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      A Soldier’s Mother
      One mother’s journey through the Israeli army with her sons

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      Paula R. Stern is CEO and founder of WritePoint Ltd., a leading technical writing company offering documentation services and training seminars. She made aliyah in 1993 when her oldest son was 6 years old. In March 2007, her son Elie entered the Artillery Division of the Israeli army and Paula began writing about her experiences as A Soldier’s Mother. The blog continues as Elie begins Reserve Duty and her son Shmulik is now a soldier. She recently opened a publishing house, helping other authors fulfill their dream to publish.

      Links to the Author's blogs:

      Elul 15, 5771, 9/14/2011

      Free Hakim Awad, the Itamar Killer

      Hakim Awad is an 18-year-old Palestinian from the small village of Awarta. On the night of March 11, 2011, Hakim and his cousin Amjad entered the small Jewish village of Itamar. Their movements that night are known, their actions an atrocity beyond imagination. They entered the Fogel home and in a short time, murdered Udi and Ruthi Fogel, parents to 6 children - the oldest only 12 years old. 

      Hakim and his cousin murdered Udi and Ruthi. In the demented mind of the Palestinian terrorists, one might argue that Udi was once a soldier and so a legitimate target. He was, of course, unarmed on that quiet peaceful Sabbath night, but human beings at war care little for those details. It was not a justified kill, but one could argue, perhaps, it was a murder that didn't shock. There is anger over Udi's murder, but not shock.

      Ruthi was a gentle mother of six. Never a soldier. Unarmed. Her murder was as barbaric and wrong as her husband's and yet, somehow, given what is to come, still not shocking. We have lost precious Jewish mothers before. As mothers, we stand in front of our children to defend them. This is what Ruthi did. Somehow, with her body, she blocked the door of her two young sons and so the terrorists did not enter that room. They and their oldest sister Tamar, who was not home, were the only ones to live.

      Hakim and Amjad also murdered 10-year-old Yoav, and the shock begins.

      Hakim and Amjad murdered precious little Elad, who was only 4 years old. They stabbed him in the heart. The shock becomes a chocking grief as it sinks in.
      And Hakim and Amjad murdered tiny, little Hadas, who was only 3 months old. They slit her throat and left her body beside that of her murdered father. This is where the grief becomes a pain so deep the heart breaks. You wonder at the barbarity and you question how this thing that murdered these precious souls has a right to breathe the same air we do. The anger bubbles up and chokes you.
      And then you read in Maan Agency News (Palestinian "news" source) that maybe it was a Thai worker who did it; that there was no evidence it was Palestinians. But that, of course, was always a lie. There was direct evidence. The stupid Hakim and Amjad all but left a trail of bloody footprints back to Awarta.
      Israel is, I remind myself often, a democracy. It arrested the cousins, when I would have wanted them beaten, hanged, sliced open as they did to little Hadas. It is their bodies I want strewn on the floor in unbearable agony, not the Fogel family. But Israel is a just society. The cousins were arrested, and tried.
      In a most just sentence, 18-year-old Hakim was found guilty - not hard to do since he's actually quite proud of his greatest achievement in his miserable, worthless life. He expresses no remorse. Actually, that isn't true. He regrets not killing Ruthi's other two sons. The courts imposed an interesting sentence - five consecutive life sentences. Not concurrent - but consecutive...plus another five years. 
      By all that is just in the world, Hakim will spend the rest of his miserable life in jail. May it be a most horrible sentence - no, Israel, no - do not allow him regular family visits as you do others. Legally, we must let the Red Cross see him - fine - let them see him from behind an impenetrable glass. No, Israel - no higher education; there is no use educating something that cannot even really be called human. 
      And before the anger chokes me further - let me say that we should release Hakim Awad. Now, Bibi - make the deal with Hamas. We will release one prisoner - a son for a son. Take your murderer, Hakim - you are welcome to him, and give us Gilad.
      Gilad is pure. He was captured when he was 19 years old; Hakim is probably 19 now, or will be shortly. Pure he may never have been; and pure he never will be. What sentence he serves in this life is nothing for what awaits him in the next. I believe that even God was shocked and sickened by what Hakim did and I have complete faith that in His Infinite Wisdom, Hakim's eternal punishment will be so just and deserved.
      Gilad served his nation. Hakim apparently served his. Gilad murdered no one, harmed no one. Hakim massacred an innocent family, a father, a mother, two young boys, and baby Hadas.
      There, Hamas - take your murderer and give us Gilad. No, it is not justice, but it is a trade that is worthy because it is not 1,000 for one. And let it be known - if an Israeli soldier so much as sees Hakim Awad - even through the scope of his high-powered gun, Hakim is a dead man. 
      Take Hakim into Gaza and let him live there - deep within. If we see him, this time, justice will be served with a bullet to his head or if the soldier manages to find it, Hakim's tiny and useless heart.
      Gilad for Hakim - a trade the Palestinians can be proud of. We get our precious son, who stands for all we hold dear. Gilad could have avoided combat duty and been given a lower profile. He chose to fight with the army and demand a high enough profile to get him into the tank division. Gilad served his country with pride and honor. And Hakim, precious son of the Palestinians butchered an innocent baby. He too stands for much of what his people honor. 
      A trade, then. Hakim for Gilad. Release Hakim Awad - release Gilad Shalit - and let us all move on to the agony and reality we live in. No, our stomachs and hearts and minds will not settle from this horror - not ever. If Hakim is to serve out his term in an Israeli prison, let it be the hell he deserves in this life. No cellular phone, no computer, no education earned while serving. The letter of international law and no more. Gilad has not been seen by the Red Cross in five years. 
      Gilad is likely held deep underground, in the dark so that we cannot find him. Let Hakim be held in darkness, in silence. His crime has earned him no less (and a lot more). Or trade them. Give them back their son for ours. 
      I cannot accept a trade that would see 1,000 freed for Gilad because in the Arab mind, this is a victory and next time they will demand 5,000. But a one-for-one trade I can stomach - on the condition that every Israeli soldier is given a picture of Hakim and orders to shoot him on sight.

