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Front Line Blog

More Photos From the War

February 11, 2009 12:01 AM




















































First Sergeant Yared M. Ben-Caro is a combat soldier in the Israel Defense Force. During the Gaza War, he served in Paratrooper Battalion 890 in the Heavy Weapons & Recon Company as Lead Sharpshooter and Missile Specialist.

My Final Post

Days 16 & 17: Jan. 18-19, 2009

February 11, 2009

It was morning. After my brief nap on the asphalt we returned to the base where we had waited for a week to go in. We were still on maximum alert so our first priority was to check and prepare all our equipment. We cleaned our guns, refilled our magazines, and replaced all other supplies depleted during the war.

Then we went to the showers. Nice, hot, fresh, steaming showers. It was even more wonderful than the asphalt. But there was a problem. Gaza was dirty. Very, very dirty. And not all of the houses we stayed in were Hamas mansions. I was covered with fleas and possibly lice. To me there was only one reasonable solution. I shaved all my hair.

Finally all equipment was more or less prepared and I was clean. They gave us our cell phones back and I checked my voice mail.

Cocoa Puff, the girl that had been shaking in the bomb shelter, had left me eleven messages, almost crying in each one. I was really surprised. We weren't dating in the slightest, and I did not expect that kind of response...

After listening to all the messages I began calling my friends. I was exhausted but I tried carrying on a conversation.

They asked me how it was.

"Well..." I answered. "It was a war."

I didn't have anything to say. I honestly hadn't really thought about it. I had been in an automatic mode governed by instinct for so long I hadn't actually thought about anything; really I began thinking about it. I began to remember.

Did I really just survive all that? Did I really just do all that?

Eventually I got off the phone and found a bed. It was such a sweet sleep.

The next morning I was awakened by my lieutenant. The previous day I had tried to make a deal with him to go home early. He told me he would have an answer for me in the morning. He woke me up with his answer.

"Yes, Yared. Go home."




I made a few touch-ups to my equipment. Then I switched to my dress uniform, grabbed my bag, and made my way home. I climbed onto the bus. Sitting on the bus it occurred to me that my kippah was missing. It had been borrowed for morning prayer and I had never gotten it back. I reached into my pocket, hoping to find my spare. It wasn't there, but I smiled at what I found.

It was my purple bandana.

Well, I needed something on my head. So I put the bandana back on my head. For a brief moment it felt like the whole world was laughing at me. There I was, back in the real world, with a purple bandana tied pirate-style on my head. But then I realized that I just didn't really care. I had just fought a war, and won.

As far as I was concerned the world could laugh at me all they wanted.

On the bus I thought about the blog. Using my internet phone I looked up the site, curious to see if anything was going on with it.

I was in shock.

For one entry alone there were over 62 comments. I couldn't believe it. I hadn't even done anything yet. Had that many people actually been reading my rambling and actually commented on it? I hoped that as many other soldiers as possible had also read the comments. I hoped that they also saw how many people prayed for us and supported us.

It was evening and I arrived at my kibbutz, still wearing the bandana. I saw my friend that had given it to me. But now she was wearing a nice, dark green bandana.

"What? Wait a minute! You mean to tell me that I have been running all over the Gaza Strip with this wimpy, purple bandana on my head, and this whole time you have been sitting here with a dark green one?!"

She laughed and offered to trade.

"No," I replied thoughtfully. "The wimpy, purple one is actually starting to grow on me."

And then I saw Cocoa Puff. She came over to my apartment and immediately went into my cupboard, digging through my supply of alcohol and chocolate. We opened a bottle of red wine and she helped herself to my precious supply of Reese's Peanut Cups that I had imported from the US. (They are really hard to find here in Israel.) We sat on my bed and talked about the war for a while.

Later I hopped on a bus to Jerusalem to meet up with my friends for a coffee in the city center. It was so good and yet so strange to see them all again. Some of them had even gotten married in the time that I was gone. I had wanted to attend the wedding but obviously had been unable.

I sat in the warm coffee shop and drank a gigantic, delicious iced mocha. Then my friends suddenly broke out into song and presented me with a small chocolate cake complete with a single candle on top.

"Happy birthday to you, Happy birthday..."

The war had started on December 27th, my birthday. I had forgotten. My friends hadn't.

I smiled with contentment at my friends, my little cake, my iced mocha. For one night, if only one night, I could forget about guns, hand-grenades, war, killing, and terrorists. For at least one night I could enjoy myself as a twenty-four year old.

Yes, it was good to be alive.


I wish I could end the story there but unfortunately I cannot. Hamas has already violated the cease-fire many times. My apartment is located near a large air force base. From where I am typing the final chapter of my blog I can see the F-15s rise into the sky. The bottoms of the jets are heavily loaded with bombs and missiles. I am watching them kick on the afterburners and scream towards Gaza. In a few hours I will check the news and read about the air strikes as well as the rockets, missiles, and mortars landing on Israeli cities from Hamas. I am almost waiting for Captain America to call me on my cell phone and cancel my vacation.

This is the end of The Front Line Blog... for now. Perhaps one day in the near future I will be forced to write a sequel. But sequels are never as good as the original.

First Sergeant Yared M. Ben-Caro is a combat soldier in the Israel Defense Force. During the Gaza War, he served in Paratrooper Battalion 890 in the Heavy Weapons & Recon Company as Lead Sharpshooter and Missile Specialist.

Withdrawal from Gaza

Day 15: Jan. 17, 2009

February 10, 2009

We were exhausted. The whole night had been consumed by our assault from the beach. Now it was daylight. We were stationed in one of the houses we had attacked and conquered. Although the house was relatively large it simply was not large enough for all the soldiers inside to sleep comfortably. My attempts to doze off a little between watches were unsuccessful. I went into a little girl's bedroom trying to find a comfortable place to nap. The whole house had been all but destroyed. Shards of glass and pieces of plaster littered the floor. I examined the lines of bullet holes scattered throughout the walls. Then I noticed an enormous, orange, stuffed rabbit, almost like a giant Care-Bear with long ears, sitting on a large shelf.

"Hey, Shaft! Look, you monster! You killed it!"

Sure enough, the giant rabbit was riddled with bullet holes from his MAG 7.62 mm machine gun. The stuffing had been tossed about the room. The rabbit hunched over, its eyes cold and lifeless.

War is an ugly thing.

There was another doll on the shelf. This doll was unharmed, but its head was positioned against the wall exactly between two bullet holes.

While marveling at the good fortune bestowed upon this toy, Captain America called me and Axel to the top floor. We had enemy contacts. Four Hamas terrorists attempted an assault from a nearby house. We set up defensive positions and prepared for a counterstrike.

I set up my M4 with Trigicon scope in a window, functioning as a relatively short-range sniper. I scanned the doors and windows with my finger on the trigger. Meanwhile the tanks surrounded the three or four-story building they occupied. Likewise a demolitions crew moved in. They no longer needed me to snipe them. We were going to blow up the entire house.

I sat back and watched, covering the approach of the demolitions team. Numerous tanks sat in the streets and alleys, with the cannons aimed at the house. The demolitions crew placed charges on the corners of the house.

The demolitions crew set off the explosives in conjunction with a massive salvo from at least half a dozen tanks. In a matter of seconds there was very little left of the house or terrorists.

To my surprise we continued pushing forward, but now in broad daylight. We usually prefer to operate at night. Our platoon moved from house to house, mansion to mansion, checking for terrorists and weapons.

We entered another Hamas house. This one was by far the most affluent that I had seen. It had marble floors, impressive white pillars, and gold plating in the bathroom. We entered the house shooting and lobbing grenades. As I entered I surveyed the damage to the marble pillars and expensive statuettes. To my surprise in the living room was an aquarium full of exotic fish. The fish tank was unscratched despite the excessive damage all around it. One of the soldiers even fed the fish before we left.

Searching the house I entered another little girl's room. Judging by the photos of her as well as the size of her clothes she couldn't have been more than seven years old. In her room we found the ultra-violent computer game, Grand Theft Auto, a collection of Steven Segal movies, as well as a collection of sharp barber-style razors.

Who gives their seven year-old daughter these kinds of movies and video games, and what's up with the razors? I have yet to figure that out.

I moved to the roof of a neighboring house to cover the approach of Platoon 8. I surveyed the view. In the distance I saw a large mosque toppled over and destroyed. I remembered hearing about it a few days previously. Hamas had used the mosque to store massive quantities of weapons and had booby trapped the thing to the point of making any entry suicidal. We placed charges on the mosque to take out the weapons. But there were so many munitions inside that the entire mosque collapsed on itself. It was now reduced to a pile of rubble with the gigantic dome rolled off to the side.




We continued to advance. I went up ahead, shooting out locks and kicking in doors. Evening drew near and we entered a new mansion and prepared for nightfall.

It was about 10 pm and suddenly we began hearing rumors from the medics and doctors. They began making preparations to evacuate the house. There were rumors of a cease-fire. I didn't believe it. Even if there would be a cease-fire it would take time to implement it and finalize the deal and the removal of Israeli forces would be not be a simple process.

