From An Accidental Rambo to Oranit



 I watched Rambo. What has Rambo got to do with my writing about Oranit? My Rambo existed. He changed my life. 

I want to tell as many people as I can about the ‘accidental’ Rambo I met. I met Ari Chanuka in October 1973. Ari was tall, an almost emaciated Yemenite soldier. He came to our Shell Shock Unit. Ari was in a general Psychiatric Hospital –where he threw the director into a pool. To the director’s credit, he got out and tossed Ari into the pond. Then he sent his misfit to our unit of complete misfits; The Shell Shock Unit. Ari was ours.

Ari was almost mute; he was incomprehensible. We understood nothing.  I gave him Pentothal—the truth drug. Why use Pentothal? We traced the cause of the trauma; we recycled it. We believed we made the trauma  ‘psyche-digestible’.

The treatment worked till I tried it on Ari; Ari went berserk. In those awful long nights, I obsessed about the mayhem we saw through Ari’s eyes. The treatment was not working; but why was it failing? An injection then completes chaos. Till then, with other soldiers, it had been the opposite. The fogs of war disappeared — but not for Ari. They swirled more intensely. .  I had to get our Ari back…. and I could not. Then one night I reasoned like this:-
Ari under Pentothal is Psychotic. So why not give him an injection of anti-Psychotic intravenously? At midnight, I phoned up my boss and asked permission. Tomorrow I would inject both Pentothal and an anti-Psychotic. At eight in the morning, we started. In went the Pentothal and we lost Ari to his demons. In went the Anti-Psychotic and Ari re-stated time after time:

“Carol, how big he is. So small he is.”

That was it. There was nothing more. Had we failed our man gain? There was one thing. After all successful Pentothal, the patient wakes up. The patient always awoke spontaneously. We could discuss the material. It helped.

 Ari awoke. But this time I was at a loss about what had happened. I asked him about “How big he was – How small he is. Who is Carol? “
I amazed  Ari. “How do you know?” “Did I say that?”

In a very few Pentothal injections, we had gone to another place in time. The ‘wrong trauma’. Ephraim blundered into Auschwitz. With Mike, a hysterical blind victim, we found ourselves in a tank battle in 1971. With Shalom, we were in a Moroccan prison. We Jews are not short of traumatic landscapes through which we meander. Ari had gone back to 1967 — the six-day war.

Ari had an only son; he called him Shai. Shai had died before the six-day war. In the six day war, Aric was a non-combatant. He was a driver in the Burial Corps. Ari was present when the Clergy tried to piece enough body parts to bury. Sometimes there was not sufficient to fill the coffin; the coffin was too light. They put the remnants in ammunition caskets. Ari’s team nailed the improvised earns in the coffin. They filled the rest with earth; the coffins were no longer underweight. No one would notice.

Carol was Ari’s neighbour.  Like Ari, Carol was a very tall guy. There was not enough of Carol to put in the ammunition box. Ari sat by his friend Carol’s coffin all night. He asked Carol to look out for his dead son Shai when they met. He muttered to himself — well you know what. After all, Carol was very tall, and now there was not enough to fill the ammunition box. Aric and all his unit had sworn to keep the secret of what happened. Preparing the dead is a mitzvah; it was more so that week.

The Chief Military Rabbi made them swear an oath never to tell. Honour the dead and their memory. Ari had told. Six tears later, under Pentothal, Inadvertently he broke his word. In Ari’s eyes, this was unforgivable.

I want to jump forward a month. We worked with Ari; we made some progress. The Chief Military Rabbi visited us. It was a warm spring afternoon; we sat on the grass. The Rabbi answered questions. Ari introduced himself; he asked if what he had done was excusable. Ari was well known and respected. There was a heavy silence.

The Rabbi turned to his two assistances. “I now declare this a Rabbinical Court, and we are now in session. Ari Chanuka, please cover your head.” The rabbi then placed his hand on Ari’s head.” This court absolves you from all your oaths that you took in 1967. This court absolves you from all guilt.” Ari said, “Rabbi, these guys have fought hard for me, to help me, but no injection helped like this”. We were all in tears; including this irreligious Jew.

But I have still to explain why Rambo. What happened in 1973?

