On the 14 June, 2002, our final night of basic training in the Israeli army, 60 soldiers, packed with 30 kg of equipment and ammunition on our backs, set off on a grueling 70 km hike, in the hilly Negev desert, in the south of Israel. This was the culmination of almost five months of training and we were to receive our units beret on completion.
It was the height of the Second Intifada in Israel, and due to security concerns, all army hiking routes had been redirected to the Negev desert, to avoid proximity with Palestinian villages and cities.
Approximately 15 kilometers into the hike, as the sun was setting, we passed a construction site with large Caterpillar digger trucks parked on the side. One of the tractors turned on its engine and with hardly anyone noticing, except for a few soldiers at the back, made its way toward our path.
The driver lined up the machine, with the two rows of soldiers, lifted the vehicles large spade, put foot on the peddle and shouting, “Allah Akbar,” or “G-d is great,” and drove full-throttle toward us.
Chaos followed, as soldiers ran in every direction. Our commander shouted strict orders, that no one was to shoot. He later explained, much to our disdain, that he never felt our lives were “enough” in danger.
The driver repeatedly came around, racing toward a group of soldiers and when he missed, reversed, lined up again and attempted a new bunch. On many occasions, he came very close. Yet our orders were clear and we continued to run for our lives.
Eventually, against these orders, Itzik, a small kibbutznik, from the north of Israel, had, had enough. He picked up a rock, ran toward the digger, from the side, and threw it at the driver, striking him on the head.
The blow was hard and the driver fell out the vehicle, unconscious on the floor. The vehicle continued for about 50 meters and then came to a stop.
We were relieved that it was over, but some of the soldiers were angry, as to the orders we had received.
Then I will never forget what I saw next. Our unit’s medic, Eyal Banin, kneeling at the terrorist’s side, initiating first-aid treatment.
The contrast of the moment was hard to miss — an Israeli soldier saving the life of someone who had just tried to kill him and his friends.
Eyal continued working, determined. He stopped the bleeding, applied bandages, poured water and other first-aid procedures. It took almost half an hour for Eyal to bring him to consciousness. We waited there until the ambulance and police came, and then continued our march into the night.
In 2006, Eyal on his final day of annual reserve duty, was killed by Hezbollah terrorists, in a cross-border ambush, in which two other soldiers, Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev, were killed and kidnapped — an event that shook the country and triggered the start of the Second Lebanon War against the Shite terror group in Lebanon.
Staff Sergeant Eyal Banin, an only child, from the southern Israeli city of Be’er Sheva, is survived by his parents Daniella and Amir. He tried desperately to become a combat soldier, having to acquire special parental permission, as an only child. He had plans to move to Jerusalem with friends and study at Hebrew University, when his life was so tragically cut short.
As each year passes, on Yom Hazikaron, Israel’s Remembrance Day for fallen IDF soldiers and victims of terror, all I can think about is my friend Eyal and what type of person he was. Humane, gentle, motivated and friendly.