(photo credit: IDF SPOKESMAN’S UNIT)
Five people were killed in a mortar shell attack along the Gaza border on July 31, at the height of Operation Protective Edge. According to the IDF, it would have been six, had it not been for the selfless actions of Sergeant Sariel Teper.
“I heard an explosion and flew about 5-6 meters from where I was standing,” Teper tells The Jerusalem Post, recounting his memories from that day. Sariel’s unit, of Battalion 53, was on the Israeli side of the border with the Gaza Strip when two mortar shells hit them. “As soon as I got back on my feet I started shouting at everyone to get into their APCs (Armored Personnel Carriers), so that no more mortar shells would fall on them.”
“I saw people lying on the floor, not responding,” he recalls, remembering that his friends and fellow soldiers Reuven Magen and Shay Kusnhir were lying close to him, the former with a serious injury to his leg, the latter, who was killed in the mortar attack. A third, Ran Bar, was bleeding from the neck. Sariel’s instant reaction was to put pressure on the wound in an attempt to stop the bleeding, simultaneously calling for a medic or doctor - “someone who would know what to do... more than what I was doing.”
Ten minutes passed before someone arrived; Teper explains that many of their own medics and doctors had been wounded in the attack, and they had to bring help from another battalion. In the meantime Bar requested that Teper try to keep him awake, so as well as trying to stop the blood, he tried to engage his friend, eventually resorting to a few slaps around the face. His efforts were in vain, however, as Bar lost consciousness. "I was sure he was dead, but I kept holding his neck." Finally a doctor arrived, and Teper assisted him in checking for any other injuries. "He asked me to fetch a stretcher. I ran to get one and fell. It was only then that I realized that I had injured my foot. I tried to get up and fell again. I couldn't stand on my foot." He explains that until that point the adrenalin surging through him had prevented him from noticing his injury. He dragged himself back to the APC and realized he was also injured in the back. All at once, the pain suddenly hit him.
A doctor and paramedic gave him primary treatment, and when evacuation began to the Hummers and helicopters he was among the first to be taken. He noticed, however, that several severely injured soldiers had yet to be evacuated, and got off to make room for them. He embarked on a later helicopter to The Rabin Medical Center-Belinson Camput, in Petah Tikva.
In addition to the five that were killed in the attack, 15 others --soldiers and medics-- were wounded. It is clearly a painful account for Teper to relive, and he humbly glosses over his quick reactions and altruistic instincts, though the IDF affirms that he saved his friend's life. If Teper hadn't remained by Bar's side, maintaining pressure on his bloody wound, he would have died.
Teper himself was hospitalized for one-and-a-half-months, for his leg injury and a two centimeter hole in his back that he sustained from the mortar explosion. He is now recuperating at home, but making daily trips to Ra'anana's Levinstein Hospital and Tel Aviv's Beit Halochem center for physical therapy. He sits with a crutch by his side, and explains that this is a huge improvement from the wheelchair that he initially had to use to get around.
He has completed two years in the army and says it is unlikely that he will go back to finish the full three years of service, due to the rehabilitation process. "I want to do reserve duty though,” he says, despite the fact that he will probably be exempt. "It's important to me to do reserves, particularly if there is another war in the future. For me, to be a combat soldier is the most correct thing a man can do in our country - it's the minimum we can do for the state."