      Elul 3, 5771, 9/2/2011

      Jedwabne - the Victory of a Lie

      Forgive me for this post...but I just can't ignore something that was reported in the news today. This isn't about Elie...who was named after one of my husband's uncles - his mother's brother, who was murdered by the Nazis shortly after his wedding. This isn't about Shmulik, who carries the name of another uncle, who collapsed in the forests of Europe and died. But it touches me...something that happened today...and so, I write.
      A memorial to Holocaust victims was desecrated in Poland today. I saw the picture and recognized the monument immediately. It was in the tiny town of Jedwabne. Population approximately 3,100 in August, 1941 when the Polish villagers collected their 1,500 Jewish neighbors and murdered them all in a single, bloody attack. One Jewish family had been warned and fled; 2 other young men were able to escape to bear testimony to what their neighbors did. One was a 15-year-old boy. Fifteen, like my Davidi. The boy's father didn't remember, when the neighbors came and forced them from their home, if he'd locked the house. Go back, he told the boy. Go check and then catch up to us. He ran back to the house and then, as he returned, he began to wonder why. Instead of joining the slow moving line of Jews, the boy stayed hidden and watched. Watched as they locked the Jews in a barn...and set it afire. Their neighbors, 1,500 Jews.
      After the war, the Poles erected a monument that said, "In memory of the 1,500 Poles murdered by the Hitlerites." No, the Germans had not yet arrived on that miserable day in August, 1941. The Jews, were murdered by the Poles because they were Jews. But the Poles couldn't keep the secret forever. There were those who knew the truth and remembered the hatred.
      Finally, after decades of work, the Polish President came to Jedwabne to correct the wrong. The sign, the lie, was erased. They were Jews who were murdered in Jedwabne and they would be remembered as Jews. Finally. And so the memorial was replaced with new words. "In memory of the 1500 Jews who were murdered." But the lie continues, doesn't it? They admit the "Hitlerites" didn't do it...but don't admit they did - at least not on the memorial that stands in Jedwabne.
      On a tour of Poland with my oldest daughter in 2004, they took us to Jedwabne as part of an 8-day tour. It is impossible to visit concentration camp after concentration camp, cemetery after cemetery, without breaking down. Why? I demanded. Why do you let them get away with this? The guide answered that were they to put, "To the 1,500 Jews murdered by their neighbors" it would be desecrated. Well, today, it was desecrated anyway.
      One of the guides listened and then added that he had been in the town in 2001 when the new monument was unveiled. From the row of houses, he said pointing into the distance, someone put a stereo in the window and began blasting music to disrupt the ceremony. The president of Poland had come, even the Chief of Police of the land - to take part in the ceremony. The Chief of Police sent someone to make them close the stereo. Finally it was quiet and they were ready to begin.
      And then, from the other side of town, "the Church bells started ringing, and ringing, and ringing. They had to send someone else to stop them," he explained. I once wrote, "Everyone has a breaking point. It is the point at which you simply feel you cannot take anymore. You cannot cry more, you cannot feel anger and you don't want to feel sadness. You feel that your heart hurts, and you don't want to feel that either." I broke in two places during my visit to Poland. One was in Jedwabne.
      I broke at the thought that the hatred of World War II had survived the war and still lived on. I broke at the thought of a half a town rising up to murder the other half, and of a country that would hide this horror generations and generations after.
      The truth is denied, even today, by omission, and by the vandals who tried to erase, yet again, the actions of hatred that define this small town. Not a word is written on the monument about who murdered the Jews. Until the sign is correctly written, until Jedwabne recognizes that it was their hatred that murdered their fellow townspeople, the name and town of Jedwabne will carry its shame and we will remember. To the 1500 hundred Jews murdered by the people of Jedwabne out of hatred and anti-Semitism, may your memory be blessed. To the town of Jedwabne, may your town be remembered in shame and to those who vandalized the monument, may all the work of your hands be as cursed, may your souls be cursed for your desecration.
      You can read about my other breaking point, if you like, here.

