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First-hand experience of the ethnic divide


Training to be a squad commander
Uri Avnery Social activist
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Ever since then I had been considered a troublemaker. So when the invitation came to send soldiers to the squad commanders' course they selected me right away, and off I went. The course was good in one respect: we were very valuable people. The division needed squad commanders. So when the fighting broke out, the Israeli army violated the ceasefire and started a large incursion into the Negev in a place which is now known as Heletz, and was then called Hulayqat. There were two or three extremely difficult battles there. The Egyptians, like I said, were not particularly good at assault, but they were brave to the very end in defence. And because they were defending and we were assaulting, there was some very bitter fighting. They didn't send us. We were on the squad commanders' course, and we were too valuable to 'waste'. Then one day we were told: 'You will go down south for a few days to help people'. I arrived at a place, an outpost... I don't remember... near Heletz, near Huliqat. I had an experience there, on the way to the hill, where the squadron we needed to replace was located. The battles were over. We had been sent to occupy the ridge.  There I saw a sight of about 100 Egyptian bodies lying in rows. They had already had time to bury the bodies of the Jews, but not yet these. I went there alone, and I had a 'conversation' with 100 fatalities. Then I joined my squadron which was on the second hill. Then they were looking for a volunteer to advance 100 metres to the west as a scout, to warn of any kind of danger. I volunteered immediately. This experience is engraved in my memory because nothing happened. I sat alone in the landscape; I couldn't see my unit which remained some 100-200 metres behind me. And between my unit and me and almost as far as the sea, there was nothing. I heard the wasps and all kinds of insects all around me, and I was happy as I had never been happy in my life. I lay watching. From far away, along the coast, I saw the population of Ashkelon running along the coast to the Egyptian lines which were north of Gaza. I saw them. Masses of them. This was my experience.

We went back and finished the course. I wrote all kinds of texts with Shalom Cohen, who was with me. We wrote and presented texts with a sort of army humour. And the division commander came, and all of the division staff saw it and said it was very nice, but I didn't go back to Samson's Foxes. They gave both of us, Shalom and me, classes of totally new immigrants.


אבל מאז הייתי רשום כעושה צרות. אז כשבאה ההזמנה לשלוח חיילים לקורס מם-כפים (מפקדי כיתות) ישר בחרו אותי והלכתי לקורס מם-כפים. קורס מם-כפים היה טוב מבחינה אחת: היינו חומר אנושי מאוד יקר. החטיבה הייתה זקוקה למם-כפים. אז כשפרצו הקרבות, צה"ל הפר את הפסקת האש ופרץ לעשות פריצה גדולה לנגב במקום שנקרא היום חלץ, ואז הוא נקרא חוליקאת. והיו שם שניים-שלושה קרבות מאוד-מאוד קשים. המצרים, כמו שאמרתי, הם לא היו מי יודע מה בהסתערות, אבל הם היו אמיצים עד הסוף בהגנה. ומכיוון שהם הגנו ואנחנו הסתערנו, היו שם קרבות מאוד מרים. אותנו לא שלחו. היינו בקורס מם-כפים והיינו יקרים מדי בשביל "לבזבז" אותנו. אז יום אחד אמרו לנו: "אתם יורדים דרומה לכמה ימים בשביל לעזור לאנשים.” אני הגעתי למקום שנקרא, משלט שכחתי… ליד חלץ, ליד חוליקאת. ושם הייתה לי חוויה, בדרך לגבעה, שעליה הייתה הפלוגה שהיינו צריכים להחליף אותה. הקרבות נגמרו. פשוט נשלחנו לתפוס את הרכס. ושמה ראיתי מחזה של כמאה גופות מצריות מונחים שורות שורות. את הגופות של היהודים כבר הספיקו לקבור, את אלה עוד לא. הלכתי לשם בודד, והייתה לי ״שיחה״ עם מאה הרוגים. ואז הצטרפתי לפלוגה שלי שהייתה בגבעה השנייה. ואז בדיוק חיפשו מתנדב שילך קדימה, איזה מאה מטר קדימה, מערבה בתור צופה להזהיר בפני כל מיני סכנות. התנדבתי מיד. זה חווייה חרותה בזכרוני, מפני שלא קרה כלום. אני ישבתי לבדי בנוף, את היחידה שלי לא ראו, נשארה מאחורי איזה 100-200 מטר. ואני, בין היחידה שלי ובין כמעט הים, לא היה כלום. ושמעתי את הצרעות וכל מיני חרקים מסביבי הסתובבו והייתי מאושר כמו שלא הייתי מאושר בחיים שלי. שכבתי והסתכלתי. מרחוק-מרחוק, לאורך שפת הים, ראיתי את האוכלוסייה של אשקלון בורחת לאורך הים אל הקווים המצריים שהיו מצפון לעזה. וראיתי אותם. המונים. זאת הייתה החוויה. חזרנו וגמרנו את הקורס. כתבתי כל מיני טקסטים עם שלום כהן שהיה אתי. כתבנו והצגנו מין טקסטים של הומור צבאי. ובא מפקד החטיבה, וכל מטה החטיבה וראו, "יפה מאוד", אבל לא חזרתי ל"שועלי שמשון”. נתנו לשנינו, גם לשלום וגם לי, נתנו כיתות של עולים לגמרי חדשים.

Uri Avnery (1923-2018) was an Israeli writer, journalist and founder of the Gush Shalom peace movement. As a teenager, he joined the Zionist paramilitary group, Irgun. Later, Avnery was elected to the Knesset from 1965 to 1974 and from 1979 to 1981. He was also the editor-in-chief of the weekly news magazine, 'HaOlam HaZeh' from 1950 until it closed in 1993. He famously crossed the lines during the Siege of Beirut to meet Yasser Arafat on 3 July 1982, the first time the Palestinian leader ever met with an Israeli. Avnery was the author of several books about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, including '1948: A Soldier's Tale, the Bloody Road to Jerusalem' (2008); 'Israel's Vicious Circle' (2008); and 'My Friend, the Enemy' (1986).

Listeners: Anat Saragusti

Anat Saragusti is a film-maker, book editor and a freelance journalist and writer. She was a senior staff member at the weekly news magazine Ha'olam Hazeh, where she was prominent in covering major events in Israel. Uri Avnery was the publisher and chief editor of the Magazine, and Saragusti worked closely with him for over a decade. With the closing of Ha'olam Hazeh in 1993, Anat Saragusti joined the group that established TV Channel 2 News Company and was appointed as its reporter in Gaza. She later became the chief editor of the evening news bulletin. Concurrently, she studied law and gained a Master's degree from Tel Aviv University.

Tags: Negev, Samson's Foxes, Ashkelon

Duration: 4 minutes, 36 seconds

Date story recorded: October 2015

Date story went live: 10 March 2017