In The Company of Heroes
I had the great privilege of accompanying Major General (Ret) Avigdor Kahalani to an artillery battalion, somewhere in the war zone. General Kahalani is one of Israel’s greatest war heroes, a veteran of the Six Day War, The Yom Kippur War and the First Lebanon War. It is not an exaggeration to say that were it not for the actions of Avigdor Kahalani and the men under his command, the Syrians, who had already taken most of the Golan Heights, would have been able to push into Northern Israel, and the fate, not only of the war but, of the State of Israel would have been very much in doubt.
Instead, Kahalani and those under his command were instrumental, not only in recapturing the Golan Heights, but pushed deep into Syrian territory until they literally were within artillery range of Damascus. It was a feat almost unheard of in the annals of modern warfare, in which a country recovered from a devastating Pearl Harbor like attack, were confronted with totally new tactics by a well trained, superbly well-armed adversary, adjusted to the new realities, counter attacked, and within two and a half weeks were on the outskirts of the attacking force’s capital. Quite simply, General Kahalani and others like him saved Israel. At the end of his military career, General Kahalani entered politics, was elected to Israel’s Parliament, served as an inner circle cabinet minister, and participated in some of the Israeli government’s most critical debates and decisions. After retiring from the political arena Kahalani became the Chairmen of AWIS, the Association for the Welfare of Israel’s soldiers.
It was in that capacity that he went out to meet with the soldiers serving, under fire, in the field. For those young soldiers it was a chance to meet a living legend, as close as Israel has to Patton or MacArthur. I thought he was going to give them a sort of pep talk, though their spirits didn’t need any rallying.
I’ve been in the Israel Defense Forces for forty years, and I’ve never seen morale so high, and never seen the country so united behind its soldiers. The other day I was in a restaurant at a crossroad just before the Gaza border. It’s sort of the last place to get a good meal before you hit the border into no man’s land. I was hungry as your basic honey badger, and had ordered a huge meal, knowing it would probably be the only chance I’d have to eat that day. When I went to pay the bill the waitress said it had already been taken care of.
“Somebody bought me lunch? “ I asked, wanting to thank my benefactor.
“No,” she said, “Somebody picked up the bill for every soldier here.” There were easily fifty soldiers eating lunch there. “It happens like that every day now,” she said and smiled.
I’ve had total strangers take me in, offer me a bathrobe while they washed my uniform, feed me, literally offer me their beds to sleep in and their bathrooms to shower in. Amazing…amazing.
So the troops didn’t need a pep talk.
But what Kahalani told them, I found extraordinary.
He spoke quietly. So quietly the young soldiers leaned forward to catch ever word and when he spoke it was with a conviction that came straight from his heart and went straight into the hearts of all of those who heard him.
“We never taught you to hate,” he said, “not this army, not the Israel Defense Forces. We never taught you to hate. And there are armies in the world who do that. And I don’t know, maybe it works to a degree, maybe by hating the enemy you are a fiercer fighter. I don’t know. But we never taught you that. And I’ll tell you why. If we teach you to hate, you can’t undo that. You’ll come back from the war and it won’t be the “enemy,” it will be your brother in law, or your neighbor or your former friend. Once you teach people to hate, they’ll find someone to hate. So we never taught you that.”
Suddenly he was speaking, not like a General but like a loving father to his much loved sons and daughters.
“We never taught you that. You know why you’re here. It’s not to hate anybody. It’s to defend your people, your homes and your families. Each of you has to feel as if the whole fate of the whole people of Israel is on you shoulders. Each of you holds that fate in your hands. But it’s not about hatred. And now you’ve inherited that tradition from my generation, and you’ll be the ones to continue it. But those who inherit have a responsibility. I know you won’t disappoint me.”
That was the pep talk from Israel’s Patton during a cruel and vicious war that was forced upon us by an equally cruel and vicious adversary, Hamas.
The pep talk was: Don’t hate. Do what you need to do to defend your homes, your families and your people. But don’t hate.
To the Palestinian people of Gaza: We don’t hate you. We don’t wish you ill. We want only to live in peace side by side with you. When you come out of wherever you’ve been able to take refuge, ask yourself why Hamas never built you any shelters to protect you. They’re great at digging tunnels after all. They’ve dug them under our border, intending to murder as many of our civilians as possible; our women and children, gathered in agricultural village dining halls. Not soldiers, not warriors, but our women and children and old people.
So they’re good at building tunnels.
Why didn’t they build any for you to take shelter in?
Then look at your neighborhoods, which are destroyed now because they housed the entrance points to those tunnels, not next to your homes but in your homes!
They turned your homes and neighborhoods into rocket launching sites and weapons storage depots. Not by accident, but to make you vulnerable, to insure, in fact, that you would be in harm’s way no matter how many warnings Israel issued before it attacked. Ask why Hamas told you to ignore those warnings and that it was your duty to stay in those neighborhoods that they had turned into military targets.