I was wrong. At midnight we received orders to prepare for a full and immediate withdrawal. We were to move out in two hours, at 2 am. And we would be walking the entire distance from the edge of Gaza City to the Israeli border, and then to the nearby IDF military base where it had all began.

The attitudes and responses to the cease-fire were varied. Some of us just wanted to go home, and didn't care what that meant for the overall picture. Some of us were disappointed, disagreeing with the cease-fire and finding it a weak decision. I sat in a corner of the Hamas mansion. I asked Smirnoff for a cigarette. I don't smoke, and it had been one of my first cigarettes in a year. It seemed like an appropriate time, but it didn't really help. I was upset. I was very upset. I am not a politician, and it is not my purpose to delve into politics here. But it seemed like failure. We were winning. Hamas was unable to stand before us. Before me. I watched terrorists flee from me in horror. Those that didn't soon became carcasses in my path. I felt unstoppable. We were in a position to destroy fifteen years of terrorist development and weapon smuggling. In my opinion we would have been able to get Gilad Shalit back with no negotiation.

We were in the position to SMASH Hamas. To wipe a murderous terrorist organization off the face of the earth. And now we were being told to stop. To pack it all up and go home.

It is a severe violation of my over-inflated ego to admit it but I will.

I actually cried.

I thought about Cocoa Puff, my friend shaking in the bomb shelter. I thought about Sgt. Obama and his family trying to live in Ashkelon, even after a missile had landed on their block. I thought about the lieutenant with shrapnel in his brain, lying half-conscious in a hospital with his newly-wed wife sitting in a chair next to him. I thought about my apartment, and wondered if it was even still there. I thought about all the people I had killed. I thought about all the people that had been trying to kill me.

Had it all been for nothing?

It felt like failure. It felt like betrayal.

No one else in the platoon reacted as strongly as I did. Those of us with a little broader perspective were also unhappy, including Axel, Shaft, and the officers. Captain America and Sgt. Obama both pulled me aside later. They gave me a speech consisting of patronizing baloney. Yeah, yeah. We hit Hamas hard and all that. The final score card was tallied up with over 900 Hamas terrorists dead and roughly 150 civilian casualties. Less than ten Israeli soldiers had been killed, and most of them had died from friendly-fire. That meant we had a kill ratio of 100:1. But I wasn't stupid. I knew we had hit them hard but it would only be a matter of time before they would start firing missiles and rockets again. I expected a month or two of calm. (It turns out that they waited even less time than that, seriously violating the cease-fire repeatedly within a few mere weeks.)

I tossed the cigarette away and we began marching the 8 km back to the border.

We followed a route on the beach, where the water met the sand. Several times a freak wave danced on the shore and filled my red boots with salt water. The entire army marched silently in double-file. It was surreal, listening to the waves crash in the darkness. I hoped that the D9 bulldozers had successfully cleared all the mines.

Walking along I spotted an odd shape in the water just past the breaking waves. I peered at it through my Li-Or night vision scope.

It was a dead body.

I had heard a rumor about a certain special forces mission that took place on the beach. (For security reasons I did not write about it.) I wondered to myself if the corpse had been from that operation.

We moved on. Just before the border we took a brief break. I leaned back against my equipment and sat on the sand. The entire war I had been saving a single can of Coca-Cola for the end as a celebratory treat. I had actually jerry-rigged one of my magazine pouches to hold the cola can and protect it from puncture. This was hardly the way I had wanted the war to end, but I guessed it was over anyway. I sat next to Sgt. Obama. He heard the unmistakable "hiss and pop" of a can of Coca-Cola being opened.

"No way..." he whispered. I took the first sip, smiled with satisfaction, and passed it to him. The single can of Coca-Cola made its way down the line through the platoon. It was worth its weight in gold.

Nothin' like the real thing.




We crossed the border and re-entered friendly territory. The press was there and numerous "jobnik" girls taking photos. Most of the guys in the platoon tried to make it look good for the camera. I ignored them and kept walking. I still felt like we had failed, given up, and saw no point in celebration.

Finally we arrived at a large parking lot just outside of the base where it had all began. For the first time in over two weeks I was able to take off my combat vest and body armor. I felt so light. I also realized that I was in desperate need of a chiropractor. I took off my helmet. I was still wearing the purple bandana.

"Hey, Yared," a friend of mine called from a different company in the paratroopers. "What's up with the bandana?"

I examined the bandana. The nice messages were still there, semi-blurred from mud and sweat. I thought about all my friends back home.

"It's a long story..." I responded quietly. I was tired of explaining it.

I looked about the parking lot. All of my friends were there. We were all coming back. It was so good to see the faces of them all. Some were better, some were worse. All were tired and dirty.

I saw a group of religious soldiers pray. It was their first morning prayers back on friendly soil, without the danger of being bombed.

I saw The Glowing. He somehow had gotten hold of a cell phone and called his parents back in the States. They hadn't heard anything about him or from him the entire war. I found out later that they first found out that he was in Gaza because of this blog.

We listened to a speech from the head colonel, commander of the entire Paratrooper Brigade. I am sure that it was timely and inspiring, but I honestly have no memory of what he said. I was too tired to pay attention. I hadn't slept in days, and had been fighting and marching for the past two nights.

I returned to the area where we had left our equipment. I lay down on the hard asphalt in the warm, early morning sun. I had never felt anything so wonderfully relaxing. I immediately passed out, waiting for the army buses to take us back to our main base.

First Sergeant Yared M. Ben-Caro is a combat soldier in the Israel Defense Force. During the Gaza War, he served in Paratrooper Battalion 890 in the Heavy Weapons & Recon Company as Lead Sharpshooter and Missile Specialist.

Stumbling Upon a Tunnel

Day 14: Jan. 16, 2009

February 9, 2009

Tonight we actually carried out the previously mentioned mission to improve our position just outside of Gaza City.

We set up the Retik (heavy fire assistance) once again in a tall apartment building. Most of the platoons were to lead the assault from the beach. We advanced along the shore and kept our heads down, ducking behind a relatively high sand embankment. As a sharpshooter I crawled through the sand up to a chunk of concrete rubble and took a position. I fired at a nearby group of houses, scanning for enemy contacts in the windows and doorways. The mission was basically a beach-head version of the attack on Day 11.

Unlike Day 11, however, we advanced farther into Gaza itself and prepared for a series of day-time operations.

We continued moving forward and I tripped on an invisible wire. My initial thought was that it was fishing line attached to a booby trap. Sgt. Obama explained, however, that it was fiber-optic from all the rockets and missiles that the gunship helicopters had been launching. After the missile is fired there is a yarn-like ball of fiber-optic wiring inside the missile casing that unravels. This wire enables the pilot of the chopper to guide missile mid-air before impact. This wiring can sometimes extend for several kilometers. The helicopters had shot so many missiles that all of Gaza was covered with strong, thin, copper wire. Every night someone tripped and fell flat on their face from one of these wires.

As we were advancing Danny-Boy suddenly disappeared from view.

"Axel! Axel!" My Canadian friend heard a voice hiss at him seemingly from nowhere. "Don't just stand there! Help me!"

It was then that Axel saw the head and arm of Danny-Boy protruding from a hole in the ground. He had fallen into the entrance of a Hamas tunnel. Axel ran over to him and helped him out. He then reported the tunnel to the officers.

One of the greatest threats to Israel from the Gaza Strip is their massive and complex network of tunnels. These tunnels are used for weapons smuggling and storage. Even more frightening, however, is their usage to kidnap and/or kill soldiers. I heard the following account from a tank officer I know:

The tank officer, "Bob," was sitting in the cockpit of his Merkava tank with one of his crewmen, "Joe." They scanned the area for threats with thermal vision.

"Hey, Joe, do you see that on the thermal screen? There's something coming out of the ground over there."

"Yeah, Bob, I think it's a gopher or something."

"No... I don't think so. But... what is it?"

"Wait a minute, Joe, do you see that!"

Bob and Joe watched the thermal viewing screen. Just 50 meters in front of them a shovel popped out of a small hole in the ground. A human hand soon followed, groping the entrance of the tunnel and attempting to widen it.

Bob quickly and quietly waltzed over to the small hole. He tossed a hand grenade inside and ran.

And that was the end of a squad of Hamas terrorists. The tank officer and his crew inspected the site. They found a newly dug tunnel connected to the preexisting underground passage system. It was apparent that this Hamas team had the intention of kidnapping the tank crew just like Gilad Shalit. Unfortunately for them they made a mistake with the digging and surfaced just in front of the tank and their intended targets.

As Bugs Bunny would have said, they shouldn't have taken that left turn at Albuquerque.

It was near dawn and we had entered even further into Gaza. I was already exhausted from a night of combat and no sleep. But there was more to come...

First Sergeant Yared M. Ben-Caro is a combat soldier in the Israel Defense Force. During the Gaza War, he served in Paratrooper Battalion 890 in the Heavy Weapons & Recon Company as Lead Sharpshooter and Missile Specialist.

The Black Figure Outside the Window

Day 13: Jan. 15, 2009

February 8, 2009

We had already conquered Jabaleah and were in sight of what I believed to be Gaza University. We had arrived at the border of Gaza City itself. We left the six-story apartment building and set up briefly in one of the large mansions we had conquered a few days previously. The mansion had likewise been turned into an IDF field hospital for our battalion.

