Heroes of Israel

It’s a challenge…and I meet it.

Who are my heroes? Well, I can tell you easily who they are not. The politicians who worry about votes are not heroes to me. A Chief of Staff who abandons a soldier in trouble is not a hero to me. Journalists who use the power of words and popularity to hurt a boy, a family, a section of the population, are not a hero to me. A “major” website that focuses on hits and traffic at the expense of Israel is not a hero to me. Who are the heroes?

Look outside your window — they’re all right there. The bus driver is a hero…quietly day after day, he fights traffic and delays to get thousands of people to work, hopefully with a “good morning,” a “have a good day,” or even a “see you later” as you walk off the bus.

The policemen…and women…who represent safe haven. Who answer questions and stand on corners with eyes ever-shifting, watching, alert. They are the heroes of Israel.

The guards at every entrance, at every mall, on the trains, near the buses. Without hesitation, time and time again, they have rushed into danger to save lives. We’ve been fighting for six months against this latest intifada; we’ve been fighting for generations. How many times have we killed needlessly? Really, considering how many enemies we have, the answer is very few. We don’t aim to hurt innocents, but when 11-year-old boys are sent with knives to stab people, when women in their 50s suddenly attempt to stab a guard, the lines get blurred.

The storekeeper who smiles when you walk in and tells you the bread is from yesterday, he hasn’t had a chance to unload yet, and even offers to call you when he’s ready. He is a hero doing everyday things to make life nicer.

And the child who gets up and offers you a seat on the train and when you say you’re fine, refuses to sit down again and so you both stand until the next stop.

The bank teller who says she saw my son and didn’t he look good in his uniform. Strong. Tell him we’re proud of him, she says before she takes my deposit. I did tell him, but still, you are my hero because life isn’t about business.

And the teachers…oh, the teachers…who have more patience than I am left with after years and years of mothering and now grandmothering. She saw that my youngest daughter, beauty and grace at 16, didn’t have a costume…I’ve been sick…months and months of viruses and pneumonia and coughs and fevers…and she didn’t ask about a costume and I didn’t think…and the teacher asked if she could bring a crown for my princess…teachers, they are my heroes.

So the best we can do is struggle to maintain, to live life normally and so the guards are heroes, but so are the people who get up each day and get on a bus, even though the same bus line was stoned last night; and the people who drive the highway where last night they were throwing firebombs. And the people of Alon Shvut who took to the running path a week after a jogger was attacked…and the runner himself joined them. These are heroes of Israel.

And the people of Maale Adumim, where I live, who raised over 40,000 NIS in less than a week to help the family of a security guard who was brutally beaten by an Arab worker with whom he had sat to drink coffee mere days before. They are heroes who pray for Tzvika Cohen (Achiya Tzvi ben Batya) and greeted each other on the streets of our city with smiles, “did you hear, he woke up?” and “Tzvika is doing better, Baruch Hashem.”

And the people of Raanana, Eli, Tel Aviv, Kiryat Arba, Jerusalem, Itamar, Afula, Beit Shemesh, Kiryat Gat, Beit El, Rishon leZion, Petach Tikvah…and so many other places. We cry, we mourn, we bury and then we live because that’s what Israelis do and so we are all heroes.

The mother who sits every minute of her life for three years and then weeks and weeks at a time for years later, worrying, wondering, fearing, praying. You are my hero, even though once again, I’m one of you. We watch everything and wonder what it will mean. Tunnel collapses are a good thing. If the tunnels collapse, maybe we won’t have to go to war this summer to destroy them again. A ramming attack on a Friday morning…oh God…where is he now…he’s on his way home…God, please, please…where is he…and then even when he calls and tells you the bus just pulled into Jerusalem and you know it wasn’t him, still your eyes fill with tears because it wasn’t him…but it was the son of someone else and so still yours.

And the soldier…oh, God, every one of them. They get up at 4:30 in the morning because their commanding officer tells them they have to. They eat in minutes, run and hike and shoot and climb until it’s time to go to sleep again. Six hours later, they’re up again, eating, running, climbing, shooting. They are my heroes, my sons.

