On this sacred commemoration of Yom Hazikaron in which we remember the Israeli soldiers who have given their lives for our Eretz Israel, I would like to share with you a dramatic and tragic story that happened during the Lebanon War, which I took part in.
In war, there are many tragedies involved in loss and eternal pain. We rarely encounter unusual tragedies involving unrealistic coincidences, such as two brothers killed in the same war, father and son, and so on. The following story and its sequence of events, and all the stages and moves during the 24 hours that the drama took place, is a particularly rare one. A case of a unfortunate coincidence due to human errors. An extraordinary event that brought a double tragedy on two families who never knew each before. It is about two Israeli soldiers, with the same name, who lived in the same neighbourhood called Talpiot in Jerusalem, who were both killed in the same week, in the same battlefield location (Ein al-Hilweh) in the Lebanon War of 1982. The name they shared was Yuval Harel. One was Yuval Harel from the Armored Corps, and the other was Yuval Harel from the paratrooper’s force. Both were age 19.
The tragedy in this sad story was not about the coincidence of two killed soldiers, of the same name, who lived in the same city, but in the way their families learned of the death of their loved ones when military representatives arrived to bring them the sad news, something that intensified the tragedy when the news of the death of one Yuval Harel was a source of hope for the parents of the other Yuval Harel.
Yuval from the Armored Corps was killed on Tuesday, June 8, 1982 at 2:30 PM in Ein al-Hilweh refugee camp when a missile hit his tank as his unit was breaking into the terrorist strongholds in the alleys of Ein al-Hilweh.
The other Yuval, the paratrooper, was killed on Thursday, June 10, at 12:55 PM, when Israeli Air Force jets inadvertently bombed his force, in the eastern side of Ein al-Hilweh. 34 of the Israeli soldiers were killed in that bombing.
I was only 100 metres away and could hear the shooting and the screams of the wounded. My platoon could not do anything to help since we were engaged in a face-to-face battle against dozens of armed terrorists in crowded Ein al-Hilweh. Yuval was a soldier in the force of the paratroopers who had fought with us in the refugee camps near Sidon. In Ein al-Hilweh, we fought in the southern part of the refugee camp, while he and his force fought in its eastern, where they too got involved in a difficult and complex battle. This was due to the overcrowding and large number of civilians who were reluctant to stay in their homes where they could be used by the terrorists as human shields, as they knew Israeli soldiers would not shoot unarmed civilians.
Only half an hour later, I heard about the death of Yuval from one of the paramedics.
An IDF team, who are trained for the sensitive role of bringing the sad news to the family of the death of their loved one, were sent to Talpiot neighbourhood in Jerusalem on Friday morning June 11 to inform the family of Yuval from the Armored Corps about the death of their son. But when the team arrived in Talpiot to bring the sad news to the parents, they encountered a problem that caused confusion and embarrassment, which in turn made a routine event dramatic. The team had some difficulty in finding the house of Yuval from the Armored Corps, so they asked some of the residents in the neighbourhood to guide them. However, the residents mistakenly guided them to the house of Yuval the paratrooper, which coincidentally was just few blocks down the road from the house of Yuval from the Armored Corps.
The fact that the two soldiers carried the same name and lived in the same neighbourhood had confused them. The army officials knocked on the door of Yuval the paratrooper’s family and told them the terrible news. The family broke down in tears and began to mourn their dead son.
An hour later, after studying the details properly, the army officials realized that they had mistakenly gone to the wrong house. They immediately rushed back to the house of the paratrooper’s family, informed the grieving family, apologized to them profusely for their terrible mistake and immediately went to the house of Yuval from the Armored Corps and informed his family about the death of their son.
And now, the shocking tragedy:
Five hours later, while the paratrooper’s family were still recovering from the shocking error, but yet, feeling relieved and elated to hear that their son was not dead, a different team of the army officials arrived at their house. They were aware that a different team had mistakenly informed this family of their son’s death. When they knocked on the door, the mother shouted at them: “A team was here already, and they told us that there was a mistake and that my Yuval was not killed! That it was a different Yuval Harel from this neighborhood”.
But the team, which also included a doctor and a nurse ready to deal with the sheer shock the mother was about to endure, hugged the mother and told her: “It is true, there was a mistake in the morning, it was another Yuval Harel who was killed, but unfortunately your son Yuval was also killed.”
For all the years that have passed since then, and even today, I just cannot stop thinking about what this family went through on that day.
The two young soldiers from the Talpiot neighborhood of Jerusalem, who bore the same name, were buried next to each other, in the same row in the military cemetery on Mount Herzl in Jerusalem.