Ask yourself why Hamas didn’t accept the Egyptian Cease fire proposal that would have prevented the ground invasion and all the subsequent death and destruction.
It wasn’t a Zionist plot.
It was an Egyptian proposal, endorsed by the Arab League and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. and Israel accepted it immediately and unconditionally!
It was Hamas which rejected it by launching a massive rocket attack, followed up by four separate terrorist tunnel attacks aimed not at our soldiers but at our women and children, who were meant to be murdered, maimed and taken hostage, dragged back through those tunnels into Gaza, so Khaled Mashal could declare a Divine Victory from a five star hotel in Qatar while you eat the dust of Gaza.
Look at your neighborhoods.
How’s Hamas’s Holy War working out for you?
Are your lives better?
Do your children have a better future?
Do they have any future but suffering?
Hamas and their ilk have been trying to drive us into the sea for over a hundred years now.
How’s that working out for you?
Look at your lives and look at ours.
Despite not knowing one day of peace, our cities are beautiful, our women are gorgeous, our men handsome, our children, the apple of our eyes, our industry flourishes, our start up nation is the envy of the world. Our sense of personal happiness, though we have been constant victims of terrorist attacks and war, is amongst the highest of any people on earth. We live longer, have more college graduates, more computers more scientific papers published, more artists, musicians, scientists and entrepreneurs per capita than almost any place on earth. Our cows produce more milk than any other dairy cattle. Our agriculture exists almost entirely on reclaimed water and no country on earth does more with desalinized water than Israel. Droughts which would destroy another country have no affect on us. And we’ve done all that despite Hamas and their ilk’s stated plans to destroy us.
You’ve gone to war against us three times in the last five years.
You’ve initiated each one and we’ve begged you, before each, not to launch more rockets at us.
But each time you were promised a new divine victory.
The rockets would be the sword that would defeat us.
We invented Iron Dome.
The tunnels would be Hamas’s “surprise” that would “open the gates of hell to us.”
We’re inside those tunnels right now. Blowing them up.
And who has paid the bitterest price?
Is it worth it? Are you getting something out of all this?
Here’s an idea. You’ve tried war three times in five years? Try something new.
You don’t even have to call it peace. .
Just stop trying to kill us and prepare to be amazed at how good your lives will become..
But what about the siege?
The so called “siege” which is nothing more than a sanction regime, was put in place because you keep trying to kill us!
You’re smart people. You’re industrious people. Stop trying to kill us and you won’t need to be a martyr to get into Paradise. You’ll have Paradise on earth. You can become the Singapore of the Middle East. You have beautiful beaches that can be developed for tourism. You’re on the Mediterranean for Goodness sake! You are creative and hard working and talented. Put those talents to use at trying to improve your lives instead of trying to end ours.
You will become the gateway between Europe and the Middle East. There are donors lined up and waiting to offer you a Marshall Plan that will make your lives sweet. The plan that Khaled Mashal has for you, however, leads only to death.
You don’t even have to love us.
You don’t even have to like us.
In fact you can continue to hate us, if that gives you some sort of emotional comfort. It won’t bother us. Knock yourselves out. Just stop trying to kill us
When Hamas tells you it’s a Holy War tell them to read the Quran. The Sura of The Children of Israel; Sura 17:104, “And we said to the Children of Israel, Dwell securely in the Promised Land, and when the last warning comes, we will gather you together in a mingled crowd”
How much more mingled can we get? We’ve been gathered together, not just according to our prophecy, but to yours!
We come from every corner of the earth, because for two thousand years every Jew on Earth, who celebrates Passover or Yom Kippur, be they black white, brown or any of the rainbow hues the make up our people, says, “Next Year in Jerusalem”.
So read that part of the Quran when they tell you to strap a suicide belt onto your son or daughter.
And for all your supporters and enablers, for those who march to end the death and destruction, if you really care about the Palestinians of Gaza, as you claim to, just tell them to try to stop trying to kill us.
Give it a decade.
We’re not going anywhere. You won’t defeat us. You won’t destroy us. You won’t cast us into such despair that we leave the land we’ve yearned for, worked for, sweated and bled for, for two thousand years. We won’t withdraw from the Middle East. Because we live here. Our religion wasn’t born in Poland. It was born here. Our language wasn’t born in Russia or America or France or Ethiopia or Yemen or Morocco. It was born here. And I promise you, we won’t become war weary. We can’t afford to.
Just stop trying to kill us.
Because we don’t hate you. We don’t teach our children or our soldiers to hate you. The words of our national anthem sum up the only thing we want; Lihiot am chofshi bi artzeinu, Eretz Zion, Yerushalayim....” To be a free people. In our land. The land of Zion, Jerusalem.” Just like it says in the Quran.
Dan Gordon is a captain in the IDF (res)