Photo Feature: Mourning Achikam Amichai, Hero, Lover of the Land
The families of the hikers murdered last week are mourning at their homes near Hevron. Arutz-7 visited to offer condolences and hear their story.
The family of Achikam Amichai, an elite-IDF-unit soldier who was one of the hikers murdered by Palestinian Authority police, sits shiva – the seven-day mourning period – at their home in Kiryat Arba.
One group of soldiers leaves as another arrives. “He was so, so quiet and reserved that it means so much to us to hear from his fellow soldiers the things he said, the things he did and the experiences they shared,” says Rabbi Yehuda Amichai, Achikam’s father.
The tables of the Amichai home are covered with photo albums filled with pictures of the hundreds of hikes Achikam took around the Land of Israel. Each place visited is represented by just one or two snapshots; Achikam rappelling down a cliff, in a stream in a forest in Samaria, in a swimming pool in an Arab village near Shechem.
“Achikam, maybe because he didn’t know English well, never really acknowledged the differentiation of [areas] A, B or C [classifications of parts of Judea and Samaria following the Oslo Accords according to the degree of Palestinian Authority control and illegality of Jewish entry –ed],” says Rabbi Amichai. “On our computer, we found photos of him deep inside Shechem-area villages, visiting natural springs and Biblical sites. His friends told us a local Arab restaurateur offered him food free of charge; he was so impressed that he just walked into places where so many are afraid to tread.”
Amichai says Achikam was not attracted to danger, but simply lived with an optimistic worldview that saw the Land of Israel as his backyard. “We look at him and his friends and think of them as strange for having no fear, but perhaps we are the ones who need to take a better look at our assumptions that a Jew may not enter certain forests, valleys or mountains in the Land of Israel. If today’s youth would walk this land the way Achikam did, we would have conquered and inherited it many times over already.”
Visitors pass around newspaper articles written about Achikam in the past. The young man was an expert in caves and worked with the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel prior to his IDF service. His most famous accomplishments were the locating of a rare species of eagle in Israel and his discovery of an untouched prehistoric eco-system deep inside a cave in Ramle.
(Photo: Flash 90)
His cave expertise led the Bulgarian government to contact him and fly him to their country to explore caves there.
A map of a local cave along the hike in which Achikam was murdered was on his person at the time of his death. It now has a bullet-hole through the center.
Sat in Jail to Reach Combat
Achikam had a heart condition that did not affect his physical stamina, but rendered him more susceptible to complications in the event of infection. This lowered his combat profile to 64 and had him sent to the IDF’s Nitzanim base for the lowest level of basic training.
“From the first day he knew, he would do whatever it takes to get out of there,” recalls D., a soldier who shared a tent with Achikam at Nitzanim. “But what was amazing was that there were few who wanted to get out of there more, but he was really the most joy-filled, positive soldier in the whole platoon.”
His commander from the Nitzanim basic training confirmed. “Every single exercise we held, he excelled – gave it his all.”
But when it became clear that the army had no intention of sending him to more advanced training after basic training, Achikam told his commanders: “I am refusing orders, send me to jail until the IDF is willing to let me join a combat unit.” His commanders reluctantly complied.
Eventually, after several refusals to recant while in army jail, word spread of the dedicated private who wanted more than anything to serve in the elite Shaldag unit. It was decided to transfer Achikam to the Air Force, from which he was eventually placed in Shaldag for an advanced navigation and explosives. It is rumored that Shaldag were on the ground marking the site and gathering evidence of Syria’s nuclear reactor that was destroyed in September (according to foreign reports).
Achikam had been in the course for just three months when he and his neighbor and best friend David Rubin, and childhood friend Naama Ohayon set out on a hike to the Telem springs.
Not Without a Fight
Naama told Achikam’s parents that they had been hiking for a while and had engaged in friendly conversation with Arab shepherds on the way. They had recalled, half-joking, the story of the 35 members of a convoy to pre-state Gush Etzion (memorialized in Hebrew as the Lamed-Heh) who had decided to trust an Arab shepherd who then informed the Arab legion of their whereabouts. The entire convoy was killed, fighting to the death in a vicious battle when attacked by Arab forces.
Similarly, the Arab shepherds that Amichai and Rubin talked to alerted local terrorists, some of whom were members of the Palestinian Authority police force, trained and funded by the US and Israel in the hopes that it will battle Hamas.
The three hikers became suspicious when a jeep drove along a nearby road thrice before turning and driving toward them. “We moved to the side of the path to let the jeep pass. David and Achikam waved hello and the driver waved back, and as the jeep passed us, the rear window rolled down and I saw hands holding pistols pointed toward us.”
David Rubin and Amichai were both hit in the first round of shooting. They managed to take cover. They returned fire, killing one terrorist and mortally wounding another before they died. “They found 40 bullet casings from Achikam’s weapons and 20 from David’s,” Rabbi Amichai was told by IDF forensics experts.
Ohayon says came to the Amichai house to tell the story to Achikam’s parents face-to-face, and to let them know that their soft-spoken son saved her life.
(The Rubin family asked that the media not interview them during the shiva period)
(Photos: Ezra HaLevi, except where otherwise noted)