My Mideast Punchlines: men such as these….

I reproduce here part of an article by Capt (Res) Dan Gordon because I, too, had the pleasure of meeting Gen Avigdor Kahalani. Indeed, he and his good lady were dinner guests in my home several years ago. Why me? Well, it’s a long story. I knew that Kahalani was a great friend of my wife’s cousin, Ben-Chayil. They had fought together as tank commanders in the Six-day War of 1967. There had been four friends, and people called them the four Musketeers. Unfortunately, two of them died in that war. My wife’s cousin and Kahalani survived. Fortunately, he lived to describe the battle on the Golan Heights in October1973, and this formed the basis for one scene in my first thriller, The Winds of Kedem.

 

Here is what Capt Gordon wrote:

 

‘Yesterday I had the great privilege of accompanying Major General (Ret) Avigdor Kahalani to an artillery battalion, somewhere in the war zone. General Kahalani is one of Israel’s greatest war heroes, a veteran of the Six-day War, the Yom Kippur War and the First Lebanon War. It is not an exaggeration to say that, in 1973, were it not for the actions of Avigdor Kahalani and the men under his command, the Syrians, who had already taken most of the Golan Heights, would have been able to push into northern Israel, and the fate not only of the war, but of the State of Israel would have been very much in doubt. Instead, Kahalani and those under his command were instrumental not only in recapturing the Golan Heights, but in pushing deep into Syrian territory until they literally were within artillery range of Damascus. It was a feat almost unheard of in the annals of modern warfare, in which a country recovered from a devastating Pearl Harbour like attack. Israel was confronted with totally new tactics by a well-trained, and superbly well-armed adversary, yet adjusted to the new realities, counter attacked, and within two and a half weeks were on the outskirts of the attacking force’s capital. Quite simply, General Kahalani, and others like him, saved Israel. At the end of his military career, General Kahalani entered politics, was elected to Israel’s parliament, served as an inner circle cabinet minister, and participated in some of the Israeli government’s most critical debates and decisions. After retiring from the political arena Kahalani became the Chairmen of AWIS, the Association for the Welfare of Israel’s soldiers.

 

It was in that capacity that he went out to meet with the soldiers serving under fire in the field. For those young soldiers it was a chance to meet a living legend, as close as Israel has to a Patton or MacArthur. I thought he was going to give them a sort of pep talk, though their spirits didn’t need any rallying. I’ve been in the Israel Defense Forces for forty years, and I’ve never seen morale so high, and never seen the country so united behind its soldiers. The other day I was in a restaurant at a crossroad just before the Gaza border. It’s sort of the last place to get a good meal before you hit the border into no man’s land. I was as hungry as your basic honey badger, and had ordered a huge meal, knowing it would probably be the only chance I’d have to eat that day. When I went to pay the bill, the waitress said it had already been taken care of. “Somebody bought me lunch?” I asked, wanting to thank my benefactor. “No,” she said, “somebody picked up the bill for every soldier here.” There were easily fifty soldiers eating lunch there.” It happens like that every day now” she said, and smiled. I’ve had total strangers take me in, offer me a bathrobe while they washed my uniform, feed me, literally offer me their beds to sleep in and their bathrooms to shower in. Amazing… amazing. So the troops didn’t need a pep talk. But what Kahalani told them, I found extraordinary. He spoke quietly, so quietly the young soldiers leaned forward to catch every word, and when he spoke it was with a conviction that came straight from his heart and went straight into the hearts of all of those who heard him. “We never taught you to hate,” he said, “Not this army, not the Israel Defense Forces. We never taught you to hate. And there are armies in the world who do that. And I don’t know, maybe it works to a degree, maybe by hating the enemy, you are a fiercer fighter. I don’t know. But we never taught you that. And I’ll tell you why. If we teach you to hate, you can’t undo that. You’ll come back from the war and it won’t be the “enemy”, it will be your brother-in-law, or your neighbor or your former friend. Once you teach people to hate, they’ll find someone to hate. So we never taught you that.” Suddenly he was speaking, not like a general, but like a loving father to his much loved sons and daughters. “We never taught you that. You know why you’re here. It’s not to hate anybody. It’s to defend your people, your homes and your families. Each of you has to feel as if the whole fate of the whole people of Israel is on your shoulders. Each of you holds that fate in your hands. But it’s not about hatred. And now you’ve inherited that tradition from my generation, and you’ll be the ones to continue it. But those who inherit have a responsibility. I know you won’t disappoint me.” That was the pep talk from Israel’s Patton during a cruel and vicious war that was forced upon us by an equally cruel and vicious adversary, Hamas.’

 

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