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Middle East Kevin Dispatch

Tomb of the Well Known Soldier
Part II - Hard Lessons Learned
in the Promised Land

January 26, 2000

Map
Miriam Cohen's son Eyal resembled his father Menashe in many ways, even as a youngster. He was raised in a bilingual home and he could alternate between reading books in Hebrew or Arabic by the time he was seven. His father worked in the Social Security Office of the government and each year was called back into the IDF Intelligence Force where his skills in Arabic proved most valuable. Although completely loyal to Israel, deep down inside he harbored mixed feelings about his assignment. On one hand he was grateful that it kept him out of combat and therefore closer to his wife and son. But at the same time, he had no desire to abandon his Iraqi heritage altogether. He was concerned that Eyal might one day misinterpret his father's military duties as a betrayal of his eastern upbringing. After the '67 War ended Menashe, with Miriam's full support, vowed to encourage his son's education especially whenever it came to learning about their Semetic neighbors in the Arab World. Already his family hoped that Israel, now a secure nation in the region, would soon be able to leave war behind.

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Israeli soldiers serving their country
Israeli soldiers serving their country
Other families in Israel were not so optimistic. Especially those whose sons were stationed along the Suez Canal in the Sinai in 1969. The "War of Attrition" against the Egyptians saw Israeli soldiers dug into deep trenches with a constant exchange of artillery fire passing overhead. Eyal's older cousin, Yael Bresler, went off to basic training during all of this but, as a woman, she was never sent to the front lines to fight. Aunt Rachel grew uneasy at the thought of both of her children serving in the army, especially since Yael's brother Ya'acov was, in fact, stationed at an army base in the desert, the location of which Ya'acov was not permitted to reveal to anyone. The fighting along the Suez went on for months, causing losses on both sides and didn't let up until August 1970.

The next autumn, while returning to Ginosar for the weekend, Yael fell asleep on the bus and missed her stop. As the bus pulled into its final station in Safed a young officer named Ami gently shook her awake. Yael found herself stuck waiting for the evening buses out of Safed and was delighted to follow Ami on a grand tour of this picturesque, mountain hideout where he was born and raised.

Over the course of the next few months Yael spent her weekends alternating between visiting her home at Kibbutz Ginosar and an exciting, new relationship in Safed. The notorious cold of the Safed winter did not detract from the warmth Yael received by becoming Ami's wife and she was released from the army several months before her full service ended. The two moved into an apartment only one block from Ami's parents who came by often to visit the young couple. Ami, or Captain Levy as he was known in the Israeli Airforce, was a brilliant young pilot, one of the few in his class who passed with almost no apparent difficulty. The captain's intellect never ceased to impress Yael and he glowed with the confidence of having arrived at the country's most envied military position. Keeping with Ami's more traditional upbringing, they ambitiously talked about having a large family, one that began with the birth of Ofer in March of 1972.

Vocabulary:

harbor - to hold onto something in your mind
Semitic - having to do with the people of southwest Asia, including Jews, Arabs, Canaanites, and Phoenicians; also refers to a language category that includes Arabic and Hebrew
notorious - known widely and usually not favorable; infamous
detract- - to take away from
elicited - to bring or draw out
bask - to take great pleasure or satisfaction

The Israeli Government, particularly the intelligence community, grew increasingly aware that neither Egypt nor Syria would sit idle for long with Israeli troops stationed in the Sinai and the Golan. Called back for reserve duty in 1973, Menashe spent much time at Kirya, the main intelligence base in Tel Aviv, attempting to decode the bits of information that trickled in about possible plans for an Arab attack. Some were merely false alarms whereas others elicited conflicting interpretations depending on whose analysis Prime Minister Golda Meir chose to listen to.

On October 6, the entire country fell into the annual silence in observation of Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year in Judaism. It was on this "Day of Atonement" that the coordinated attack by Syria and Egypt began at 2pm. Israel was attacked on both fronts, and unlike 1967, this force was comprised of large numbers of greatly improved tanks, artillery, infantry units, and rockets recently supplied to them by the Soviet Union. They were determined to take back the Sinai and the Golan and enjoyed the element of surprise during the opening of the war. Over 120,000 reservists were called from their homes and were mobilized to the fronts within 24-48 hours.

'Safeguarding the rights of others is the most noble and beautiful end of a human being.' Kahlil Gilbran, 'The Voice of the Poet'

Ya'acov was sent up to reinforce the positions defending the Golan, not far from where his father had fought when Israel first conquered it. Max, who had recently celebrated his 50th birthday, was no longer called up for reserve duty which disappointed the part of him that still wished to see some action in defense of the Zionist state. Menashe's office at Kirya worked overtime while fury erupted over who would take the blame for this grave miscalculation of military intelligence which had allowed Israel to suffer the surprise attack.

Captain Levy was transferred down to the Sinai where he was to fly several missions taking out Egyptian bridges over the Suez Canal and providing air coverage for Israeli ground troops. On his first two runs he managed to avoid the surface-to-air missiles that blew nearly half of the planes in his group to pieces. Immediately after take off on his third run, however, his aircraft suffered technical difficulties which made him an easy target of enemy fire. As he struggled to outmaneuver an Egyptian plane following close on his tail he was chased straight into a stream of missiles shooting up from the ground and both he and the enemy craft behind him were destroyed.

By the time Israeli forces turned the tables around, chasing the enemy deep into their own territory, thousands of soldiers, officers, pilots, tank men, and paratroopers had already been reported dead. The deaths of even 100 men didn't come close to the loss suffered by Yael. The only trace of Ami she still had was their son Ofer and two short years of memories. Now a widow, she decided to move in with Ami's parents whose love and traditional home was of great comfort to her while in mourning. Her in-laws helped her raise Ofer as they had once raised his father in the same home.

The country no longer basked in a feeling of invincibility and the sense of national loss seemed to overshadow the eventual victory on the battlefield. The death toll on all sides brought people to their senses at least for a while. By 1979, a peace treaty was signed with Egypt, one that Yael saw as coming six years too late. Yael prayed that this would mean the end of wars like the one that claimed her husband's life. With this treaty and the return of the Sinai to Egypt she saw hope for Israel's future.

Kevin

p.s. - Please e-mail me at ...kevinmaes@bigfoot.com
 

Kavitha - Kavi Gets MAD With Art
Kavitha - Pieces for Peace
Kevin - Tomb of the Well-Known Soldier Part I - The Birth of a Nation
Monica - Seeds of Peace
Monica - 15 year-old Liat: A Young symbol of the Future
Monica - The Other Side: Young Israelis and Palestinians Struggle to Understand Each Other

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