An ex-MK pens a tale of the pain and loss of the bat­tle­field – and why he keeps go­ing back

The Jerusalem Post - The Jerusalem Post Magazine - - CONTENTS - • KAYLA STEIN­BERG

For­mer MK Yoni Chet­boun’s Un­der Fire: Di­ary of an Is­raeli Com­man­der on the Bat­tle­field, cap­tures the im­me­di­acy and sig­nif­i­cance of pre­serv­ing the Jewish state and its peo­ple, which are al­ways un­der fire.

With vivid de­scrip­tions of bat­tles, high­lighted by di­a­logue be­tween Chet­boun and his fel­low sol­diers, the book, re­cently trans­lated into English, cap­tures the essence of the IDF: the sac­ri­fice that all sol­diers make to de­fend the home front.

Chet­boun, who climbed through the ranks of the IDF to re­tire as a lieu­tenant-colonel in the Golani Bri­gade, sac­ri­ficed much to be in the army. Each time he left home, he left more be­hind. First was his wife, Ma’ayan, whom he mar­ried while in the army, fol­lowed by their three chil­dren – Herut, Shiloh, and Emu­nah – who learned to un­der­stand that Daddy was not able to be home a lot.

He showed up at his en­gage­ment party still cov­ered with cam­ou­flage paint and had to leave his new wife at their first Passover Seder to go to Ra­mal­lah.

His de­scrip­tions of life in the army and spe­cific bat­tles mag­nify crit­i­cal his­tor­i­cal events, cap­tur­ing im­por­tant mo­ments in Is­raeli his­tory. These in­clude Op­er­a­tion De­fen­sive Shield, the cap­ture of Gi­lad Schalit, and the Sec­ond Le­banon War.

With­out previous knowl­edge, a reader might be hard-pressed to un­der­stand the full his­tor­i­cal sig­nif­i­cance of each of these events, yet Chet­boun pro­vides enough back­ground in­for­ma­tion to il­lus­trate the na­ture of the IDF dur­ing tough times.

Nev­er­the­less, the clar­ity of Chet­boun’s de­scrip­tions suf­fers from the lack of chronol­ogy in the sto­ry­telling of both per­sonal and his­toric events. On more than one oc­ca­sion he men­tions an event early on in the book and then gives de­tails only later on. This cre­ates con­fu­sion and also re­duces sus­pense, and by de­fault weak­ens the emo­tional im­pact of his tales.

How­ever, he com­pen­sates for this via emo­tional anec­dotes through­out the book. He dis­cusses his per­sonal chal­lenges while in the army – leav­ing his fam­ily, liv­ing with shrap­nel in his eye, sur­viv­ing near-death ex­pe­ri­ences; but he also writes of his fel­low sol­diers, many of whom were killed in bat­tle. He memo­ri­al­izes fallen sol­dier Shi­mon Adega, whose fam­ily made aliya from Ethiopia, in his fi­nal mo­ments af­ter be­ing fa­tally wounded by a grenade.

“Our eyes met, and I smiled at [Adega] in en­cour­age­ment,” Chet­boun wrote. “A few min­utes later I went back to him, and this time his eyes were frozen.”

He speaks lit­tle about his time in the Knes­set, where he was an MK in the Bayit Ye­hudi Party from 2013 to 2015. In the 2015 elec­tion, he left the party and joined Yachad, which failed to pass the elec­toral thresh­old..

Most of his tales are about the loss and pain he ex­pe­ri­enced on the bat­tle­field. “The im­age of David ly­ing there is en­graved in my mem­ory,” Chet­boun writes of his friend David Solomonov, a mem­ber of a sniper squad who suf­fered a fa­tal bul­let wound on Yom Kip­pur while un­der Chet­boun’s com­mand. He still re­mains in touch with Solomonov’s par­ents.

The for­mer com­man­der pep­pers the book with re­li­gious al­lu­sions, con­nect­ing his ser­vice and the Jewish state to his faith.

“For the sake of Zion I will not be silent, and for the sake of Jerusalem I will not rest, un­til her right­eous­ness shines out like bril­liance, and her sal­va­tion burns like a torch,” he quotes from Isaiah 62:1. He con­sid­ers this to be the “essence of Zi- on­ism”: Jewish fighters de­fend­ing their peo­ple, as did King David. He be­lieves they are the in­spi­ra­tion for Is­rael and the IDF today.

His faith in the Jewish peo­ple and its abil­ity to unite some­day is both touch­ing and in­spir­ing. He dis­cusses the need to pre­serve the Jewish state for that “some­day” when he be­lieves all of Di­as­pora Jewry will ar­rive on its shores.

“De­spite the dozens of shades that com­pro­mise Is­raeli so­ci­ety af­ter two thou­sand years of ex­ile, we are still one peo­ple,” he writes. “It will take time, but in an or­ganic man­ner, the mil­lions of Jews who live here will find the right way to live to­gether. I am con­fi­dent that one day this will hap­pen.”

De­spite his op­ti­mism, Chet­boun ac­knowl­edges the chal­lenges the IDF faces and the fact that it is far from per­fect. While he is cov­er­ing well-trod­den ground for Is­raeli read­ers, Chet­boun’s book is ideal for those seek­ing to know more about the IDF and the chal­lenges it faces.

If noth­ing else, Chet­boun con­veys to his read­ers the im­por­tance of hop­ing for a bet­ter to­mor­row and fight­ing for it un­til it is reached. ■

(Marc Is­rael Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)

YONI CHET­BOUN went from one bat­tle­field to an­other – the Knes­set.

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