If anybody benefited from the war in Gaza it was definitely their animals. After all the abandonment, bombardment, as well as troop movements (without always closing the doors and gates behind us) practically all Palestinian livestock roamed happily and freely. It was a sight to behold, beautiful Arabian stallions munching contentedly on grass next to Israeli tanks. Cows waddled by and herds of sheep danced down the alleys.

Night fell and we prepared to move. Once again, however, the mission was postponed. Again, I am unsure of the reason. They don't tell me such things. But they did tell one thing...

Delilah and her suicide bomber squad were back.

I went on a midnight patrol with Sgt. Obama to secure the perimeter. We were playing cat and mouse with suicide bombers. We moved swiftly and silently from point to point, keeping a constant eye watching through night vision gun scopes and goggles. We searched for an hour and found nothing. We returned to the residence.

About an hour later Comrade heard a scuffling just outside the front door of the house and saw a black figure dart past the window. He was on watch at the time at a window about a meter away from the door. He improved his position and called out to the figure.

"Mi zeh?!" he shouted first in Hebrew, to be sure that he didn't shoot one of our own soldiers. Just the night before the reservists had accidentally opened fire on the colonel's entourage and wounded several soldiers due to poor communication and a lack of precaution.

There was no answer.

Comrade leveled his gun and continued scanning through the night vision scope, attempting to locate his target.

"Wakif! Wakif!" He called in Arabic with a thick Russian accent. "Wakif," is an Arabic term for "Stop" and the beginning of a phrase we use in the IDF that means "Stop! Surrender and put up your hands!" Any soldier that hears "Wakif" knows he better make sure the other soldier is aware of his true identity because he is probably just seconds away from getting shot.

And then, as if to answer his Arabic command, Comrade heard the unmistakable "B-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-h!" of a large, lost, black sheep.

Delilah never showed. At least, I never saw her. But a few more false alarms like this and she wouldn't even need to bother coming to the house to blow herself up.

First Sergeant Yared M. Ben-Caro is a combat soldier in the Israel Defense Force. During the Gaza War, he served in Paratrooper Battalion 890 in the Heavy Weapons & Recon Company as Lead Sharpshooter and Missile Specialist.

New Boots

Day 12: Jan. 14, 2009

February 6, 2009

We were in Jabaliyah. Our platoon had been split in half. The first class continued searching houses for weapons. I was with the second class and Sgt. Obama with the missiles. We were still stationed in the six story apartment building.

So I sat there on the third floor next to our SPIKE missile launcher, waiting for orders to start letting the missiles fly. There had been a disagreement between myself and Sgt. Obama over the placement of the launcher. Safety guidelines strongly discouraged launching a missile inside a room as small as the bedroom where I was located. The fiery backblast from the missile needs about five meters (18 ft) to spread out or else the shooter (yours truly) will be severely burned. Sgt. Obama swore that the bedroom of 3 meters (10 ft) was big enough. I disagreed, but hoped he was right.

I also argued about the practicality of shooting the missile at all. The ideal range of the missile is about 2-3 km, maybe even a little more. We were having problems with a few random snipers and some RPG teams at a distance of about 800 m to 1 km. I could hit them, but it would be difficult and honestly not worth the price of the missile, especially seeing that we had numerous tanks stationed nearby.

But nobody ever listens to me.

Later I was at the missile launcher and the RPG team returned. They fired another one. This one came much closer to hitting their target. Fortunately they miscalculated the range, and the RPG dropped just short of the apartment building itself. It exploded mere meters away from the building, missing both me on the third floor as well as the 150 propane tanks on the bottom floor. I almost fell from the force of the blast as it made its impact against the walls and windows of the building.

The tanks maintained a consistent bombardment of the city. Shaft and I began to make a game of it. We began placing bets as to the exact minute that the tanks would fire the next shell. The bets consisted of beer, burgers, and shwarma (roast meat, usually lamb, in a pita) that we pledged to buy for each other. At first I was losing, but then recovered after a double-or-nothing bet. By the time the tanks were done I owed both Shaft and Axel a burger and they owed me three beers. If we all survived it sounded like it would be a nice "guys-night-out" after the war.

Because I was functioning with Sgt. Obama as the lead missile specialist I was temporarily replaced by "Comrade," a Russian-Israeli immigrant as the lead sharpshooter. He continued with Captain America clearing out various building and searching for weapons.

He found a Beretta 9 mm.

But then he turned it in.

I was really upset. The one time I was temporarily replaced as lead sharpshooter he found a $1,500.00 handgun and just got rid of it. Obviously it was prohibited to acquire such things for oneself, but now it will probably just be locked away forever in an obscure gun warehouse and never see the light of day again.

Oh well.

I was also on a personal mission to find myself a pair of shoes. At the beginning of the operation my boots had been badly torn and damaged just from all the foot travel. I was beginning to have a serious problem with water and sand getting in my boots during marches or in the middle of combat, which obviously isn't a good thing. In every house we cleared I searched for a pair of boots of some kind. We stumbled upon a large supply of Hamas military-style uniforms complete with combat boots, but they were all too small. So my next hope was that the following Hamas operatives we killed would have large feet. Fortunately, however, there was no need and our logistics finally got me my new IDF boots after over a week of requesting.

During the entire operation all electricity in Gaza had been cut. In the apartment building we had found a small radio and jerry-rigged a military battery to it. For the first time in almost two weeks we could listen to the news. We still couldn't turn the lights on, however, for fear of snipers and RPG teams. So we sat in the darkness, next to a glowstick, and listened to voices from the outside world. After the news we switched channels to a popular Israeli radio station. We started taking shifts at the missile and lookout points, enabling the other soldiers to rest. I lay down on a mattress on the floor in the faint light of a single red glowstick...

I drifted off to sleep for a few priceless hours.

First Sergeant Yared M. Ben-Caro is a combat soldier in the Israel Defense Force. During the Gaza War, he served in Paratrooper Battalion 890 in the Heavy Weapons & Recon Company as Lead Sharpshooter and Missile Specialist.

A Staggering Miracle

Day 11: Jan. 13, 2009

February 5, 2009

Now we made our push forward. Our ultimate target was the city of Jabaleah, just outside Gaza City itself.

The assault was massive. We moved past a group of depots and warehouses. We then began to clear out a tall, six or seven story apartment building. We wanted the Retik, or heavy fire crew, of the Maslul (on-the-job training) Platoon to set up on the higher levels and cover our advance with their .50 caliber machine guns and their automatic grenade launchers.

Platoon 6 and Platoon 8 were in the front, as usual. I worked with my partner, Sgt. Baruch Obama, with Axel and Shaft backing me up from behind.

It was amazing to watch. One thing in particular that I remember was the tracer rounds. The heavy machine guns have a red tracer round every so many bullets so the gunner knows how many rounds he has shot and how many he has left. The red tracers look like lasers, and when the Retik starts firing multiple machine guns at once it is like something from a science fiction movie.

I was surprised when we entered the neighborhood. I had thought the Hamas houses before were affluent. But this was ridiculous. In all of my urban warfare training I had prepared for cheap, cinder block housing and shacks. These houses weren't merely mansions. They were palaces. I had trained to move from dumpsters to piles of debris. In reality I was ducking from one enormous Greek-style pillar to the next, and then charging through a beautiful rose garden. One of them even had a swimming pool in his back yard! The interior was even more elaborate, with marble floors, chandeliers, and even gold paneling in the bathrooms. I had seen few houses in Los Angeles or Orange County, California, that could be compared to these estates. And I was in the middle of the Gaza Strip! If you ever wondered where all that humanitarian funding went, now you know. Half of it went to missiles and AK-47's. The other half, apparently, went to fund the ever-so-essential interior decoration of the "suffering" Hamas Palestinians.

I recalled for a brief moment the non-Hamas Palestinians that I had encountered and their simple residences, as well as the mentally handicapped individual "living" in the shed. If only the world really knew…




But there was no time for that now. I was in the middle of a firefight. Hamas attempted to offer a strong resistance. They had already tossed a handgrenade at our Palchod (Forward Rifleman) Company and had moderately wounded a few of their soldiers. I thought for a second about my friend in the Forward Riflemen, "Koala Bear," from Philadelphia and wondered how he was doing and if he was okay.

I continued to scan the windows and doors of the neighboring mansions for terrorists. Axel and I put random, well-placed bullets into the windows while Shaft used his 7.62 mm MAG machine gun and strafed entire floors. We even saw several terrorists in the manor next door. We fired. We were unsure of the outcome.

We did scare most, if not all, of the terrorists out of the mansions and they made a hasty retreat down the street in order to regroup. It was a bad plan. The moment they left the "safety" of the houses the Cobra Gunship helicopters began to mow them down with their nose-mounted Vulcan cannons. Those that survived the choppers fared no better. Our Platoon 7 commenced firing their highly-accurate mortars into the narrow street. The explosions destroyed everything and everyone. It wasn't a pretty scene.

We had effectively set up a trap. The Hamas operatives resisting us had two choices. They could remain in the houses and be shot by me or blown up by our handgrenades and rocket launchers. Or they could attempt to flee and face death from above via helicopters and/or mortars. It was quite a dilemma with no positive outcome.

