Helen Joyce

Of Tanks and Tractors

I haven’t laughed a lot these past three months. Not too many shouts for joy here in Israel at the moment. Occasional moments of hope, some fun romps with grandchildren, periods of despair and flashes of anger at the duplicitous nature of international politics. But, this morning, a genuine, deep, belly-laugh. How good it felt!

And why? Because of a tractor. A beat-up, abandoned, broken tractor with a dead battery and three punctured tyres. However, at the risk of sounding like a Marks & Spencer advert (Brits will know what I mean) this is not any old tractor. This tractor gained infamy on October 7th when it was stolen from Kibbutz Nir Oz. Of course, the tractor’s theft pales into insignificance compared to the slaughter of 46 of the kibbutz members and the abduction of 80 more, but when Hamas videos went viral on that shameful day, the bright green tractor with its yellow wheels was filmed being driven through the streets of Khan Yunis surrounded by cheering crowds. Of all the tragic videos that went viral that day, this was probably the least upsetting. I mean, what’s so special about a tractor when humans are being abused and degraded by the less than human?

The consequences of that awful day have been played out every day since October 7th. Bizarrely, international condemnation of Israel started on October 8th – whilst we were all reeling from shock and before any military action to enter Gaza in an attempt to free our hostages and topple the terrorist regime had started. The breach of Israel’s borders, the invasion of our sovereign territory and the atrocities perpetrated generated an immediate declaration of war. A few weeks later fully mobilized IDF forces, entered the Strip. The battles since have been deadly. Fighting a genocidal enemy with no intention of surrendering the battle or the hostages, dealing with hundreds of miles of terror tunnels and boobytrapped buildings – and even baby carriages – has resulted in death and destruction. Every day Israeli citizens scan the list of fallen and suck up the grief of funerals.

In the midst of all this, we see IDF soldiers doing some strange things. One group, finally allowed on leave, had heard of the destruction of a vineyard belonging to a member of their unit. Exhausted, separated from their families and battle weary – their first stop? To their comrade’s fields to set to work repairing and restoring what had been. Other individual scenes have played out on our screen. With my heart in my mouth, I watched a couple of soldiers approach an elderly Palestinian woman who, together with her family was fleeing from Gaza City. The old lady could not walk unaided and was stuck on an incline, apparently needing help. “Don’t go near her”, shrieked my inner voice, “It’s a trap, you’ll be shot!”. But no, they went, they righted her on her feet and escorted her to safety. Thank goodness, they survived the mitzvah. Children, and dogs have been helped; even plants were watered by the invading army!

The IDF has battled its way south and is currently locked in heavy combat in Khan Yunis. A cousin of a Nir Oz resident – fighting in the town – suddenly spotted and recognized the tractor. Soon a group of IDF soldiers assessed the scene; a dead battery and three punctured tires. Who would care? A beat-up old tractor. They’re in the middle of a (literally) bloody war for goodness’ sake! But no. This is Israel and these are not any soldiers, they’re IDF soldiers!

The lads change the battery, arrange for a huge D9 tractor to be spared operational duties and tow the tractor to safer ground. There the battery is replaced and new tires are sent from Israel. Soon they have the thing up and running. The ‘tankers’ then sit up front and drive the little green tankers home. To Nir Oz. How did those soldiers feel? Well, a bit vulnerable sitting up front without armor plating and a bit worried that they might be shot at by their own side because, after all, what’s a tractor doing driving towards the Israeli border.

If you want to see for yourself, watch the clip here For me, this jaunt represents much about Israel. Rav Cook once said “the second temple was destroyed because of causeless hatred. Perhaps the third will be rebuilt because of causeless love”. The many apparently random acts of kindness and unity we are privileged to see at this dark time are beacons of light. As the soldiers hope and with G-d’s help, the tractor will plough the fields of Nir Oz once more and our deep roots in the land will flourish once more. Shabbat shalom!

About the Author
Helen is the author of award-winning Good for a Single Journey, a four generational family saga based on a true story, published by Amsterdam Publishers in 2023. Born in London to Jewish refugees from Hitler, Helen studied Psychology at University College London and went on to specialise in clinical research and relationship counselling. She taught Psychology in Immanuel College, Bushey where she was Head of Sixth Form (Grades 12 and 13). Helen retired to Israel in 2013.
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