A young Israeli soldier by the name of Tamir grew up in the small Israeli town of Matan, near a Palestinian village close to the West Bank. Tamir remembers hearing the nearby mosque announcing prayers on his way to school during his childhood, and he also managed to pick up a bit of Arabic due to his proximity to his Arab neighbors.
Tamir’s grandparents fled Poland in 1942 to escape the Holocaust, losing many friends and family to the terrible fate of the death camps. His family are true Israelis, and although his limited religious upbringing precluded his knowledge of Torah and mitzvos, he was raised to appreciate the value of human life and he believed that all people shared his values.
Tamir became a 23-year-old second lieutenant in the paratroopers’ division of the Israel Defense Forces, an officer in charge of 20 soldiers defending the Gaza border. Their routine was to patrol the border with armored vehicles and watch for terrorists trying to infiltrate and attack Israeli villages, or to locate hidden explosives planted by terrorists. Tamir chose to serve in this unit because he knew from growing up that it is one of the most critical divisions in the army; units like the paratroopers face the conflict and help defend the borders of Israel on a daily basis.
His unit was one of the first to enter the Gaza Strip during Operation Cast Lead against the Hamas terrorists in December 2008. Tamir navigated his company to their first ground mission, which was to take control over a building in El-Atatra, a neighborhood from which his superiors were able to identify missile launches.
It was nighttime, and the eerie blackness caused even more heightened tension for Tamir and his company, which was comprised of 100 soldiers. There was constant gunfire that impeded their progress. After a long night of artillery shells and rockets flying above their heads, they finally entered the target building, which they were informed by intelligence was a base for missile launches. They were expecting to come across a warehouse depot or a factory that manufactured weapons. Instead, they were shocked when the building turned out to be an elementary school!
That was the moment when he realized that these people were actually using their children as human shields
Tamir entered a classroom that looked just like his own when he was seven years old: chairs, desks, and a green chalk board with erasers. On the left side of the board he saw glamorous photographs of suicide bombers who killed civilians in Israel (“shahids,” or martyrs), praised as if they were movie stars. Next to the board he found Israel’s official map hanging from the wall and painted with large red smears, as if Israel was literally bleeding! Right above the map was the word “jihad” and a sentence in Arabic about destroying the Jewish land and pushing all Israelis into the sea. And more terrifying than all else, every classroom in the school was packed with explosives and traces of missile launchers.
That was the moment when he realized that these people were actually using their children as human shields.
The terrorists know the IDF will not bomb the school because they have strict rules regarding schools, hospitals, and mosques. The school was surrounded by wires, there was a mine at the entrance to the principal’s office, and small hatches above the basketball court that opened quickly, enabling terrorists to shoot from them at a moment’s notice. All of this is inside an elementary school! The thought of children growing up in that type of reality was difficult for Tamir to grasp, even during combat. The extensive use of civilian structures as human shields and the way the young generation was educated was a defining moment for him. While the enemy is firing deliberately toward helpless civilians, and using their own children as human shields, the IDF is trying its best to keep the people of Gaza out of harm’s way.
Tamir left the army and now goes around the world lecturing. His desire to show the real truth about how Hamas treats their children versus how the IDF tries to protect them is his main topic. He constantly explains that Israel is a small country in a tough neighborhood, so in order to understand Israel one needs to study and learn about the history and the geography of the area. Moreover, the soldiers are doing their best to defend the citizens of Israel because the conflict is in their backyard! We are defending our own citizens, family, and friends from an enemy who uses their own citizens to fire at innocent victims.
Rabbi Dovid Hoffman is the author of the popular “Torah Tavlin” book series, filled with stories, wit and hundreds of divrei Torah, including the brand new “Torah Tavlin Yamim Noraim” in stores everywhere. You’ll love this popular series. Also look for his book, “Heroes of Spirit,” containing one hundred fascinating stories on the Holocaust. They are fantastic gifts, available in all Judaica bookstores and online at http://israelbookshoppublications.com. To receive Rabbi Hoffman’s weekly “Torah Tavlin” sheet on the parsha, e-mail Torahtavlin@yahoo.com