As dusk settled on the northern border on Wednesday night, a company of soldiers on a dirt road between Moshav Avivim and the border prepared to enter Lebanon. In addition to their personal weapons, ammunition and night-vision goggles, they also carried stretchers. The young soldiers of Golani's Battalion 12, only eight months into their army service, were about to go in and carry out eight bodies of their fallen comrades from Bint Jbeil.
The company commander gave his soldiers their final orders and tried to prepare them psychologically for the night's work. "You're about to go in and bring home your friends' bodies," he said in a quiet voice. "Prepare yourself because you're going to see some terrible sights; we don't know what state the bodies are in, so try not to look at them too much. Just bear in mind that you're bringing them back to their families. This is what you've been preparing for since you joined the IDF, in all your basic and advanced training."
After the instructions were given, the soldiers were told to sit down in their formation of movement and wait for the order. They sit with their weapons, webbing, and equipment still on them, and talk quietly among themselves.
This is the first time the young soldiers are going into Lebanon and participating in battle; they never dreamed that their first mission would be such a gruesome task.
The IDF risked four of its assault helicopters to evacuate those wounded in the fighting in Bint Jbail under heavy fire, but decided to evacuate the eight bodies of Golani Batallion 51 soldiers under the cover of night. The stretcher bearers' job is to take the bodies over a 700 meter section of the route from the building where the bodies were concentrated during the fighting to armored vehicles that will bring them back to the border.
There a team of rabbis from the IDF chaplaincy branch will take care of the bodies according to Jewish law.
The main concern of the forces' commanders is that the evacuation of the bodies go off without any additional casualties. The soldiers are, of course, going in with loaded rifles but part of their orders are not to open fire, even if they detect suspicious movements.
"There are a lot of our forces in the area," explains one of the officers, "so everything must be like the 'strict suspect arrest procedure.' If you see something, let one of your commanders know. Shoot only if you get the order or are shot at. We don't need any accidents."
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