Source: Joel Brinkley, The New York Times, 10 April 2002, Section A, page 11.
Israeli Army reservists at a temporary camp
overlooking Nablus in the West Bank. Many reservists have been
assigned to deter Palestinian incursions near refuge camps.
Israeli soldiers have rarely been stopped by an enemy. Instead, throughout the nation’s history, her soldiers have often been halted by outside political pressure.
On 29 March 2002, the largest Israeli military action since the Lebanon invasion began. In response to terrorist attacks, Israeli forces moved into the West Bank to destroy the terrorist infrastructure. Instead of full support for this action, President Bush called for the Israelis to stop and pull out.
In early April, on a bluff that overlooks the Palestinian camps in Nablus, a group of Israeli reservists spoke with Times reporter, Joel Brinkley.
“There are 18-year-olds in there with explosive belts,” Major Avi Picard said, “just waiting for us to leave so they can go to Tel Aviv or Netanya. I can tell you, if we were Americans, we would just bomb the place; But we don’t want to do that. We go slow.”
Now, he said, the Americans “want us to stop.”
Major Picard is an officer in Unit 576, a reserve armored brigade, responsible for destroying “the infrastructure of terror” in the most militant camps in Nablus. “His angry mood mirrors that of many Israeli soldiers,” the Times reported.
The Nablus camps are home to leaders of the Aksa Martyrs Brigades, Hamas, and Islamic Jihad. But for now they are safe. Picard’s brigade has not been permitted to enter the camps.
“It’s tremendously unfair,” the Times quoted Lt. Avi Chai. “I understand that Bush needs to fight Iraq. That’s fine with me. But why should we have to pay for it?”
Lt. Gen. Oran Ben-Goya, the brigade commander, told the Times his men are frustrated to be sitting on their hands.
“We won’t succeed in getting all the terrorists,” General Ben-Goya said. “I have no delusions. I don’t think we will have the time to do what we need to do. I want to go in. I watch the camps and I see the terrorist walking around with rifles. Everyplace I see a man with a gun, I want him dead or arrested.
“We understand the United States and their wish to attack Iraq,” General Ben-Goya said. “But if the United States had this problem, they wouldn’t ask anyone. They would just go do their job, as they did in Afghanistan.”
Morale remains high despite the soldiers’ impatience. The men received news that thirteen Israeli soldiers were killed that day in Jenin. Tank crewman Ofir Halberstat said, “I’d rather see soldiers killed in battle than people blown up in coffee shops.”
Avi Atour, a 50-year-old history teacher who is too old for the draft, volunteered to serve with the unit.
“I came to fight,” he said, “The U.S. must let us finish.”