In that night alone we confirmed over thirty kills.

It was near dawn. We had been advancing and fighting all night. The final step of our mission was to clear out another six story apartment building. We would be spending the next day or two there, setting up both SPIKE missile positions as well as recon posts.

Because we didn't want Hamas initially to discover we were there we went in quietly and without any shooting. Previously we had entered every house with a coordinated pattern of shooting, grenade throwing, and covering fire from other platoons. With this apartment building we entered "dry," as they say in Hebrew. This term means we did not throw any grenades or shoot, but entered slowly, quietly, and cautiously, ready to shoot only if a threat was identified.




We entered the first floor silently and carefully. It was dark, but the room was full of many identical objects. I peered through my night vision scope but still couldn't identify them. I cautiously walked over, hoping that they weren't what I thought they were.

They were.

"Um… Lieutenant," I hissed to Captain America. "Did you see--"

"Yes, I saw them," he responded. "I know."

About half of the bottom floor of this apartment building was covered by over 150 large propane tanks. I know. I counted them. Each propane tank was about twice the size of the propane tanks commonly used for motorhomes in the United States.

It was not a Hamas trap. The landlord of this apartment building was simply an idiot that saw no problem in storing massive quantities of propane in a residential building.

If we had tossed a grenade in that apartment building or even started shooting like we had been doing all night about half of Gaza would have seen and heard us disappear in a gigantic mushroom of fire. Beyond doubt our entire platoon, maybe even the entire company, would have been killed.

I have been asked if I had experienced any miracles during the war. That was it. That was my miracle

First Sergeant Yared M. Ben-Caro is a combat soldier in the Israel Defense Force. During the Gaza War, he served in Paratrooper Battalion 890 in the Heavy Weapons & Recon Company as Lead Sharpshooter and Missile Specialist.

Attack Pigeons

Day 10: Jan. 12, 2009

February 4, 2009

We received orders to recommence our mission and to leave the house. So we left. Once again, however, the mission was postponed. We advanced only slightly and moved into a beachside resort house. The house itself was beautiful but rather uncomfortable. It was still under construction and therefore lacked furniture.

A strange feature of this house was pigeons. But not just any pigeons. I have never, ever encountered birds like these. I mean, they were like giant Hamas pigeons from hell. It sounds stupid, I know. But these pigeons were first of all huge. And they weren't afraid of anything. They would waddle up to you and become openly irritated at you for "invading their space." They would actually start pecking at your feet, expressing their annoyance. They wouldn't leave you alone unless you physically shooed them away. Then they would fly around the corner of the building for exactly thirty seconds and then return, twice as many of them as before, and literally start attacking you. I have never seen anything like it in my life. It was so freaky we even made videos of it.

In this house we met up with Platoon 5, the Recon Platoon. I soon found my good friends, "Wee-Man" from South Africa and "The Glowing" from Connecticut, USA. As soldiers always do, we began swapping stories.

Wee-Man and The Glowing related a story involving a true miracle. The Recon Platoon had been advancing to another position. Because they are reconnaissance, they are often, but not always, much farther forward than most other platoons. In this particular case they had moved so far ahead that the tanks had not yet realized their presence. The tanks received the wrong coordinates of a Hamas squad, saw the Recon Platoon, and fired a shell at them. The shell landed in the sand at the feet of a Russian-Israeli commander. The sand, however, apparently had not been dense enough to detonate the shell. It skidded "harmlessly" to a halt about a meter away from him. He stood there, staring in shock at the unexploded tank shell.

Another battalion of the paratroopers wasn't so lucky. Their 1st lieutenant had led a platoon into a house and conquered it. Similarly the tanks had been unaware of their incursion and had received distorted coordinates of Hamas activity. To make it worse the 1st lieutenant briefly took off his helmet, presumably to adjust the straps. The tanks put a shell into the house through the window. This shell, however, did explode. He was killed instantaneously.

(Note: I have heard an alternate report of this story insisting that the 1st lieutenant was killed by a Hamas RPG attack. After a brief personal investigation I have determined that the account given by Wee-Man and The Glowing involving friendly tank fire is more accurate.

I also heard a report about an almost successful attempt by Hamas to kidnap one of our soldiers, but was never able to get enough details or verify the validity of this rumor. Any information or comments about either incident are welcome.)

Not all the stories and rumors heard in the army are accurate or truthful. In fact, most of them probably are not. At one point I even heard a claim that one of our best special forces units had located and rescued the previously kidnapped soldier, Gilad Shalit. I immediately discredited this rumor as false, as it obviously was.




They had another story for me. They were making an urban assault when one of the sharpshooters of Platoon 5 spotted a figure in the window of a neighbor house. He called it in. The person was dressed in a civilian sweater, standing near the window, and taking notes on a notepad. It was obvious that he was spying for Hamas against the Israeli advance. The sharpshooter received permission to fire. He misjudged the range, however, and barely missed, hitting just above his head. It turns out that the figure was the soldier of another battalion entirely. While stationed in the Hamas house he had become cold, put on a civilian sweater, taken off his helmet, stood next to the window, and began making notes of… I don't know what. It was not a very smart thing to do. And he almost paid for it with his life.

And so now I will address the question that has been posed to me many times: "Why so much friendly fire?" Basically there are three reasons friendly fire occurs.

First of all, there is something called "The Fog of War." When everything is literally blowing up around you the human body enters a state of shock that makes proper and accurate communication very difficult. The deafening noise doesn't help either. An entire group of people trying to function in this state of shock, noise, and confusion is highly problematic. One of the most important goals of military training is to reduce this shock to a minimum and to teach soldiers to operate automatically and according to instincts. While training helps dramatically it does not totally eliminate the shock factor.

Another problem is a lack of "originality," as it is called in Hebrew, with the differing units and battalions. Within Paratroopers 890, especially the Heavy Weapons & Recon Company, I usually know exactly who is going where and doing what without even thinking about it. You just know from months, even years, of training and experience who is going to do what, where, why, how, etc. We do not, however, necessarily have the same knowledge as to what the tanks, for example, are going to do. Likewise, they do not necessarily know how we move and operate.

And then we must consider that people sometimes just do stupid things, either from shock or some other unknown reason. While stupidity to this level is rare, all it takes is one person not using their brain to take out an entire platoon.

If there was one definite mistake of Operation Cast Lead it was the amount of friendly fire. As aforementioned it is very, very unfortunate that the majority of casualties were from friendly fire rather than Hamas reprisal.

First Sergeant Yared M. Ben-Caro is a combat soldier in the Israel Defense Force. During the Gaza War, he served in Paratrooper Battalion 890 in the Heavy Weapons & Recon Company as Lead Sharpshooter and Missile Specialist.

A Culinary Curse

Day 9: Jan. 11, 2009

February 3, 2009

Finally we received our orders. We were to continue farther south to Jabaleah, very close to Gaza City itself.

We prepared to leave that evening. At about 5 pm we started to move. We proceeded for about five minutes, and then we were told to return to that same lousy house. The mission had been postponed. I'm still not sure what the reason was. I know it was partly due to a suicide bomber squad led by a certain Hamas woman. I have bestowed upon her the moniker of "Delilah." Delilah headed a suicide bomber and RPG squad that irritated us throughout the entire operation. They would move, intel and/or recon would spot them, and then they would disappear, most likely entering abandoned houses.

So we returned to the house and waited, keeping a careful eye out for Delilah or one of her crew.

Meanwhile we came up with a new culinary discovery. Being tired of tuna, Shaft, Axel, and I actually requested a few cans of Loof in our next logistic drop. What is Loof? You are simply better off not knowing. But it is basically Kosher corned beef in a can. If there was a Kosher version of Spam, it would be Loof. I am not sure who the man was that brought the curse of Spam upon the non-Jewish world. But someone apparently thought that the Jewish people, especially the Israelis, should not be exempt from this affliction. They made Loof as a Kosher substitute, using Kosher beef instead of pork. Loof is so disgusting that there have actually been efforts and even movements to ban it from the army. Somehow it has managed to survive the negative onslaught, and it is still an important part of IDF field supplies.

I remember one time back in training I got a hold of a few extra cans and mailed them to my friends in the United States. Not being able to read the Hebrew very well they were unsure of what it was. They opened it and decided it was dog food. Their golden retriever loved it.

Anyway we discovered a way to make it palpable. We chopped the Loof first into very small cubes. We mixed it with onions and various spices. We then cooked it on a propane burner with a touch of corn oil and placed it into a roll. It actually wasn't too bad. Either that or we were just that sick of tuna and mini-salami sticks.

We dubbed our new sandwich "The Meaty Axel."

First Sergeant Yared M. Ben-Caro is a combat soldier in the Israel Defense Force. During the Gaza War, he served in Paratrooper Battalion 890 in the Heavy Weapons & Recon Company as Lead Sharpshooter and Missile Specialist.

A Sad Decision

Day 8: Jan. 10, 2009

February 2, 2009

We were officially sick and tired of waiting in that same house. The army and/or politicians needed to make up their minds what they wanted to do.

