and fear the consequences and losses of yet another war.
The JUMP participants were reminded of this fact when Ronen Malik, their 30-year-old Israeli tour guide, told his horrifying account of fighting in the Second Lebanon War as a reserve Israel Defence Forces soldier, and shared his fear of not being there for his wife and young daughter.
Ten days after two IDF soldiers were kidnapped from an area near the Israeli-Lebanese border, Malik got a call from his commander to join his unit.
He met with his unit on Friday, and before Shabbat, Malik, who is modern Orthodox, called his wife to wish her a Shabbat Shalom.
A few hours later, his unit arrived at Misgav Am before they set off on a seven-hour trek into Lebanese territory.
He said they travelled on foot toward a village near Tayba, where his unit was to relieve a group of young soldiers who had been on duty for 48 hours, and that after the next 48 hours, his unit would be relieved by another unit. But when the time come for them to be relieved, his commander informed them that no one was coming to replace them, and they would be continuing deeper into Lebanon.
When they arrived in Tayba, they saw a UN vehicle.
“We asked our commander if we could stop the car to check if they were enemies or not. We didn’t get permission to stop it because the permission comes from politicians. The moment this car left – and they saw us – right after, there was rain of grenades and rockets over my unit.”
After escaping unhurt from this attack, they entered another village, and that night, they found a large home to eat and sleep in.
“It was three floors. On the first floor, there was a very big kitchen. No one was allowed to be in there because there was a big window that faced the Litani River… But one of the main problems that we had in the last war was they didn’t open logistic routes… for vehicles and tanks to bring in food. After 48 hours, we didn’t have any food.”
Malik said they had to prepare their own food, so he and two other soldiers in his unit volunteered to bake pita bread and make rice.
Baking the pita created a lot of smoke, so to avoid getting all the smoke in the kitchen, they found a small room adjacent to the kitchen.
Because they were running back and forth between the kitchen and the small room, they decided to take the door off the hinges to make it easier for them. After they ate dinner, they tried to get the door back on the hinges, but they couldn’t do it.
“To this day, I don’t know why. It was so simple. It was just two pins. So we just put the door leaning [against the wall].”
Malik said that minutes later, the door slid down and made a loud bang. A second after, terrorists from Hezbollah began shooting into the kitchen where he and his two friends were.
“My friend screamed, ‘Mechabel!’ Terrorist! And we started to shoot back.”
One of his two friends got injured, but all survived the attack. After an investigation into the incident, they determined that the loud noise made by the door gave them warning about the attack.
“Thanks to the fact that we didn’t succeed to put the door in place when it fell down, the terrorists thought that we were shooting at them. They had been two metres behind the kitchen waiting for a good moment, and they shot without looking. If that door hadn’t fallen down and surprised them… I don’t want to think about what could have happened.”
Malik also shared a story about a soldier from another unit that moved him to tears.
“Not far from where I was, there was another soldier from the reserve, and [his unit] entered more or less the same kind of house.”
During a gun battle between the IDF and Hezbollah, a grenade was thrown into the house.
“Roey Klein, this was his name, saw the grenade. He was married with two kids. He decided to jump on the grenade to save all the soldiers around him. In the moment that he jumped on the grenade, he screamed, Shema Yisrael HaShem Elokeinu HaShem Echad…
“The last day of the war I remember that I had a dream. My daughter was four months old, she wasn’t speaking yet and I had a dream that she’s screaming, ‘Father, where are you?’” he said, fighting back tears.
He recalled crossing back into Israel at 4 a.m. Having had no contact with his family for the 11 days that he spent in Lebanon, he couldn’t wait to hear his wife’s voice.
“I called my wife, and I start to cry like a baby.”