Sunday, 1 September 2013

AVIHU, We remember.


Grey low clouds filled the sky and the valley below Shilo looked damp and dark.  I was waiting  to catch a ride to Tel Aviv at the gate of my yishuv (or settlement).  Both were unusual as  my office was in Jerusalem and it was the end of Elul, only a couple days before Rosh HaShana (the New Year).  Each year we start to pray for the rains only after Simchat Torah and here it seemed as it could rain any moment.  It was a bit before  7:00  when Moshe drove up to the gate.

Moshe, a teacher in a Tel Aviv was a  “good “   ride.   His school  was close to the Central Bus Station in Tel Aviv and from there I could catch another bus to my final destination in Azor.  If  I was lucky I could be in the office there already by 09:00.  I got  in the car and off we went.

Before we had made it to the main road the 7:00 morning news started on the radio. Moshe turned up the volume and we heard the main story:  another protest letter against  the  “occupation” , this time authored by pilots who said that they would  refuse to conduct sorties over Gaza as to do so would make them accessories to oppression and killing. Remembering that Moshe’s son was in Gaza serving as a staff sergeant in the anti terror squad in the Givati Brigade,  I asked what he thought of the newest protest.

“They are all confused” he said,  “they haven’t the slightest sense of right or wrong”.  “ My son and his friends go all the time into the warrens and alleys of Gaza searching for terrorists for fun?  For those pilots there is no risk, from a thousand meters they can just  fire a missile or drop a bomb and that will be the end of the terrorist. Instead the army sends Givati to catch them so the ‘poor’ guys can get free meals in a jail.  My son was on such a mission last night”.

Surprised, because I hadn’t heard of anything like that in the news, I asked him how he knew.  “Avihu called me last night.  He always tries to call me before going off on a mission and he should be calling soon now that it is probably over. I’ll call him now and see if he is back yet”.  

The rest of the trip is now a fog to me.  Moshe called his son several times and got no answer. Moshe called his wife to see if she had talked to Avihu and finally she called back. “Come home Moshe, Avihu has been injured and a representative of the army is coming to Shilo”.   We tried reassuring each that Avihu would be eventually fine, more with hope than with conviction (on my part).  SInce Moshe wasn’t going into Tel Aviv he very kindly offered to let me off near Rosh Haayin so I could continue by bus.

Standing at the bus stop, I saw Moshe making his way back east towards Shilo. Just as he was leaving it started to rain large  cold raindrops.

Avihu died a hero. It has been 10 years now. The whole story , to be short, is that, unknown to the force, there were two entrances to the house and when the force got to the second door, one of the terrorists was waiting, and Avihu , who was leading the force was hit and killed instantly while another six soldiers were injured, one seriously.  Mortars and Qassem rockets were also found, which undoubtedly would have been fired at Israeli citizens if not captured.  

Perhaps Y, the pilot from pilot’s letter, published the same day that Avihu was killed, had good intentions. After all, killing terrorists from the air was and still is a daunting task that is liable to kill surrounding “non-combatants” or “innocent bystanders” (many family members of the “target”).  Still, Y had no moral right to prefer the lives of enemy civilians, as innocent as they may have been,  to his fellow soldiers.  The lack of danger that Y felt from 1000 meters caused Y to prefer his own “comfort” (yes, moral comfort) to the lives of other soldiers facing death face to face.  By doing so, Y, “forgot” the great responsibility that all soldiers share to each other.

Alan Elsner, in his op-ed (“What Should Rabbis Be Saying About Israel This Rosh Hashana?”)

believes that rabbis should be talking about the recent “peace talks”. I would propose that if the issue of Israel should rise, that first of all it should be in the context of how all Jews have a shared responsibility to each other’s safety. Just as a pilot, from on high, can not put himself in his own “bubble”  and tell the infantry soldier below him how to handle the terrorist on the ground, there is also a danger for American Jews to tell Israelis from thousands of miles away how to handle the talks with Abu Mazen and what “sacrifices” can be made.   Advice and support yes, pressure for withdrawals and evacuations definitely not.  US Jews are too far away and won’t being “paying the price” in any event.

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