Murdered as they waited, defenseless in the open

There's no demoralization in the reserves; men cut short vacations and left business projects hanging in the air to arrive on time.

By
August 7, 2006 00:38
3 minute read.

 
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Anyone who has ever performed reserve duty knows the scene: disorderly piles of colorful outsize civilian rucksacks slung next to rows of dusty green kit bags. Combat webbing jackets are being adjusted, magazines loaded with bullets. The guys who arrived early in their own cars have already spread foam mattresses in the shade and are taking a nap. It's the same story every time and it doesn't change even in times of war. Now try to imagine this scene, just without the soldiers. Three hours after a single Katyusha rocket killed 12 soldiers who were just doing what reservists spend two-thirds of their time doing, waiting around, the "last team" went into action. Squads of bearded men from the IDF Chaplaincy Corps began walking three abreast across the scene of the explosion. The wounded had long since been evacuated to Ziv Hospital in Safed and Rambam in Haifa; even the bodies had been removed, but their job was just beginning. Every little scrap of human flesh was carefully picked up and wrapped. Lines of square white bags were left on the ground for collection. One team began scraping the blood off the wall of the cemetery against which the dead soldiers had been sheltering when the alert was sounded. Another team began combing between graves, 50 meters away; there was also work for them. The Kfar Giladi cemetery is one of the most picturesque in the country, a beauty spot on the Israel Trail that spans the country from north to south. On Sunday at noon, it was transformed into a killing field, and the normally blue sky was black with the smoke from forest fires ignited by the rockets. Hardened reporters who had been through the worst suicide bombings of the intifada broke down crying. The human bombs usually went off in contained spaces, in coffee shops and buses; here the carnage was spread wide. The reservists who had come to the artillery unit's rendezvous point had no chance, hit even before their 155 mm. cannon had arrived at the designated position. Almost at the northernmost tip of the Upper Galilee, with only seconds warning before the Katyushas fell and the only solid shelter a small public bathroom, this is the soft underbelly of the IDF's fighting force - dozens of assembly points out in the open dotted across the border area. While the IDF's PR machine releases exciting footage of small groups of elite special forces on daring raids deep in Lebanon, the great majority of soldiers are waiting out in the open. It's not that the Katyushas are aimed accurately at any particular target, and now that most of the civilians have left the region, nearby Kiryat Shmona is virtually a ghost town. But the fields are filled with dozens of reserve units, and private cars of all sizes are snaking toward these places. The carnage at Kfar Giladi was just waiting to happen. Even after it did, on the other side of the cemetery, another reserve unit was waiting to be moved to a safer location. They had been issued old flak jackets - no real protection against another direct hit. Some of them had wrapped their faces with makeshift masks against the smell and smoke. As dusk fell on the North, another reserve unit, of infantry soldiers, was sitting on the southern slopes of the Golan Heights, watching the flashes of Katyushas below, their only defense camouflage sun shades. In the morning, when the reservists had just begun to arrive, two MKs from the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee - Othniel Schneller and Yuval Steinitz - had arrived on a tour of inspection. High-ranking officers reported with pride on the 100 percent turnout of the reservists and their battle-readiness. Only when the MKs left did the battalion find out that it hadn't been issued machine guns or sniper rifles. The soldiers had been called up the night before, with an automated telephone call at midnight. After a sleepless night assembling their kits, they waited the whole morning at rendezvous points for the buses to take them north. There's no demoralization in the reserves; men cut short vacations and left business projects hanging in the air to arrive on time. But they didn't expect to be left defenseless out in the open.

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