Part III - The War of Uncertainty
January 29, 2000
Eyal entered the army without any particular enthusiasm, but while in basic training he did not find it quite as intolerable as his mother Miriam had described. He just went with the flow, and in a way, he sort of embarked on his own little study of the military itself. Reading up on the army's history, he analyzed its organization and command structure, read biographies of its heroes, and would often discuss moral issues with his comrades based on army rules taught to him during training. Eyal was intrigued by how simply the IDF explained, at least on paper, its mission, "TO DEFEND THE EXISTENCE, TERRITORIAL INTEGRITY AND SOVEREIGNTY OF THE STATE OF ISRAEL. TO PROTECT THE INHABITANTS OF ISRAEL AND TO COMBAT ALL FORMS OF TERRORISM WHICH THREATEN THE DAILY LIFE." He remembered the fear of not living to see his 13th birthday when Israel was attacked during the Yom Kippur War. His small contribution to the defense of the country now made more sense to him.
Because of his excellent performance during the three mandatory years, one of his commanders encouraged Eyal to accept the optional fourth year of service to become an officer. For Eyal this meant that he could continue to read and learn about the stuff that interested him, but most importantly, he now had the chance to earn good money which he could save for school.
About six months into Lt. Eyal Cohen's fourth year, the PLO, which was operating out of southern Lebanon, was still scrupulously adhering to a cease fire (ending the exchange of the PLO's Katyusha rockets and IDF retaliation) arranged by the United States the previous summer. On June 3rd, 1982 a rival Palestinian group, having no connection to the PLO, gunned down Israeli Ambassador Shlomo Argov in London. Regardless, when Lt. Cohen heard about this on the radio he was positive that his government would respond quickly, a feeling confirmed by the bombardment of PLO and Lebanese targets in Lebanon by the Israeli Air Force. His subsequent fears were likewise justified when the PLO finally did strike back by shelling settlements in the Northern Galilee, and the IDF's response was the launching of a massive attack into Lebanon called "Peace for Galilee."
The irony of naming this war, "Peace for Galilee", began to disturb Lt. Cohen whose quick analysis saw through to its contradiction. It wasn't the first time he had questioned the doctrine of the army in which he served but it was the first time that he would be sent to the front lines to fight on its behalf. Lt. Cohen commanded one of the many tanks that rolled over the border on June 6th, heading north into Lebanon. Overtaking village after village Israeli forces, using megaphones, ordered inhabitants out of their homes. Employing sophisticated bombs and shells designed to penetrate buildings before exploding, collapsing them inward, their big guns took out houses and entire apartment blocks. Heavy bombardment rained down from the air. Leaflets of warning, sometimes dropped after the bombing had already begun, fluttered uselessly to the ground. Phosphorous bombs were dropped to ignite fires causing untreatable burns to victims. In addition to residences, hospitals, mosques, and schools were bulldozed or leveled to the ground by the bombing. The cities of Tyre, Sidon, and Beirut all fell to the advancing army while hundreds of thousands of women, children, and old men were dispersed in all directions. The men, some of them still teenagers, were blindfolded and bound while being rounded up and held captive by Israeli troops. Thousands more Palestinians and Lebanese civilians fled to the beaches of the Mediterranean to avoid the catastrophe.
As Lt. Cohen and his tank entered Beirut he was unable to count the thousands of civilians who had been killed by the unnecessary aggression. Many had simply been crushed under the collapse of buildings. While surveying the damage he nearly choked on the smell of decomposed bodies lying in all directions. Defense Minister Ariel Sharon's strategy, efficiently passed down the chain of command, left Lt. Cohen, and soldiers like him, appalled by what they were ordered to do. Worsening the morale of his men even further were the daily reports of thousands of Israelis protesting in the streets against the war. Most were angry that their government had dragged the country into a shameful mess.
All his life Lt. Eyal Cohen had dreamed of visiting the great places of the Arab World introduced to him by his father's bedtime stories and his mother's book collection. And now for the first time he was finally surrounded by Arab villages, Arab people, in an Arab country devastated by the very forces to which he had committed himself. What had seemed to him at first to be a worthy cause, the wiping out of terrorist bases, became a bloody campaign in which every man, woman, and child Lt. Cohen could fix his sights on was to automatically be considered a terrorist and dealt with accordingly. This, to him, was no longer a defensive war protecting the country like the ones his father and Uncle Max had fought before him.
Several months later he was released from the military, and he was never the same again. Images of destruction and suffering haunted him in his sleep and his emotions strangled him in his waking hours. His mind was unfit to study anything and he had no desire to ever leave the house, let alone attend university. His talent for logic and reasoning was worthless when it came to trying to reconcile the ideals of humanity he valued with the reality of human pain he had caused. Eyal became unable to relate to his friends, and seeing the few buddies he had from his army days only brought back more painful memories. His family was always there for him but they felt helpless watching his mental state deteriorate from all they had built him up to be. Even years later with the war well behind him he never returned to being the Eyal they had known. As far as Miriam and Menashe were concerned they had lost their son in Lebanon.
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