Two things happened today...or I heard about two things that sum up so much of what Israel is. If you have the patience to read, I'll show you a picture below that Elie took today. No cheating - you have to read to get there!
The first thing is that as I was driving to a client's site, my eyes filled with tears. I'm not usually that emotional, but this one got to me. Twenty-five years ago, Yishai Aviram was an Israeli air force pilot flying a mission. His navigator was Ron Arad. When it became clear that they had to abandon the damaged plane, both Aviram and Arad parachuted out before the plane crashed.
Aviram was able to control his parachute enough to get to a safe area; Ron Arad wasn't able to get away. Aviram was rescued in a daring mission; Arad didn't come home. It has been, these 25 years, an agony for Ron Arad's family, for his wife and daughter, for his friends, for Yishai Aviram, and for all of Israel.
When it became clear that Gilad Shalit was going to come home, Yishai's son, now a pilot in Israel's air force, asked to be the one to bring Gilad home. He spent the flight talking to Gilad and with the permission of the air force granted Gilad's wish to circle over his home town a second time to watch the cheering crowds. It was like a victory lap, something he deserved and it was taken with Yishai Aviram's son. Not all wounds can be healed, but the fact that Israel would grant this request sums up much of what my country is about. A wish by a pilot to bring home a son of Israel - as his father was unable to do 25 years ago; a wish of a boy who was taken from his home and now returns as a man wanting to see from the air, all who waited for him for so long.
The second thing that happened today was that there was a massive earthquake in Turkey - the worst in a decade. Within the first hour, Israel offered its aid. Whatever you want, Shimon Peres said; anything. Teams began mobilizing men and equipment. And Turkey said no.
Before we had heard Turkey's response, Elie joked, "tell them if they apologize, we'll send help." The fact that Israel would offer Turkey aid is an amazing testimony of my country's ethical and moral commitment to saving lives. The fact that Turkey would refuse, claiming they can handle it locally, bears testimony to that country's priorities.
These two things show so much of what this country is about. And here is another. Today, Elie did a course with many commanders. Ultimately, the purpose of the course was to train them to save lives. It focused more on vehicles, disabled and under fire, being retrieved. Elie got up early and got himself a sandwich before he left. He only ate part of it before it was time to go.
When he arrived on base- he found tons of pastries and food ready and waiting. They had courses and lectures - and more food. "Meat and rice and everything." My son was impressed and had a great meal (he still returned hungry, if you can figure that out), and he was amazed by the trouble the army went to in order that the Reservists and soldiers enjoy the day.
After the lectures, it was show time. They took the soldiers out to the field and began teaching them. At one point, they showed them how to recover a turned-over tank...Elie brought home this picture...I guess telling someone or showing them a video is nothing compared to seeing a tank rolled over like it is a toy. Elie was amazed how easily the huge bulldozers could move the heavy tanks. So, this is another picture of Israel - a day in which the army brought soldiers together to teach them how to save lives, how to save equipment - and fed them like kings at the same time.
Elie now knows how to rescue a tank, under fire; a team within the tank or within a jeep or other vehicle. He knows what equipment the army has to increase the chances of bringing the team out alive, and how to remain safe while rescuing the endangered people. Several years ago, a funeral procession came under fire. For almost 30 minutes, the people were pinned down, exposed, in danger. There were many children among the people. It was a terrifying thing to listen to - and it was all broadcast live on radio as the army moved in. It took almost 30 minutes while I was driving, listening to the gunfire and the reporter, until finally a bullet-proof bus was brought in and slowly, taking fire, positioned itself between the gunmen and the Israelis.
More of life in Israel...but here's the picture I told you about...cool...huh? Elie watched it rolled over, watched it "rescued" and rolled over again. It's an old tank, used for practice, used for training, used to teach our soldiers how to save lives. That, my dear friends, is Israel.