They treated hundreds of wounded soldiers during the Second Lebanon War and saved numerous lives. Trained as doctors and not as combat soldiers, the Nahal Brigade's medical personnel fought courageously, not with guns but with a scalpel and an intravenous drip. Under Brigade Commander Col. Miki Edelstein, the Nahal was sent to Lebanon at the beginning of the war and took part in some of the most difficult battles against Hizbullah, most notably the Battle of the Saluki, the last push to strike the guerrilla group before implementation of the UN-backed cease-fire. Many Nahal soldiers wounded during the war were officers, often squad and company commanders. Officers did not hesitate to put their lives on the line alongside their soldiers, Edelstein told The Jerusalem Post this week. While some brigade commanders remained in Israel as their troops fought in Lebanon, Edelstein went with his brigade everywhere and into some of the most difficult battles. "It is not easy to choose who should get a medal or a citation," Edelstein said. "But this is important for the brigade since it becomes part of our heritage and we are still teaching [about] these acts of heroism to our new recruits, for them to learn from and model themselves after." Here are some of Nahal's heroes:
When the war broke out on July 12, 2006, Dr. Yehuda David, 53, was on a family vacation in Greece, with plans to continue on to Croatia and France. A surgical orthopedist and a major in the reserves, David immediately returned to Israel, contacted the IDF and was assigned to the Nahal Brigade's Battalion 932.
He spent the entire war inside Lebanon and treated more than 50 wounded soldiers. Next month, he will receive a Citation of Excellence from OC Central Command Maj.-Gen. Gadi Shamni. He is being honored not for a particular act of bravery but rather for consistent dedication and self-sacrifice over close to 30 years in the IDF reserves. Most recently, David saved the life of a Nahal company commander in Nablus several months ago.
"I sign on for volunteer service since if the soldiers are willing to give everything they can, then I am also willing to give everything I can," he says. "After 2000 years in exile it is an honor to serve in the IDF and I don't miss a single opportunity."
David carried his 60-kilogram pack filled with medical supplies on his back throughout the entire war, even when some of his younger colleagues caved in to exhaustion. One of the most memorable moments for him was the Friday night before the IDF's push across the Saluki, when he assembled the battalion and suggested lighting candles and singing Shema Yisrael before heading into battle.
Lt. Erez Ramati is another doctor receiving a citation. He served the duration of the campaign with Battalion 931, which suffered heavy casualties in the Battle of the Saluki.
On August 12, 2006, Battalion 931 began climbing a hill up to the Lebanese village of Randuriya. Ramati's company engaged dozens of Hizbullah guerrillas who were holed up inside village homes. The company continued up the road until it encountered a reinforced Hizbullah position and came under heavy fire from antitank missiles and machine guns. An entire Nahal squad was either killed or wounded.
"My medics and I began treating the wounded when suddenly another company's commander ran over and said there were soldiers who needed help on the other side of the intersection," Ramati says. "The only problem was that to get there we had to run through the intersection, which was totally exposed to Hizbullah fire."
With bullets passing him in all directions, Ramati sprinted across the intersection to a wall. When he stopped he noticed that cables from two antitank missiles that had been fired at him were hanging from his helmet.
"I had one second to decide what to do, and without much thought I got up and ran after the company commander," he said. "There was no time for hesitating since there were people who were wounded and they needed me. This was not about heroism or bravery but about doing what you need to do."
Then there is St.-Sgt. Michael Hibner, a point sharpshooter in Nahal's Battalion 931. Hibner, 22, will receive the Medal of Distinguished Service for rescuing a comrade during heavy clashes with Hizbullah in Randuriya.
Hibner and his squad had taken shelter in a building in the village when a grenade landed nearby and exploded, flinging one of his comrades out into the open, several meters away. Under heavy fire, Hibner ran from the shelter, grabbed his comrade's vest and dragged him back to cover, saving his friend's life.
Hibner was reluctant to talk to the press, saying he did not merit a medal. Every soldier who fought in Lebanon, he said, was a hero, and each deserved a medal as much as he did.
"I don't deserve the medal," he said. "I did what I was trained to do, as did everyone else. You had to be there to understand."