An ex-MK pens a tale of the pain and loss of the battlefield – and why he keeps going back
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. ■
YONI CHETBOUN went from one battlefield to another – the Knesset.