      Av 30, 5771, 8/30/2011

      Women in Combat


      There's an article on the Arutz 7 website about women in combat units. Not just any unit - Elie's unit - # 55. And not just any women - three commanders and a soldier and the complaint they filed with their commanders...and then leaked to an Israeli reporter. The soldiers are against the army's handling of some incoming soldiers (a unit of religious soldiers who do not want to serve with women). No, these incoming soldiers weren't asked and didn't voice any opposition. Before they even come into the unit, the army is preparing the way by removing the women to other units. The women are angry and feel the men should go elsewhere.
      When Elie entered the army, he was asked if he was willing to serve with women. He told them that he preferred not to - serving in a combat unit puts soldiers in very close quarters; the Israeli army is a very physical one. I cannot tell you how many times I saw soldiers pat each other on the back, give a quick hug of greeting or to say goodbye. Hugs when they finished training; hugs when they said goodbye for a week's vacation after the war ended. It is an amazing site to see, to realize it is done with such affection. This was what Elie felt was inappropriate between a man and a woman and so he opted out of this.
      After being in the army for a year, finishing his basic training, advanced training, several months on a combat position and then the Commander's course, he was asked to command a unit of incoming soldiers. He was thrilled. He trained, he prepared...and then the night before he was to travel to the training base, he was told that his unit had female soldiers.
      I wrote about this experience (Two Rights Don't Make a Wrong), after agonizing how two rights could be wrong. Elie should have the right to his religious beliefs; women should have the right to serve, if the army feels they can. We have a friend whose daughter went into an artillery combat unit. During basic training, she was carrying another soldier (a female). She dropped the other soldier on her leg - both were injured, but our friend's daughter was hurt more seriously. She shattered the bone in her leg in three places and it took her many, many months of pain and rehabilitation to get back to where she was.
      I discussed this article in today's news with Elie, curious to see how he would react. He was annoyed, impatient. Please excuse his use of the word "girls" here - he doesn't mean it in a nasty or derogatory way. Elie did not think of these girls in a sexual way but rather as a commander with added complications that, to his way of thinking, did not deliver justifiable value.
      That's not to say that he does not see a place for women in the army - there were many roles that they fulfilled with honor and equaled any of the contributions made by males. But he has little patience for those who feel it necessary to go against the army by leaking their complaints to a reporter, especially the one these female soldiers chose. To Elie, this is a betrayal of an army that has done a tremendous amount to find ways to accept the tremendous service these women wish to give.
      Here's what Elie said:
      When I was there, there were three girls in the unit - 5 in the whole battalion. And they want to bring in 100 soldiers. Simple math 5 girls or 100 guys. 
      Half the times the girls can't do a lot of the physical things. It's very nice that they want to be there, but to be realistic, they don't do what the men do; and they can't do what the men do. Besides the fact that the commanders have to work 10 times harder to make sure they have what they need, enough separation to ensure their privacy, for 2 girls to have a separate room, separate bathroom. So all the boys - like 100, have to use 1 bathroom so that 2 girls can get their own.
      t makes sense to have them in the army, and there are places that you can deal with this and places that you can't. You have units that are 50%
      men and 50% women like the one that is "light combat." (Here, Elie used the Hebrew word and when I asked him to explain, he came up with the term "light combat) and then explained that this includes those responsible for many of Israel's borders. Doesn't sound light to me!)