This night, for some strange reason, we were ordered to leave the house for one night only and guard the logistics rendezvous of Battalion 101. I'm still not sure why we were sent. And it was cold. Really, really cold. It reminded me of our first night in Gaza, but not quite as severe.

Being in Gaza with little to no contact of the outside world we really had no idea what was going on in the rest of the world. What we did know is that the world was angry with us. Big shocker there. We did not know, however, that almost the entire country of Israel and especially the Jewish communities outside of Israel were behind us and supported us. Even the more left wing political groups that normally disapprove of military operations in Gaza were in favor. The question in Israel was not so much "Should we?" as it was "How should we?" Or, more specifically, "How much?" and "How far?"

We did hear, however, that Hezbollah fired missiles at northern Israel from Lebanon. We all groaned when we heard this news. I had always been worried about that. The last thing I wanted was a war on two fronts. The paratroopers especially are the most mobile of all the military units. That meant that if we survived Gaza we would be immediately sent to Lebanon, or at least, to the northern border. We later heard that Hezbollah vehemently denied responsibility for the missile attacks and it didn't happen again. They probably saw what we were doing in Gaza and thought twice about bringing the "Zionist War Machine" back into southern Lebanon. I hope so. That was kind of the idea.

We also received news about our mortar platoon, Platoon 7. Hamas had set up two missile positions on the roof of a school and demanded that the classes remain in session. With at least 35 children beneath, Hamas terrorists commenced firing the Russian-made "Grad" missiles towards Ashkelon, Ashdod, and my apartment.

So what do you do in that situation? My friends sat in their APC and aimed their Keshet-system heavy mortars. They had the missile launchers and their crews targeted. They knew that if they pushed that button, they would probably kill dozens of Palestinian children. But they also knew that if they did NOT push that button, there was a good chance that they would kill dozens of our children. So what did they do?

They pushed the button.

The missile crews were immediately destroyed, the missile threat eliminated, and the lives of at least 35 Palestinian children extinguished in a single moment.

It is still considered an "international incident" of great debate to this day.

It brings to mind a quote by Golda Meir, former prime minister of Israel.

"There will be peace in the Middle East when the Arabs love their own children more than they hate ours."

And just for the record I have the following message to say to Hamas or anyone that is upset with IDF military operations:

WE DO NOT ENJOY KILLING CHILDREN. STOP SHOOTING MISSILES FROM SCHOOLS AND HOSPITALS!

It's not a difficult concept.

Are the lives of their children worth bad publicity for the Israeli army? Only they can answer that question.

First Sergeant Yared M. Ben-Caro is a combat soldier in the Israel Defense Force. During the Gaza War, he served in Paratrooper Battalion 890 in the Heavy Weapons & Recon Company as Lead Sharpshooter and Missile Specialist.

Our Secret Weapon Against Hamas

Day 7: Jan. 9, 2009

February 1, 2009

First and foremost, I want to say that today was a very happy day for me. I finally got my toothbrush! We had been told to place all toothbrushes and similar items that we did not absolutely need for the initial assault into a bag. The bag would then be delivered to us on the morning of the second day after the initial entry.

Yeah, right.

Somewhere along the line our logistics misplaced the bag. So this whole time I had been without any toothbrush or deodorant of any kind. In my mind it was our new, secret weapon against Hamas: eating tuna for a week with no toothbrush in sight! Our breath and body odor alone would kill them. Finally after a week of not being able to brush our teeth logistics sent us all new toothbrushes and toothpaste. I don't know who donated them but I want to truly thank them from the very bottom of my heart. (And for all the other donations, by the way.) I brushed my teeth… twice. I reveled and delighted in the wonderful, minty freshness.

I hope everyone realizes the kind of sacrifices I was making and the hardships I faced for the Jewish people… Just kidding.

We were still in that same house. Waiting. There was some kind of debate amongst the generals as well. Some were in favor of pushing south and proceeding all the way to the edge of Gaza City itself. Others preferred that we exit and then reenter and conquer ****, an area known for weapons storage. (Censored for security). We waited for our orders.

The 1st lieutenant of the Heavy Weapons & Recon Company, Captain Crunch, informed us of another small assignment. There was another neighborhood that needed to be searched. This neighborhood was abandoned but was not a Hamas neighborhood. It was a Fatah area.

Captain Crunch and Sgt. Obama led the squad, checking the neighborhood for weapons. As the lead sharpshooter if there was a locked door I would shoot it. (It works better in the movies). Even after shooting the lock the door wouldn't always open. In such circumstances Danny-boy would simply blow it down with the "Simon." The "Simon" is a "small" flat-head explosive device attached to the end of the barrel of the M4 rifle. Danny-boy would fire a live round. The force of the bullet would then propel the flat, disk-like explosive against the nearby door. The disk would explode on contact, and ideally blow down the door. It usually worked really well.

We searched numerous small houses. These Fatah members apparently suffered financially for opposing Hamas, and were living in small one room shacks compared to the Hamas mansions. It was a unique feeling walking into a small house and seeing a huge photo of Yasir Arafat framed on the wall. We were in a completely different world. But the strangest thing of all was that after I exited the small house and checked the roof I could see the smokestacks from a factory in nearby Ashkelon.

Home was close, and yet it never felt so far away.

First Sergeant Yared M. Ben-Caro is a combat soldier in the Israel Defense Force. During the Gaza War, he served in Paratrooper Battalion 890 in the Heavy Weapons & Recon Company as Lead Sharpshooter and Missile Specialist.

A Soldier’s Inner Turmoil

Day 6: Jan. 8, 2009

January 30, 2009

We stayed in our Hamas mansion at the very front. I soon discovered that waiting in the same place was more dangerous than advancing. By sitting in the same house it became obvious to Hamas where we were located. And although we had defensive positions set up in the windows, it drained us physically and mentally to stare at the same empty alley or neighborhood. The problem is that you knew the moment you let down your guard someone would come strolling down the road with a suicide belt of explosives or an RPG. But you also had to guard yourself against shooting recklessly and possibly hitting our own troops.

We continued searching Hamas houses. We found uniforms, AK-47s, RPGs, etc. At one point Captain America found a safe. He placed C4 explosives on the safe to detonate it and open it. We are the missile platoon, however, and not the explosives platoon.

He used just a tad bit too much...

He succeeded in opening the safe, but blew up everything inside as well. We watched thousands of dollars, pounds, francs, shekels, dinars, etc., fly around the room and burn.

Oops...

I personally got a kick out of my two discoveries. I found the popular "Grand Theft Auto" video game next to a computer. This video game, however, had been edited by Moslem hackers and was now "Grand Theft Auto: Gaza City," complete with all street signs converted to Arabic and the characters themselves made to look more Arab.

We also found an official Hamas "end-of-training" t-shirt, very similar to the t-shirts we receive in the IDF at the end of our advanced training. I was tempted to take the shirt and write on it, "I went to war in Gaza and all I got was this lousy t-shirt!"

On a more serious note we received bad news about the Maslul (on-the-job training) platoon of our battalion. They had been clearing out houses. Their platoon-commanding lieutenant was one of the best friends of our platoon-commander, Captain America. He had been storming a Hamas house. He climbed the stairs cautiously. His head was slightly above the level of the second floor. A booby trap exploded and sent shrapnel into his mouth and through part of his brain. He survived, but was obviously in critical condition.

The saddest thing about this story is that he had just gotten married a week beforehand. He had just received orders that were preparing to go in. He had already planned his wedding and barely received half a day out of the army. He literally got married and returned just before we went into Gaza.

I am unsure of his current condition. Last I heard he was able to recognize his wife and family and squeeze when the doctor said squeeze, etc. But he is currently unable to communicate. But that might be because of all the tubes in his mouth, etc.




I would normally write his name here so that people may pray for him. But for privacy purposes I have been asked not to disclose it.

These are the questions that every soldier thinks about after the war. Why not me? Why him? Of the few casualties in Operation Cast Lead, and of all the soldiers, why him? Why the endeavoring and aspiring lieutenant, the newlywed? Why not the soldier without a family? Why not the soldier that is corrupt and only there because of the mandatory draft?

This is the way we think as humans. This is also the way Job was thinking and presented the exact same question first to his friends and then G‑d Himself after, in a single moment, he lost his entire family and all his possessions. "Why me? It's not fair."

G‑d's only real answer to Job was that He had a plan. That He created the world and knew what He was doing.

I am sure that rabbis have multitudes of comments on the matter. I, however, am not a rabbi. I am merely a soldier. I did my best not to think about it too much. All I could do was mention his name in my prayers and continue my part in the Operation. The rabbis would continue to fight to discover the mysteries of the universe. I would meanwhile continue to fight the terrorists down the street... then ask the rabbis for their conclusions afterwards.

First Sergeant Yared M. Ben-Caro is a combat soldier in the Israel Defense Force. During the Gaza War, he served in Paratrooper Battalion 890 in the Heavy Weapons & Recon Company as Lead Sharpshooter and Missile Specialist.