First, a bit of history and a brief explanation. The Sudanese commando brigade helped the Egyptians cross the Suez Canal. By Soviet doctrine, the invaders used Ritalin. They were stoned out of their minds.  The Sudanese were the bane of our soldier's’ existence. The Sudanese soldiers were big, fearless; they had bulging ferocious eyes. They were unstoppable. Well almost irresistible. Ari stopped one. But at what a price Here’s how:-

 Ari was a tank driver. They were trying to halt the Egyptian advance. The dreaded Sudanese buzzed everywhere. The Sudanese were unstoppable. They were like a swarm of locusts.
 Ari’s tank commander was a greenhorn. He irritated Ari; Ari felt he had a liability and responsibility. Aric wanted to get everyone home . He drove over Sudanese. He mowed them down. Aric was doing well. He was getting out of the mess. Then it went awfully wrong.
 The tank commander was sat half out of the tank. A Sudanese soldier killed him. Ari went after the Sudanese assailant. Ari, enraged,  got out of the tank and fired a machine gun at the Sudanese man; he had to die. The man kept coming. Ari screamed,  “Die — you are already dead.” More rounds whistled from Ari’s gun. Still, the giant from hell ran. With one long burst, Ari cut the Sudanese into two. Still, the legs kept pounding a path in the sand.

 Aric passed out; he was mute.

Months passed. The treatment was working. The Rabbi’s help was a turning point.

 Ari did something that no other soldier of mine did. He went back into reserve duty. My mistake, but fate played a hand. Here is how:

The military specialises in doing the wrong thing at the wrong time with the wrong person.  They posted Ari at almost the exact spot where he had fought his Sudanese nemesis. Then the point was the demarcation line between the Israelis and Egyptians.

  Ari dissociated. The Sudanese appeared in front of Ari; Ari attacked him. Ari ran, weaved and fired as he advanced on the now docile Egyptians. There was only one way to stop him. Our army ran over our soldier, Ari, with a command car. In the turmoil, a shot rang out. It hit Ari in the leg.
There was an enquiry. There always is. This one was fair. The investigators told me; Ari was a few yards from starting the war again. There was grudging admiration for Ari’s soldiers’ craftsmanship. The committee overlooked my mistake. The authorities let it pass.
 I went to see Ari in the hospital. The Orthopedic Surgeon asked me if this was another faked malingerers suicide. I told him that it was not. No this was a real genuine Israeli hero. Till this day that brings tears to my eyes.

Ari almost started another war. But his own never ended. The Sudanese soldier never left him. Ari drifted. He was in and out of trouble. They wanted to put Ari in a closed ward. I stopped them. Ever month was harder. Ari’s wife and neighbours suffered outbursts of wild, erratic behaviour. One night the Police phoned. It was three in the morning. They were laughing at this lunatic who admitted to murder. Ari confessed. “Did he murder someone?” I asked.

The reply was negative,  accompanied by more laughter. I said OK — tomorrow we’ll put Ari into the closed ward and I put the phone down. I’d lost. Then it hit me. So I phoned back to the Police.
“Are you certain he said a Sudanese?”—” Yes very sure” was the answer.
At three thirty in the morning, I got Ari out of the holding cells.” You realise that the Sudanese soldier is dead? — no more nightmares”. I took him home. Nothing sensational. We were both drained –there was nothing left. Things got manageable but never anywhere like normal. Ari made a living as a Taxi driver.

Very rarely I saw him. One day a journalist came to my clinic. She asked if what she had heard was true?

—- A taxi driver had told her his story without identifying himself. He had picked her up as a fare by the clinic. How did she find me? Ari said whenever he felt bad; he would drive by my clinic. He knew if things got bad he could always go in. That was enough for him.

Ari’s wife died of cancer. So did Ari. They are all together with Shai, Carol and the Rabbis. Heroes fight and pay for wars. Heroes who did not ask to be heroes. Aric was an accidental hero and a great guy.

 Ari taught me so much. We lost the Yom-Kippur war. Beaten and broken Ari and all those who he is, saved us. From there we decided to make this land ours in word and deed.  Why? I cannot describe or put into words.

 I write about Oranit. From China to Germany I know people ask why. Why are you there? Why is Oranit special? The spirit, belief and determination are Ari Chanuka. There is one difference, we will not break. Ari Chanuka is mine; we have the same spirit. The land is mine. Ari and his heroes showed me who I am; they pointed to where I belong.
Forty-four years later, I still salute and mourn Ari Chanuka. May  God rest A.C.’s soul.




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