The Tower and the Sword

 It is impossible to write about the streets of Jerusalem without thinking of the spilled Jewish blood staining the holy city’s stones. Today, then, we return to the neighborhood of Morasha, and visit the street where earlier this week an Israeli teenager was horrifically stabbed by a Palestinian terrorist.

The street is Kheil Hahandasa, whose name – to the best of my knowledge – refers to a little-known but absolutely essential unit of the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF). Kheil Hahandasa means “Engineering Corps” – and the full name of the IDF division is Kheil Hahandasa Hakravit – “Combat Engineering Corps.”

Drawing its original members from the pre-state HaPalmach sabotage fighters and the tractor operators of the 1948 War of Independence, Kheil Hahandasa Hakravit combines infantry and engineering. Soldiers are charged with demolition, mining, armored engineering, fording, laying bridges, disposing of bombs, road construction and fortification, camouflage and deception, and defending Israel against nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons. Kheil Hahandasa Hakravit’s most shining moment came during the 1973 Yom Kippur War as they endured unrelenting enemy fire to build bridges across the Suez Canal and enable IDF paratroopers and armored corps soldiers to cross into Egyptian territory; ironically, Kheil Hahandasa Hakravit would later coordinate much of the evacuation of the Israeli army from the Sinai peninsula following Israel’s peace accord with Egypt.

There are five battalions in Kheil Hahandasa Hakravit; among them is the vaunted special force Sayeret Yahalom, which engages in commando and counter-terrorist operations including the location and destruction of terror tunnels. Very few Kheil Hahandasa Hakravit soldiers are admitted to the elite unit; following basic training, outstanding trainees are accepted into a rigorous five-day field test called Gibbush, and those most successful at Gibbosh receive a full additional year of training in order to serve in Yahalom.

The uniform of Kheil Hahandasa Hakravit is a silver beret and black boots, its flag is orange and black, and its insignia is a defensive tower adorned with a sword; in the background one can see the halo from an explosion. The Kheil Hahandasa Hakravit motto is “Always First.”

It is a terrible irony that a Jew was stabbed on a street that bears the name of an IDF unit dedicated to protecting the State of Israel and her people; and it is a reminder that though we wish above all to live in peace, to live now requires the tower and the sword. We ask for blessing upon God’s people in Morasha, in the Old City, in all the courtyards of Judah and the streets of Zion.

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem.