Battles remain for recovering soldiers, families

"I protected my land and my birthplace, and even with the injury, I'd do it all over again."

lebanon wounded 298 (photo credit: AP [file])
lebanon wounded 298
(photo credit: AP [file])
In the orthopedics ward of Haifa's Rambam Hospital Thursday, St.-Sgt. (res.) Harel Siyani was being visited by a group of teenagers, one of whom brought along a guitar to play songs to raise his spirits. The smile on his face was a relief to his mother, who sat besides his bed. Siyani, wearing a T-shirt bearing the name and logo of his army unit, was enjoying the music. It was a far cry from last week, when he was flown by helicopter to the emergency room, wounded and in serious condition. Shortly before August 14, when the UN-brokered cease-fire went into effect, Siyani was wounded in both arms and his chest by shrapnel from an anti-tank rocket fired by Hizbullah fighters. He, along with other soldiers in his reserve Golani infantry reserve unit, were taking part in the IDF's operations aimed at reaching the Litani River. "There is pain, but it's getting better," said Siyani, who lives in Rishon Lezion and is one of some 400 soldiers wounded in Lebanon, the majority of whom were brought to Rambam. Though currently he can't use either arm, and has to be fed and otherwise cared for, Siyani was in a good mood. The fact that his comrades come to visit him every day helps motivate him to heal faster. And despite his wounds, there seem to be no regrets and no doubt in his mind about where he'd rather be right now. "I love serving in the army," he says. "I hope to return as soon as I am better. I protected my land and my birthplace, and even with the injury, I'd do it all over again." Siyani said that his doctors have told him to expect a long recovery. He was to be transferred within hours for long-term care to Sheba Medical Center in Tel Hashomer. For him, perhaps the struggles ahead will be his hardest yet. There are others facing similar challenges. Sgt. Gasha Atgach, from Ashdod, who serves in the elite Paratroopers unit 101, also didn't know exactly how long it would be until he could go home. Wounded in fierce fighting in the Hizbullah stronghold of Bint Jbail, the 20-year-old took shrapnel from an anti-tank rocket in his left arm and eye. It's uncertain whether he will regain vision in it, yet he seemed to share an optimism that many of the soldiers expressed. "Everything will be OK," he said. For Sgt.-Maj. (res.) Itzik Ozer, who serves in a reconnaissance unit, there was a bit of anger at the army for the way the war was handled. Itzik, 36 and married with two daughters in Yavne, was upset with what he felt was an overall decline in the respect for reserves in the IDF. "If there is another war, I'll be there," he says, "but nor for the army, only for the country." Despite his anger, however, Itzik was smiling and alert. Wounded just a few days earlier by a rocket fired at his base in El Yakim near Yokneam, he said he trusted the doctors at the hospital, and was very excited to be able to return home soon. Aside from the medical care provided by the hospital staff, the soldiers receive support from numerous groups as well as their families. During just a few short hours, they were the center of attention, whether enjoying the teenagers' music or chocolate brought by another group. Far from the battleground of southern Lebanon, the soldiers' families, worried and proud, are also ready for the long road ahead. However, in a different section of Haifa, at the site of one of the worst Katyusha attacks of the war, there was less optimism. At the Israel Railways train depot, hit twice during the conflict, with one strike killing eight civilians on July 16, little of the damage had been repaired and the workers who survived the attack there have not been able to return. Outside, a series of wreaths had been placed in a memorial ceremony a day earlier. Workers gathered to inspect the damage and reminisce about the fallen. "These were not only our co-workers, but our friends," one of them said. When told they were being interviewed for a series called "After the War," they said to come back when it was truly after the war, explaining there was very little doubt in their minds that the rockets would fall again some time soon.