A 19-year-old commander in the IDF's Artillery Corps in Judea and Samaria found love when a charming, married Palestinian woman requested to pass through the checkpoint at which he was serving, explains the commander in a new book.
In an article published by The Jerusalem Post
's sister paper Maariv,
Rea Eckhaus tells how he had just been transferred to guard the checkpoint near Ramallah when Diana – a beautiful, married 29-year-old Palestinian woman – drove up in a large Mercedes. Eckhaus was captivated almost immediately by her charm and fell in love, leading to a two-and-a-half month affair while his fellow soldiers remained in the dark about the entire thing.
The story unfolds in Bli Machsomim
– which could be translated as either "Without Obstacles" or "Without Checkpoints" – Eckhaus's debut book based on the actual events that took place.
"I'm telling you, the situation is completely insane," begins chapter one of the new book.
"It happened seven years ago, and the truth is that it took me six years to write this book," explained Eckhaus to Maariv
journalist Talia Levin. "I knew that there was something here that I had to tell, and also throughout the years, when I told the story to people, I realized that it was fascinating."
"I'm happy that I wrote the story," he continued. "I wanted to send a message beyond the situation itself. There are many more levels beyond the affair: a political and social level, and a lot of courage. I obviously do not preach harming the IDF, and I was a good commander overall. The bottom line is that, besides for myself, I did not put anyone else in the story at risk."
He said that "the brigade that we replaced told us, 'There's this one Arab woman that passes through the checkpoint in a Mercedes, you'll see her, you won't believe it,'" explained Eckhaus in a video about the book. "Suddenly, I saw the Mercedes arrive. She opened the window slowly, like this. I looked and I just... Wow! To think that there could be something here with an Arab woman, married, who passes through the checkpoint that I guard, just the thought of this was enough in itself.
"From there, the most exciting, daring and crazy story in my life began," he continued. "I wrote down this story on 15 pages. I read it and said, 'Huh, this isn't bad,' and so I began to write the book. On one hand, the book is a suspense story. On the other hand, this is a story about growing up, and I tell it through my eyes without any censor."
According to Eckhaus, after some light flirting at the checkpoint, he found out that Diana was married and had a child.
"I didn't even understand what I was disappointed about, I didn't believe at that time that anything could happen from this impossible fantasy," he said.
The romance grew as time went on from their first meeting at the checkpoint.
Eckhaus escaped a few times from his unit and returned without anyone noticing.
"I lived in a certain reality that I needed to hide all the time," he explained. "She was sure that I was the head officer at the checkpoint and that I did what I wanted. I didn't bother to tell her the truth, and I guess that added to the whole story."
Eckhaus admitted that "looking back, it was the fantasy of a 19-year-old boy who went out with someone older than him who really wanted to feel romance. I drew off her energy and desire so hypnotically that, to this day, I can't explain it."
At one point, Eckhaus told himself, "You're endangering your soldiers here, you're endangering yourself and you're endangering everyone here, and for what?'
Diana doesn't know that she's in the book.
"I haven't been in contact with her since then," he said.
This is partly due to the rocky ending of the relationship.
"Our story ended with a bang when she asked me to pass her brother from Britain through the checkpoint and I couldn't do that without approval," explained Eckhaus to Levin. "She saw this as a betrayal of our friendship, but I couldn't. I don't know why that exact day I chose to be loyal, but she took it hard, got out of the car and began to shout at me in front of everyone. After that, her friends tried to find me.
"I think her husband is still in the picture, and he doesn't know," he continued. "Three weeks ago, I tried to make contact with her and tell her about the book... I guess that there was something that told me to contact her for some time – not in a romantic way, God forbid, but just to sit for coffee and close the circle."
Eckhaus's parents knew about the affair as it was happening and tried to caution him about the potential risks in the situation.
"My mom is a devout leftist, so she encouraged me a lot, but the two of them, especially my dad, were afraid of the entire deal with the military," he said. "There were already stories of soldiers who were lured by Palestinians.
"I can't say that they liked the fact that I was risking myself by escaping from the army and walking in villages that could endanger my life," he continued. "I promised them that I was careful and knew what I was doing, even though I definitely did not hold up my promise. Truthfully? Looking back, I don't understand how I had the courage."
Eckhaus explained how one of the young sergeants would back him up when he would escape to see her.
He added that he tried to be more of an individual while in the army.
"I was a different commander, I was perhaps more aware than others of the goofiness, I wanted to tell the team from the first stage that we're all in the same sh*t here," he said. "And so, I did very brave things to go after my heart, and in retrospect, I am not sorry about that – I just understand that today, I wouldn't have the courage to do what I did then. I was pulled to her in an almost uncontrollable way."
There were a small amount of people who responded to the book by calling Eckhaus a traitor.
"Most of the negative responses dealt with the army and the risk that the affair put me in," said Eckhaus. "I'm willing to listen to everyone and let them tell me their opinion. If someone calls me a 'traitor' to my face, I will first be calm and listen, and then I will explain my side to him. From experience, after they hear my side, they soften up a bit."
Eckhaus made clear that he never committed any act of treason during the affair, though.
"There was absolutely no betrayal in anything," he said. "I didn't reveal anything, I didn't say anything, I didn't put anyone at risk."
There was a stark difference between the uncertain, dangerous life at checkpoints and Eckhaus's earlier life as a Tel Avivian who was used to going out to clubs all night.
"This is one of the reasons that I always wanted to make it easier on my subordinates in the unit and to give them a feeling of unity," he explained. "Many times I would take them on breaks to drink with me at bars in Tel Aviv. The message in my eyes was always that 'We all are in the same boat and we all will get through it in the end.'"
Eckhaus pointed out that "checkpoints are never pleasant."
At the checkpoint, he and his soldiers tried to be as kind, yet cautious, as possible.
Eckhaus said Diana "tried to bring me to Ramallah many times, but I was afraid." He also admitted that he does not think she ever loved him, but the idea of him, and added that the two of them usually avoided talking about the military.
"More accurately, I tried not to answer or bring up the subject so I wouldn't reveal anything – I knew to maneuver well," he stressed. "I always believed that people can find a connection with each other, and our nationality doesn't make a difference. I am not left-wing or right-wing, rather relatively centrist, and this story in my eyes only deepens my belief that it's possible in certain cases to put politics aside."
Eckhaus added that he hoped that the book would help soldiers be themselves.