And they are still and always my heroes, my sons, even on the bad days, maybe even when they made a mistake. I don’t know if the soldier made a mistake. What I do know is that a mother’s love doesn’t stop, and a soldier of Israel doesn’t get abandoned, especially before all the evidence is in.

The soldier had cause to shoot. The terrorist had already stabbed a soldier. He was wearing a leather jacket buttoned up on a day that had soared into the 80s (mid to high 20s C). He moved and someone called out a warning that he might have a bomb and he moved. That afterwards he said the terrorist deserved to die is not problematic at all. Though some may ridicule the concept, mankind has survived thousands of years by understanding that evil people will rise up to murder you and you need to kill them first. If he said the terrorist deserved to die before, do we know what he meant by that?

Ignorant people often mistranslate the command as “Thou shall not kill” — nope, that’s wrong. We are allowed to kill. In fact, we are commanded, in certain circumstances, to kill and the most obvious one is when someone is trying to kill you, you are commanded to try to kill them first. The commandment is, “Thou shall not murder.” We know that the soldier killed the terrorist; we do not know whether he murdered him.

How many of us have seen a friend bloodied and stabbed by a terrorist while we stand with a gun in our hand and the terrorist is right there? There is anger, intense anger, at that moment…did he act in anger? The medics did not know if the soldier was angry. They did know that the terrorist could have a bomb and was moving. We know that the soldier acted AFTER the medics’ warning. Who are we, who sit miles away and weren’t there and haven’t spoken to the people who WERE there…who are we to judge?

What was in the soldier’s head, why he shot — if it was revenge or concern for the safety of others — we don’t know. I’m not even sure if the army knows, but I guarantee you journalists don’t.

So, the soldier is a hero today, just as he was a hero a week ago and a month ago. Not because he shot a Palestinian terrorist, but because months and months ago, when they asked him if he would be willing to serve in a combat unit, he agreed. He’s had a gun for many months. If his goal was to murder Palestinians, he’s had ample opportunity. He could have massacred hundreds of them.

This morning, after being abandoned by the Prime Minister of Israel and the Chief of Staff, after being told that in the event something happens, they will not stand with you, our sons got up at 4:30 this morning, took their guns and went on patrol. Deep in their hearts, there is pain and there is the thought that they made a mistake. They didn’t have to agree to go into combat. They didn’t have to step forward and agree to learn how to run dozens of kilometers in a few hours’ time. They didn’t have to commit to being able to do push-ups and scale walls and be dirty and hungry and tired.

They did it because they believed that Israel would stand with them. Last night, my son told me that Reservists are wondering why they should bother showing up; that those coming in to the army today may hesitate. And I told him that even if the journalists and the government aren’t with them, the people are. A mother doesn’t abandon her son; she doesn’t stop loving him.

More than 50,000 people have already signed a petition supporting the soldies, not because he shot a Palestinian terrorist, but because he is our soldier and we will stand with him.

A man named Alex made a video and got more than 112,000 likes. “The story says that a soldier of ours murdered the terrorist. Now I have a question for you. WHO put it in your head that the terrorist was neutralized? Do you KNOW what the meaning is of the word ‘neutralized’? Neutralized means he’s already dead, or he has handcuffs on him and they’ve undressed him, checked him, and have security forces watching him. In this case, he was alone. No one was supervising him. He was fully dressed and he started to move. And so our soldier, like any normal soldier, when he saw this, he shot him in the head so that he wasn’t taking any chance. He was ensuring the safety of himself and his friends. So, Kol Hakavod [all honor] to this soldier.”

And then Alex addressed the soldier directly in the message that all of Israel is sending…well, the vast majority of Israel, less the journalists, the Prime Minister and the Chief of Staff, “And I say to the soldier, we’re standing behind you. We won’t let anyone destroy you. We love you and thank you for your service.”

That’s right. We love you. We thank you, soldiers of Israel, for your service. You are our heroes. Every. Single. One. Of. You.

About the Author
Paula R. Stern is CEO of WritePoint Ltd., a leading technical writing company in Israel. Her personal blog, A Soldier's Mother, has been running for more than 5 years. She lives in Maale Adumim with her husband and children, a dog, too many birds, and a desire to write her thoughts and dream of a trip to Italy, Scotland, and beyond.
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