Police Mode vs. War Mode

Day 5: Jan. 7, 2009

January 29, 2009 12:11 PM

We had set up our position at the very front of the Israeli offensive into Gaza. We were it. We were the front line. We had advanced faster and farther than any other unit in the army. Such being the case, we accepted a request to help the 101st Battalion of the Paratroopers. They had also continued their advance, but they had not yet cleared out all of the houses in their area of operations. So, while they secured themselves also on the very front, we sent a platoon to go behind them and thoroughly check the residential areas that 101 had passed through briefly for weapons, explosives, etc.

That platoon was us, Platoon 6 of Heavy Weapons and Recon, Battalion 890.

We began our entrance into the Palestinian neighborhood. This entrance, however, was unlike all of our other offensives. All of our other advances had been in full war mode against mostly abandoned and very rich Hamas neighborhoods. The little human population we encountered consisted exclusively of a scattered collection of heavily armed terrorists sporting AK-47s, Dragonov sniper rifles, and the classic RPGs. We smashed them hard with no hesitation.

This neighborhood, however, was not a Hamas neighborhood. It was therefore not a rich neighborhood either. In the IDF we have two basic modus operandi. I call them "War Mode" and "Police Mode." In "War Mode" we destroy pretty much everything and everyone. We do our best to avoid civilian casualties, and certainly do not target them. The problem is that terrorists, contrary to popular conception, do not walk around in uniforms and carry Hamas flags. They wear civilian clothing. This factor creates a huge headache for the Rules of Engagement. Under normal circumstances an individual taking a stroll in non-military clothing is a civilian. But the moment he pulls a hand-grenade out of his pocket, he becomes a terrorist and a threat. One thing that always seemed ironic to me, however, is that the moment he throws the hand-grenade he immediately becomes unarmed. This is one of the reasons why the calculations of "civilians" killed varies so much between Hamas and Israeli figures. (And, of course, the obvious fact that Hamas lies.) In the mindset of Hamas, the sixteen year-old youth that just threw a hand-grenade is now currently unarmed and therefore should not be killed, especially because he is only sixteen. I, personally, strongly differ with that idea. I think if anyone, even a sixteen year-old kid, throws a hand-grenade at anyone, especially me, he should be promptly and immediately shot. I can tell you from personal experience that I have seen sixteen year-olds kill just as well, or better, than a sixty year-old. And he knows full-well what he is doing.

So the point is that in "War Mode" we destroy. We shoot first and ask questions later... In "Police Mode," however, we function much more like an American SWAT team and do our best to capture and interrogate, and assume that human contact is civilian until proven to be a threat.

For this assignment Captain America informed us that we were switching to "Police Mode." Apparently 101 had spotted numerous persons in the area, and they were not an immediate Hamas threat. We were going into that neighborhood to determine just that. It was possible that they were merely civilians who for some unknown reason had decided to sit in their houses while we bombed everything around them. Or it was possible that they were actually Hamas, or associated with one of the many other terror organizations in the Gaza Strip.

We entered the neighborhood. I placed my M4 assault rifle around a corner and covered Captain America and "Afula." Afula was our radioman. He was leading the offensive with Captain America due to his ability to speak Arabic. He had learned to speak both Arabic and English originally from the shuks and marketplaces of northern Israel. He later touched up his linguistic skills with military courses in interrogation and hostage negotiation.




I scanned the narrow alleyways with Shaft at my side. He worked to steady his very heavy MAG 7.62 mm squad machine gun, ready to send a massive volley of bullets down a side alley if any threat made the mistake of approaching.

There we remained. The tension was high. We knew for a fact that there was human contact in the area. And, because we were in "Police Mode," the tension was even higher. "Police Mode" is much more dangerous because you have to wait until the human contact proves himself to be a threat before you kill him. That means that if he is a suicide bomber or has any kind of weapon he has the advantage of your hesitation. And they know it, too.

I kneeled at the corner for what seemed like an eternity. A donkey walked by. Then a rooster. Then a dog. Then a small horse. Then a group of sheep. Then a cat. Then a goat. And then, to my surprise, an entire gaggle of ducks waddled by. (Is it a gaggle for ducks too, or just geese?...) And there, with my assault rifle ready to fire, and Shaft next to me with an enormous machine gun, I couldn't resist but comment.

"Hey, Shaft," I hissed across the alley. "What is this? Are we assaulting a petting zoo?!"

The problem was that he started laughing. We both did our best to remain as quiet as possible. It broke the tension, but two Americans holding machine guns and laughing isn't a smart idea. Major Bloodlust was in the area and gave us a warning glance, sending the obvious message that we needed to stay serious and control ourselves.

Captain America and Afula neared the entrance of one of the houses. If you could call it a house. It was more like a group of large shacks thrown together somehow. Afula began to shout in Arabic. I speak no Arabic, but some words are very similar to Hebrew, so I can pick up a little bit here and there. Likewise, he translated it all into Hebrew for Captain America.

"If there is anyone inside, come out and surrender immediately! If you do not, you will be killed!"

Without hesitation an entire family exited the dwelling. A man, his several wives, and numerous children. All obviously very poor and unarmed. We leveled our rifles at them but did not shoot. Afula carried on the conversation, asking basic questions such as "Do you have any weapons?" and "Is there anyone else inside?"

The answer to both questions was "No." We proceeded to tie up the men with cable ties and blindfold them. The women we didn't touch. Then we told the men and their families to sit in a certain corner of their "yard" and guarded them. I then proceeded to enter to house and check for weapons.

These people had no connection to Hamas. Therefore they were unarmed and very, very poor. I went through the house searching everywhere for weapons, doing my best not to damage what little they had.

We continued on to the next residences, leaving soldiers to guard the first family. Afula again called out in Arabic, and again a similar-looking family exited. Again they were poor and unarmed.

It was the same story, more or less, but there was a little twist to the conversation. This time there was still one person inside the residence, but he was "too sick" to exit. Afula told him that if he did not come out he would be killed. The father of the family protested, saying in Arabic (that I actually understood) that he was mentally ill and therefore simply incapable of exiting. We were unsure of what to do. The only reasonable solution it seemed was to proceed with caution. Maybe there was someone legitimately unable to exit the shack. Maybe it was a trap, and there was someone sitting there waiting for me to round the corner holding a machine gun, grenade, or an RPG. I moved forward and "opened the corner," as we call it in Hebrew, finger on the trigger and ready for anything.

I will never forget what I saw in there. I can't even begin to properly to describe what was in that shed. Neither do I really want to. I saw what bore some resemblance to a human being. But his mental faculties were so low that he was living like an animal. Worse than an animal. He was filthy, covered in his own urine, excrement, and some sort of wet mush that he apparently considered "food."

I looked over my shoulder to Sgt. Obama.

"What is this place? Where are we?"

Then he explained. This neighborhood was incredibly poor. It also consisted largely of Bedouin Arabs. It was basically a colony, if you will, of the extremely poor, the physically and mentally ill. Most of them were inbred even, the result of incestuous polygamy. They were simply financially, physically, or mentally incapable of fleeing our assault and bombardment. So there they sat, with mortars and bombs falling all around them, waiting their fate.

Hamas, the great "Martyrs of Freedom," "Warriors of the People," had left them there to die. These people were too poor and/or sick to be of any use to them.

At one point one of our soldiers, Danny-Boy, peered out the window and checked for threats from the outside. Almost immediately a bullet slammed into the wall just next to his head. But it wasn't a terrorist threat. It was one of our own snipers. He was not part of our battalion and had been both confused as to our location as well as a bit trigger-happy. The saddest part of Operation Cast Lead is that we ended up killing more of our own soldiers with friendly fire than even Hamas did.

After checking the house I sat on the "porch" and guarded the family. One of the men was sick with a pretty bad cold. He was tied up and blindfolded, just to be on the safe side. But his nose was dirty. Sgt. Obama asked me if I still had my toilet paper (an obvious necessity in the army). He then gave one of the women a strip of tissue and permission to briefly clean his nose.

Another soldier, however, wasn't as sympathetic. We had given him the nickname "Commander Darwin" due to his obvious stupidity and because he was quite clearly the missing link of Darwinian evolution. Commander Darwin first complained that we were in "Police Mode" rather than "War Mode." Captain America harshly rebuked him for that comment. He later began an argument with a half-crazy old woman. She was rambling on an on, something about Allah protecting them and so forth. I ignored her but Commander Darwin began a theological debate with her. Sgt. Obama and I both grew angry. Sgt. Obama, both of ours superior, told him in no uncertain terms to shut his mouth.

I agreed 100% with Sgt. Obama. I had absolutely no problem killing terrorists. And I will continue to shoot them and blow them up and utterly destroy their headquarters and mansions at every opportunity and not think twice about it. These people, however, are not my enemy. I don't think they particularly liked me, but so what? They were incapable in all facets of doing anything negative to me or the Jewish people. So just leave them alone.

Axel claimed later that he saw Commander Darwin secretly, intentionally, and unnecessarily damage one of their cars while searching for weapons. Axel later made a comment about it to me and the army doctor. The army doctor was enraged and swore that he would have Commander Darwin investigated and put in jail.

His fate has yet to be determined.

