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Israeli troops in the northern Gaza Strip, November 2023. Photo by Avi Cohen.
Israeli troops in the northern Gaza Strip, November 2023. Photo by Avi Cohen.
featureIsrael at War

‘I’ll stay in Gaza as long as needed—a month, a year; until we finish the job’

"Israel Hayom" reporter visits the troops on the frontline, who want Israelis to know that the war has only just begun.

We arrived on Thursday afternoon, just before the ceasefire. These are the most dangerous hours, as Hamas is actively seeking to harm IDF soldiers before the truce takes effect.

A few minutes ago, the Red Alert rocket warning siren blasted the air at Kibbutz Be’eri. A light run to the nearest bomb shelter, and there one of the reservists explains to me: “It’s good that it happened, this way you get into the habit of taking care of yourself and staying alert because, inside the Strip, you won’t have an early warning.”

Before heading out, a short briefing. They warn us about what to watch out for and emphasize not to jump out of the vehicle during travel if there is an encounter. As they say, lessons of the past were written in blood. A few hours ago, a soldier had been injured by sniper fire there, a reminder that even in the northern area of the Strip, terrorists are still roaming the area.

Israeli troops in the northern Gaza Strip, November 2023. Photo by Avi Cohen.

Sixteen hours before the ceasefire, we joined the Jerusalem Brigade into Gaza and met people willing to stay as long as needed, asking not to be stopped before the job is done. The Jerusalem Brigade, the 16th Brigade, is an infantry brigade that fought in every Israeli war since the War of Independence when it was formed based on the pre-state paramilitary underground groups of the Haganah, Irgun and Stern Gang and their fighters who operated in the Jerusalem area. While the original objective was the defense of Jerusalem, the mission and force composition have changed over the years.

The convoy of Hummers sets out on the road. Tal, the driver from Petach Tikvah, explains that soon we will see the houses of Be’eri that were hit first by the terrorists.

Lt. (res.) Segev. Photo by Avi Cohen.

Why we fight

“It’s important to see, so we know why we are fighting,” says Lt. (res.) Segev, sitting in the back with a bullet in the rifle’s chamber. In his regular military service, he was in the Nahal Infantry Brigade. He returned from a long trip in South America in the fall and had planned to start studying in November, but then all hell broke loose. “I’ll stay here as long as needed—a month? A month! A year? A year! Until we finish the job.”

After a drive, we reached the soldiers of the brigade near the mostly destroyed neighborhood. We met Lt. Col. (res.) Omri, the commander of the Jerusalem Brigade’s 9207th Battalion. Omri works in the State Attorney’s Office, and on that cursed Saturday of Oct. 7, he was called up with his friends—initially to villages in the Sderot area, then moved to the defense mission in the Zikim coastal area, and for over two weeks now, they have been inside Gaza.

Omri, married and a father of two, has only been home twice for 24 hours since being called up. In his battalion, hundreds of soldiers were mobilized within 24 hours.

“Forces that fought left, and we came in. We were still in the communities surrounding Gaza when we opened the doors, and people were still scared, so we understood where it was going. You could feel that when the army comes it gives those people a lot of security, exactly like that, without question,” Lt. Col. Omri said.

IDF reservist Elad. Photo by Avi Cohen.

Elad, 52, from the Golan Heights, a father of eight and a grandfather of two, is an example of the high motivation of the soldiers. He could have been released from active reserve duty many years ago, but he won’t miss the opportunity to be with the guys:

“I’m happy to be here; I’m part of the people of Israel, no question about it. Without the support of my wife, I couldn’t do this. It’s hard for her, but she knows it’s good for me. I also teach at a pre-army academy and tell my students to go, so can I not go?”

Lt. Col. Itai. Photo by Avi Cohen.

We also met Lt. Col. Itai, the commander of the Reconnaissance Battalion, an architect who lives on the Golan Heights. On that Saturday morning, he rode his bike with his son and left immediately when he heard about what was happening in the south. He left behind at home his wife and a one-and-a-half-month-old baby girl and has barely seen them since.

“I hit the road immediately when the brigade commander contacted me. I arrived around noon to sign for equipment and meet the other soldiers. On Sunday morning, we were in defense missions until we moved to attack missions.

“The enemy is hiding underground, almost not recognizable. It is hiding under the ground. In the end, what it is trying to do is make us get hurt in places where we are weak, and thus it acts out of fear mainly, not from any bravery and an attempt to achieve something specific, and just hits us again and again.

“Even during the ceasefire, we remain at a high alert level, even more so. The moment we enter the ceasefire, the tragic events from the ceasefire from ‘Operation Protective Edge’ and previous ceasefires come to mind, so our level of readiness rises. Although we are under the limitations of the ceasefire, we are more alert to what is possible for us to do.”

Originally published by Israel Hayom.

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