Snap Judgment: Requiem for a rat

A plucky little fighter who became one of the IDF's most honored veterans.

0108-snap (photo credit: )
(photo credit: )
Palestinians: Israel uses rats against Jerusalem Arabs - The Jerusalem Post, July 20, 2008. The Palestinian Authority's official news agency Wafa says Israel is using rats to drive Arab families out of their homes in the Old City of Jerusalem. "Rats have become an Israeli weapon to displace and expel Arab residents of the occupied Old City of Jerusalem," Wafa reported under the title, "Settlers flood the Old City of Jerusalem with rats." The report continued: "Over the past two months, dozens of settlers come to the alleyways and streets of the Old City carrying iron cages full of rats. They release the rats, which find shelter in open sewage systems." Wafa quoted unnamed Arab residents as saying that they had tried to eliminate the rats with various poisons, but to no avail. Israel's goal was to "increase the suffering of the [Arabs] in Jerusalem by turning their lives into a real tragedy and forcing them to evict their homes and leave the city," Hasan Khater, secretary-general of the Islamic-Christian Front in Jerusalem, was quoted as saying. Legendary IDF commando Lt.-Col. Yehuda "Ratchka" Akh-Bar, dies at 73 - The Jerusalem Post, Sept. 17, 2023. Yehuda Akh-Bar, founding chief of the IDF's elite Sayeret Rodentus commando unit and a fabled veteran of many of the military's most top-secret missions, passed away this week at age 73. The cause of death was cancer. Akh-Bar, the diminutive hero known to all as "Ratchka," was a beloved and near-mythical figure in the security establishment, a plucky little fighter who overcame a score of shortcomings to become one of the IDF's most honored veterans. "Ratchka was a true warrior and valued comrade," said his close friend, former IDF chief of General Staff Gabi Ashkenazi. "It's true he had a sharp bite at times, but there was no one else I'd ever want beside me in an enemy sewer." Ratchka was born and raised Jacob Ratzinger in Jerusalem's haredi Mea She'arim quarter, the scion of a long line of respected rodent rabbis. When he reached 18, he broke with his family, changed his name and joined the army. "Sitting around all day studying Talmud and eating out of other people's garbage just wasn't for me," he later recalled, "and the military seemed the best way out." He was originally assigned, along with most other animal recruits at the time, to the IDF biological research test unit stationed at the Ness Ziona Institute. But Ratchka successfully fought to be given full combat status, and was transferred to a Givati Brigade unit in the South. He soon distinguished himself as a fearless scout carrying out risky reconnaissance missions deep into Gaza. "Those Gazan cats were tough, let me tell you," Ratchka later said in an interview. "Hamas also at the time had its own rodent terrorist leader - a fanatical but fearless little mouse named Farfur. We finally met up one night in a dark alley in Khan Yunis, that only one of us crawled away from." The targeting killing of Farfur earned Ratchka swift promotion, and Akh-Bar successfully pushed for the creation of a new elite IDF unit, Sayeret Rodentus - popularly known as "the rat patrol." "We went where all of the other IDF units couldn't or wouldn't go," Ratchka once proudly boasted. "The slimiest drainpipes, the filthiest sewers, the grimiest dumps - although nothing was as bad as Yasser Arafat's bedroom in the Mukata." THE DETAILS of that latter mission, like many of the others carried out by Akh-Bar and the rat patrol, remain classified. But the veil of official secrecy surrounding the unit was nearly blown in the summer of 2008. "After a spate of terror attacks in Jerusalem," Akh-Bar later wrote in his heavily censored memoir Paws of Victory: A Zionist Rat's Tale, "we were assigned to carry out house-to-house searches in the Old City, checking for signs of Islamic Jihad recruitment among the local Arab residents. We were in the middle of a mission when some of the locals detected our presence, and we had to fight off a particularly vicious Hizbullah-trained cat. The next thing I knew, we were being condemned by PA officials and were all over the Palestinian press. Luckily, they thought we were part of some crazy settler plot, and never figured out just what we were really up to." The following year, Akh-Bar led the rat patrol on its most celebrated exploit - the crippling of the Iranian nuclear development program. Dropped deep behind enemy lines by their sister unit, the Israel Air Force Bat Battalion, Ratchka and his comrades penetrated the Natanz uranium enrichment plant, chewed through the electrical wiring of its cooling system and sent the entire installation into irreversible meltdown. Although later awarded the IDF Medal of Valor for this feat, Ratchka always declined to confirm rumors of a personal run-in with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad during the mission. "Let's just say I've sunk my teeth into a lot of foul-tasting items in my life," he would respond to questions about the incident, "and there are some things even worse than rotten apple cores." ALTHOUGH AKH-BAR later retired from military service, his adventures were not quite over. Invited to lecture at the UK's famed Sandhurst Royal Military Academy, he found himself arrested at Heathrow Airport and charged with war crimes by a British court acting in response to a suit brought by a local Palestinian rights organization. But Ratchka proved himself as able a fighter in the court as on the battlefield, turning the tables on his hosts by acting for his own defense, and winning acquittal with his stunning final summation of his case. "I just threw their own words back at them," Akh-Bar noted, "by quoting Shakespeare's great speech for Shylock: 'I am a Jewish rat. Hath not a Jewish rat eyes? Hath not a Jewish rat paws? Fed with the same cheese, hurt with the same traps, as a Christian rat is. If you trap us, do we not bleed? If you poison us, do we not die? And if you wrong us, do we not bite back?'" Later in life, looking to still perform public service, Ratchka was recruited by rodent environmental organizations campaigning to restore the former Hiriya dumping ground outside Tel Aviv to its old glory. "Cleaning up the Hiriya dump turned out to be the worst move since draining the Hula swamps," said Ratchka. "It was a tough fight, but we finally managed to get the garbage back where it belonged - although it still doesn't have quite the same old smell." In honor of his efforts, the Prime Minister's Office announced yesterday that the Hiriya would be renamed the Ratchka Memorial Wastefill. Lt.-Col. (res.) Akh-Bar will be laid to rest with full military honors in the rodent section of Jerusalem's Mount Herzl Cemetery tomorrow morning. He is survived by his wife Gili, their 657 children and 28,248 grandchildren. May his memory be blessed. [email protected]