      And then, Elie continued, you have units that have no girls at all (which is most). And, most of the girls that go into Artillery combat - most don't stay in combat. They drop out and then they fight the army to release them after two years instead of the three they needed to promise to complete in order to get into combat.
      A few do really stay for 3 years, but often they get hurt and while they're 3 years in the army, they still have to leave the combat units. And some have the motivation but because of injuries are going back and forth, in and out of combat units because they were hurt trying to do something that was too physically challenging.
      Sadly, this Carmela Menashe has become someone that everyone goes to cry to, instead of trying to be realistic and deal with it and then she blows it up.
      Elie was called upon to be a Commander of incoming soldiers and both times it was canceled at the last minute because there were women in the new units. There were to have been units that remained only men, enabling the religious soldiers to serve separately, which is their right. The army messed up - it was headed for this problem when Elie was there because instead of designating a single unit that would include men and women (or one for men only), they alternated which units received the women until there were no units left.
      There are many places where it is completely possible, from a physical point of view, to have women serve and there are some jobs where it simply does not make sense. Lifting heavy artillery shells is one place where this service is of questionable value as compared to other places that require more brain than brawn.
      The army has a fundamental responsibility to respect each soldier and to balance that respect with the needs of others. Where they succeeded for Elie several years ago, they now seemed to have failed. It's sad to see - even sadder to see that these soldiers chose to resolve their complaint by going outside the army, to a reporter than is known to love reporting all the wrongs of an army that remains, always, at war, at alert.
      For Elie, in the simplest of terms, it becomes an equation - the need to bring in 100 soldiers against the needs of these four. He feels badly for the four but the lesson I learned in my first months as a soldier's mother is that  though the army is made up of individuals, it is the singular need of the army as a whole that prevails.
      Harsh, it may be - but necessity breeds the reality in this case. I didn't argue with Elie - I wanted his opinion and he gave it. Perhaps in a few years, he would put his words in more politically correct or gender neutral terminology. For now, it is likely he speaks for most of the artillery soldiers, whether that makes these female soldiers angrier or not, it is important for them to understand.
      According to the article, the female soldiers sent a letter to their commanding officers. The army has not made a final decision - and yet the soldiers felt justified in leaking the contents of the letter to a gossip-loving reporter who read the entire letter on the radio.
      What the female soldiers forgot, was what Elie wanted them to remember. Their commanders have worked hard to help them get to where they are; accepted less than what the men would do because he accepted that they did their best. They have made the conditions of the men harder, in order to make their conditions better. One hundred men will use a single bathroom, so that one can be dedicated to women; same with the showers. Where there may be 10 men in a room, there will be only 2 women in the same size area.
      The actions of these women in going outside the army, is a betrayal of everything their commanding officers have done to enable them to fulfill their dream to serve in this way. Elie wanted to be the commander of incoming soldiers. He had trained for it, was looking forward to it. It never occurred to him to ask that the army place the women somewhere else. He only asked that he be removed and given a commander's job somewhere else.
      For the good of the army, the unit, the soldiers, Elie moved to another unit. I wish I could believe these women were acting for the same interests.