It is with great embarrassment that I relate the account of Commander Darwin. But I write it for two reasons. First, I want my story to be as accurate as possible. True history is the real story, not just the parts we want to remember. Also there is a very serious morale to be learned from his actions. Blind hate is the reason why there is no peace with the Jewish people. People hate us blindly. But if we respond to blind hate with more blind hate, it becomes a vicious circle and ultimately more people die. I hate Hamas. I hate terrorism. I did not and do not hate those people.

After a few hours we untied the men and left. I looked at the faces of the men, curious to see how they were responding to being tied up and blindfolded for several hours. To my surprise they were laughing about it. They would probably forever tell their friends and family about the day they "survived the Israeli assault," and sat tied up for several hours. Just as I tell my stories I am sure that even now they are telling their stories. Maybe there is even a blog somewhere in Arabic on the internet...

As we were leaving, one of the wives who did not suffer from any mental handicaps admitted to us that they were suffering from Hamas as well. My initial thought was that she was simply trying to patronize us, lying to us in order to gain favor. But I thought twice about that judgment as I returned to the Hamas mansion just down the street complete with computers, plasma screen televisions, and a greenhouse full of weeds.

No, I don't think she was lying. She knew who the real enemy was. And it wasn't me.

First Sergeant Yared M. Ben-Caro is a combat soldier in the Israel Defense Force. During the Gaza War, he served in Paratrooper Battalion 890 in the Heavy Weapons & Recon Company as Lead Sharpshooter and Missile Specialist.

Ammunition Warehouses and Greenhouses

Day 4: Jan. 6, 2009

January 26, 2009

After spending the night in a small apartment building, just before dawn we started our advance. The highlight of this advance was the ultimate target: taking over a weapons depot. This weapons depot was theoretically a set of warehouses holding food and other canned supplies. Hamas, however, currently stored more rockets and rifles there than anything else.

We continued through the city and entered a group of greenhouses. Everywhere in Gaza there are greenhouses. Some of them are from the Jewish settlers before they were forcefully evacuated. Most of them, however, are from a man named George Soros. George Soros is a philanthropist who donated billions of dollars building greenhouses for the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. That's great, but apparently the Palestinians failed to realize that the greenhouses only have value if you actually grow things in them. Almost every greenhouse in Gaza was in perfect condition (or at least, they were before we got there). They were also full of weeds. That was something that really surprised me. The Palestinians are genuinely starving to death, and they have greenhouses full of weeds growing in their backyards.

Likewise because the ground is so fertile, and once upon a time there was produce, there are now onions, potatoes, and various other edibles growing randomly. Sometimes even in the gutter. These onions and potatoes provided a creative way for us soldiers to add some variety to the tuna and mini-salami sticks that we ate exclusively the entire operation.

This greenhouse was no exception and was also full of weeds and an occasional lonely onion. My platoon entered the large greenhouse first and waited. Then the mortars, as usual, began the bombardment. During the operation I had discovered that the IDF apparently has no real doctrine of "Danger Close." In the American military it is an official rule that there is no bombardment within 300 meters of their own troops. In the Israeli military I was beginning to realize that there is no such rule. The previous day we had been in a house and the sharpshooters were taking positions near the windows. Axel and another sharpshooter, Lax, were having a disagreement about the safety goggles we wear during urban warfare. Lax insisted that it was okay to take them off, but Axel wasn't so sure. A few moments later one of the choppers sighted a threat of some kind in the house next to us. They fired a missile. The whole house shook violent and all the windows that weren't broken already shattered. The shards of glass flew to the opposite side of room and all the soldiers inside the house dove to the ground. Captain America called over the radio and demanded that they cease firing, or at the very least give us some kind of forewarning.



And here in the greenhouse it wasn't much different. The mortars and missiles fell. The demolitions platoon also took down a few buildings. With every large explosion I watched flaming debris land on the transparent roof of the greenhouse just over my head. I listened to the trickling sound of small pieces of stone and concrete landing on tin roofs and the transparent greenhouse roofing. It was not unlike a momentary hailstorm.

After the initial bombardment we moved forward. We entered the depot. By this time it was abandoned and most, but not all, of the weapons removed. We found a brand new, $50,000 Toyota Land Cruiser parked near the office. The Land Cruiser had been outfitted with a custom package, including leather seats as well as specially-designed Hamas hood ornaments and other paraphernalia. When I found the car it had already taken quite a bit of damage from the bombing and shooting. One of the tires, however, was still inflated.

"I haven't done this since I was back in the United States!" I announced as I whipped out my commando knife and stabbed the tire. I felt a personal satisfaction from the ensuing hissing sound.

We got a good laugh out of it but I was still reminded by Captain America that this was not our goal in the operation. "The place is already full of terrorists. They don't need any more." And he was right. It is extremely important to remain professional and looting is not the objective. Still, the car was all but destroyed and they had bought it with humanitarian funding. So I felt no qualms of conscience.

We were just about finished with the day's assignment. We continued the usual pattern of entry and covering fire, taking and searching house and building after house and building. At one point we were moving along a house with a large quantity of smoke billowing out of the windows and openings. A propane tank had been inside and the mortars ignited it. Now the house was on fire, and there were a few more propane tanks outside. We kept moving as quickly as possible without exposing ourselves to gunfire.

We made the depot the new logistics rendezvous. This part of the city would be our new base of operations for the next few days while we waited (as usual) for the rest of the army to advance and the politicians to... do whatever it is that politicians do. I have yet to figure that out.

First Sergeant Yared M. Ben-Caro is a combat soldier in the Israel Defense Force. During the Gaza War, he served in Paratrooper Battalion 890 in the Heavy Weapons & Recon Company as Lead Sharpshooter and Missile Specialist.

Booby Traps and Tuna Soufflé

Day 3: Jan. 5, 2009

January 25, 2009

We continued taking building after building. In the afternoon we moved on after tossing a few smoke grenades to cover our advance. Resistance was still minimal. But now we ran into a different problem.

Booby traps.

We had taken control of a small apartment building. While I continued with Sgt. Obama and Axel to clear out each floor, Captain America advanced with his squad to clear out a neighboring building. Intel had told us that there was a very large mine buried in the road. Sure enough, there it was. Captain America placed about a kilogram cube of C4 explosives on the mine itself, lit the fuse, and ran. He and his squad returned to the apartment complex that I had just finished clearing.

"Get inside! Now!" Captain America started yelling at us. I was currently unaware that he had placed the charge, but was smart enough not to ask questions. I dropped what I was doing and dove into one of the small apartments.

A blinding, hot, white and pink flash seared the alley and shattered all of the windows. It was obvious that if the mine had not been discovered ahead of time it would have easily taken out the entire platoon.

Once again we settled in for the night, now in the newly conquered apartment building. I stood in the corner of a bedroom, gazing out of the window from an angle that I knew to minimize exposure to snipers.

I looked over my shoulder and saw Shaft, our American MAG machine gunner from Rhode Island, praying the evening prayers in the living room of the apartment. The unique thing, though, was how he was praying. In the IDF we have a tradition of making "tuna soufflé" by placing squares of toilet paper into the oil of a tuna can and then igniting them. The toilet paper burns like the wick of an oil lamp and thusly cooks the tuna. It actually tastes a lot better than it sounds. Anyway that was the only source of light we were provided. So there he sat, huddled next to a flaming can of tuna and praying. I smiled.

Hey, whatever works!

First Sergeant Yared M. Ben-Caro is a combat soldier in the Israel Defense Force. During the Gaza War, he served in Paratrooper Battalion 890 in the Heavy Weapons & Recon Company as Lead Sharpshooter and Missile Specialist.

Snipers, Mortars and Missiles

Day 2: Jan. 4, 2009

January 23, 2009 1:17 PM

The sun rose, for which I was quite thankful. In my mind sunlight logically equaled warmth, which was a very welcome idea at the moment. I then began to survey my surroundings in the daylight. To the east and south was the beginnings of a town. To my memory it was called Hellatatrah. I was surprised, however, to see sparkling blue Mediterranean water to the west. I knew were close to the beach but I didn't realize how close.

We remained in our foxholes waiting for the rest of the army to catch up. Late that morning I heard a distant cracking noise followed by low, dull buzzing similar to angry hornets flying around our heads.

It was sniper fire.

I dove back into my foxhole and cautiously peered over the edge with my M4 assault rifle and Trigicon scope, trying to determine where the bullets were coming from. A nearby tank, however, identified the source of enemy fire before I did. A few well-placed tank shells in his building ended his relatively short-lived career as a Hamas sniper. He wasn't the only one, however, and we continued this pattern for most of the day.



Somewhere about lunchtime I actually began paying attention to the orchard itself. The trees themselves were fruitless, but they were surrounded by greenery that I originally thought were merely weeds. In reality they were peas. Nice, fresh peas in a pod. They were abandoned, forlorn, lonely... and really tasty. So Axel and I spent the whole day sitting in a foxhole, taking fire from an occasional sniper, and eating peas. It was then and there that we came up with a new personal objective for Operation Cast Lead. We were going to eat our way through Gaza.