      Av 17, 5771, 8/17/2011

      Outrageous Behavior by Soldiers


      I do not believe in standing quiet when a wrong has been committed. No matter who has done the wrong.
      Two nights ago, soldiers entered a Palestinian refugee camp and opened fire. Reports confirm several were killed and at least 30 were wounded. Over 5,000 went fleeing when the soldiers told them they had to leave the camp. The soldiers entered the camp under cover of darkness and ordered them out. No mercy was shown for women and children. This is an outrage and we, as human beings, as Israelis, as Jews, must protest. 
      Without provocation, the soldiers entered the camp and yelled their orders in Arabic...their native language. The soldiers were Syrians. The Palestinian refugee camp is in Syria, near the city of Latakia.
      By comparison, that same night, Israeli soldiers killed one Palestinian and wounded 4 others. The air force attacked the Palestinians, members of Hamas, from the air in a precise and accurate operation - as the Palestinians were about to fire yet another rocket at Israel. Two had been fired earlier in the evening towards Beersheva; this would have been the third (at least) for that night. The Palestinians were not innocent. They were moments away from firing their rocket when our air force identified the location, aimed at the target, and neutralized them before they could attack Israel.
      Let's see which the world protests more - the attack on a Palestinian refugee camp in Syria (and why is there a refugee camp at all - why didn't the Arab brothers help these people to assimilate over the last 60+ years as we helped the nearly one million Jews who fled Arab lands?) - or an attack by Israel's air force on a unit of Palestinians about to fire a rocket at our civilians.


      Tammuz 19, 5771, 7/21/2011

      Fire that Woman! Amira Hass Must Go!


      I'd love to write here that this blog isn't about politics but I'd probably be lying so let me get to this next piece. It is quiet funny...along the lines of...it is so much better to laugh than to cry.
      I'd like to start off by saying that Amira Hass is an idiot - she's also a journalist for Haaretz, which makes her a dangerous idiot. Here is her latest article - with some commentary because I can't resist. Look at the headlines - and then look at the picture!
      Unbelievable force? Wouldn't it be smart to put a picture of this "force"...no wait, "unbelievable force" no less. And what did they do? Let's see...
      Okay, so she has now described how many soldiers were sent out to the operation. No, they weren't all involved in arresting the "activists" - they were support for the operation. Given the extreme violence with which the soldiers were met last year, this would appear to be a wise and logical way to meet an unknown "force" on the yacht. No, I can't call it a flotilla. A flotilla indicates more than one small yacht. So, Amira Hass accuses Israel of using "unbelievable force" not for any action, but for the preparation they took to ensure the safety of its soldiers. Clearly, as Amira Hass has proven so many times in the past, the safety of our soldiers is about as low on her priority list as it could get...somewhere below saving cockroaches, probably.
      Wow - what violence - they asked a question. They probably identified themselves as the Israeli navy and then asked "What is your destination?" I'm surprised she didn't qualify her post with an adjective by calling it a "barbaric" or "threatening" question.
      Int his one line, Amira Hass is accurate - this was no joke. Her line about "all sorts of weapons" reminds me of that LATMA skit on the flotilla with the great lines from last year. The activist claims to have been attacked by a "massive" gun. 
      He is asked "What type of gun was it?" and then admits, "It was...a paintball gun...but a massive one." All sorts of weapons? Is that the best she could come up with? Obviously, it is. Note how relaxed the activists are...that they can make jokes. 
      It's also nice to see that Amira Hass wasn't the only idiot on board - clearly Dror Feiler wasn't graced with too many brains either, "stop pointing your guns at us" - does he really think that's enough to get a trained soldier to lower his weapon when facing the possibility of an attack? I can see it now - new Hamas training - if you confront a soldier, tell him to lower his weapon and tell him you aren't armed. Where do these people stow their brains?
      Well, wow - so the violent confrontation involved a soldier daring to offer assistance to someone? "Hold my hand?" Ah, she is insulted that they took pictures and documented their humanitarian actions. Again, given the absurd claims that the soldiers started the violence last year, does she really think Israel was stupid enough to not take pictures?
      And there it is. The end of the story. "People were taken to their luggage" - barbarians!
      Someone asked them if they were okay, if they were in pain. Checked their pulses and gave them fruit and water. And then "that was the extent of their medical exam"? Did she want the Israeli army to bring in X-ray equipment? What "medical exams" has Gilad had over the last five years? 
      Note what is missing in this story - no one was beaten; no one was injured; no one was searched or harassed.  They weren't allowed to see their lawyers? Were they charged with anything? What lawyers did they need to see? And is Amira Hass so ignorant of Israeli law that she does not know the police/army is allowed to detain prisoners/suspects for a minimum period of time before they must, by law, give them access to a lawyer? 
      I really don't think a few hours qualifies - and again, when in the last 5 years was Gilad Shalit allowed access to a lawyer? 
      If this is the extent of Amira Hass' journalism, the woman should be fired. She should also be awarded Idiot of the Year - perhaps even Imbecile.
      Soldier giving "flotilla" fool fruit - how barbaric!


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