Then nightfall came. As soon as the sun set we made our way to a nearby, make-shift logistics center to re-supply. While refilling our water and food as well as finally getting rid of the missiles we heard a burst of nearby gunfire. The shots were followed by a commander from a sister platoon screaming and collapsing to the ground. I readied my rifle and scanned through my night vision scope for the threat. But it wasn't enemy fire. It was a freak accident. Somehow the 7.62 mm MAG machine gun mounted on an Achzerit armored personal carrier went off and hit the commander in the chest three times at point blank range. To my shock he miraculously survived. Somehow his ceramic body armor stopped all three bullets. I was quite surprised because the body armor is not supposed to be strong enough to stop 7.62 mm rounds at that close of range. He suffered a few cracked ribs and a punctured lung. But still, he survived and he will eventually have a full recovery.

Now we assaulted the town itself. Once again the bombardment began. Either it was heavier than before or, more likely, we were simply a lot closer to the falling shells and rockets. I particularly marveled at the missiles fired from the choppers. They made a strange, almost science fiction noise as they descended from the sky. And there is nothing, and I mean nothing, like an incoming Hellfire missile.

It was definitely a show. No amount of television or video games can prepare you for it. It is simply an overload of all your senses. You feel the rumbling in your body. You feel your ears popping from the pressure. You smell the sulfur and burnt flesh. Burnt flesh is a smell you can never forget. In one house particularly several Hamas operatives tried to make a stand. One incendiary missile ended that endeavor. I remained crouched behind a half-destroyed building watching the flames lick the night sky and hearing the terrorists scream.

We pressed forward. We ourselves, the paratroopers, encountered almost no resistance. Hamas was unable to stand against the mortars and air force. We continued moving and ultimately took over a small neighborhood known for Hamas activity. We entered the first house. Normally I am partnered with the platoon-commanding lieutenant, Captain America, and kick the door in and go in first. The platoon was divided into two squads: the lead squad and the missile squad. For this operation, however, the head sergeant requested to change the order a little bit and made me the lead missile specialist as well as the lead sharpshooter of the second squad. It had its advantages and disadvantages. It was definitely more my style to kick the door in, but in the second squad I was partnered with my best friend Axel as well as the head sergeant. The head sergeant is an Ethiopian Jew named Baruch that has accordingly earned the nickname "Commanding-Sergeant Baruch Obama."

Anyway Sgt. Obama sent me to one of the windows to give covering fire for Platoon 8 as they entered a neighboring house. With the other sharpshooters as well as our MAG machine gunner I started putting bullets in all the windows and other openings. Arab houses have a unique water system consisting of large plastic black tanks on the roof that stores water and heats it with sunlight. I couldn't resist putting a bullet or two into the water tank. Then the company commander gave the order to cease firing. All was quiet except for the trickling of large quantities of water. Apparently every other soldier had likewise given in to the temptation to put a few bullets in the water tanks.

Once again we had worked all night and now it was near daybreak, so we fortified ourselves in one of the Hamas leader's houses. Again we waited for dawn and the rest of the army to catch up. It was then that I discovered that by shooting all the water tanks now the plumbing in the house no longer worked. And when you have over thirty soldiers from two platoons stationed in one house for a long period of time with no working toilets... it's a bad scene.





Comment from YBC regarding the water tanks (1/28/2009):

Apparently there is a huge misunderstanding, even a debate, about shooting the water tanks. I will elaborate and clarify.

We went into Gaza in full war mode. Axel and I gave Operation Cast Lead the title of "The Roadshow of Destruction." Make no mistake. We destroyed the place. As you will see from future blog posts we did not randomly obliterate everything in sight. But when assaulting Hamas neighborhoods after confirming that they were genuinely Hamas houses we used absolutely no restraint in weaponry. First we mortared the houses. Then when attacking we strafed them with 7.62 mm and even .50 caliber machine guns, not to mention the automatic grenade launchers. Meanwhile the choppers would fire Vulcan cannons and wing rockets into the houses, and even occasionally a hellfire missile. If we couldn't get a door open… no problem. We would blow a hole in the wall.

It was a war. Our goal was to kill and to destroy. And we succeeded.

When approaching the houses we, the sharpshooters, would place bullets into all doors, windows, and all other hiding places while our own soldiers would move down the street and alleys. The idea was to cover their approach and entry into the house itself. This is what we were doing when we shot the water tanks. We were shooting at Hamas houses to make sure that no terrorists popped their heads out of windows or that there were no snipers on the roof.

It's called "covering fire." It was not cruel mischief or a juvenile prank. And it certainly was not an ethical violation of rabbinical codes or halachah. It was later encouraged even to shoot at them. Snipers and RPG teams have an irritating habit of hiding behind the large, black water tanks. And these were not the houses of innocent Palestinian civilians. They were the bases of operations for Hamas activity, in particular launching rockets and missiles at southern Israel.

Besides, when they see the 2 meter (6 ft) hole I put in the wall from the LAW rocket launcher, I seriously doubt they will even notice a two centimeter hole in the water tank from a 5.56 mm bullet.

I just didn't know that we would have to stay in these houses after we destroyed them.

First Sergeant Yared M. Ben-Caro is a combat soldier in the Israel Defense Force. During the Gaza War, he served in Paratrooper Battalion 890 in the Heavy Weapons & Recon Company as Lead Sharpshooter and Missile Specialist.

Entering Gaza

Day 1: Jan. 3, 2009

January 22, 2009 6:12 PM

It was 4:30 pm. The sun was beginning the first stage of setting. The entire battalion sat in an auditorium listening attentively to the final speech delivered by the colonel. Suddenly his speech was interrupted. The entire building rocked and the windows shook violently from a massive explosion. There was a moment of silence but the colonel merely smiled and looked at his watch.

"That's our air force," he explained. "And they are starting exactly on time, just as they promised."

The tension broke.

And that was when I realized, more than ever, that the war was real. The war was here.

I realized, more than ever, that the war was real. The war was here.After the briefing we made a final check on our equipment and painted our faces with camouflage paint. I then placed a purple bandana on my head pirate-style. This bandana was a source of teasing for the entire war. Basically the bandana was a gift from one my good friends that was married and religious. She gave it to me, and my friends all wrote nice messages on it. I soon discovered, however, that the bandana itself was extremely comfortable underneath my helmet. It provided warmth in cold weather and absorbed sweat in hot weather. But so, with my face painted and a purple bandana on my head, I proceeded to put on my helmet, body armor, combat vest, and a backpack designed to carry two SPIKE missiles. I later weighed the missile pack and found that it came in at over 45 kg (100 lbs.).

I am in Platoon 6. Our task was to enter Gaza from the very north, relatively close to the beach. We were to proceed 2-3 kilometers by foot to a hill on the outskirts of Elei Sinai. Elei Sinai was a dismantled Jewish settlement that once existed in the Gaza Strip similar to Gush Katif. Now it was just chunks of concrete and abandoned roads.

We left the base. Ironically as we left the base we had to wait in line and sign in.

"Hey, Axel," I called to my best friend, a Canadian Lone Soldier that had received his nickname due to a strikingly similar disposition to the lead singer of Guns 'N Roses. "Are we going to a war or a wedding?"

Finally we started moving. And then the bombardment began. Platoon 7 is a state-of-the-art mortar crew. Their custom-made Israeli technology is so advanced, in fact, that we are currently making deals with the US Marines and sending prototypes to the American armed forces.

I had seen bombardment before, but nothing ever like this. This time they brought out the big guns. The mortars themselves made huge mushrooms of fire and the following boom resonated throughout the entire landscape.

The moment the bombardment began all nervousness vanished. I no longer felt alone, like a measly infantry soldier in the paratroopers weighed down by missiles. We were a team. We were an army. We were friends. And we were gonna sock it hard to Hamas.

The air force also accompanied us. At almost all times there were Cobra gunship choppers flying overhead as well as drone airplanes with surveillance equipment. I later discovered that the drones themselves were not defenseless, and packed a pretty good payload. Likewise the landscape was occasionally illuminated by an enormous explosion in the distance. It was then that I heard the sonic roar of the F-15 Eagles flying low overhead followed by the impact of the detonation.

We pressed on. What they didn't tell us, however, was that the whole way consisted of sand dunes. Walking 3 km in sand dunes with two missiles, body armor, 24 hours of food and water, 200 bullets, etc., is not the most fun thing in the world.

And it was cold. No, I mean really COLD! Anyone that thinks that Israel is warm and pleasant all the time is seriously in error. The climate is very similar to southern California. In the summer it is warm, even hot, especially in the deserts. But in the winter it gets cold, mainly because of the proximity to the sea. And tonight apparently was not an exception.

Most of us had mild hypothermia because some of us, including myself, started passing out Finally we reached our destination and prepared to set up shop with Platoon 5, the Recon Platoon, on a ridge in Elei Sinai. This ridge overlooked the first towns of Gaza from where most of the Kassams had been launched. When we arrived, however, the colonel reassessed the situation and realized that the vast majority of the targets that we were supposed to destroy with our SPIKE missiles had fled from the air force and mortars. So there was no real reason for us to stay there with the Recon Platoon as originally planned. Therefore we were ordered to continue south and join Platoon 8 as a light infantry force spearheading the operation. The only problem was that we still had the missiles and other equipment on our backs, and we had just been ordered to walk another 7 km. Needless to say it was a nightmare. That was the longest 7 km I have ever walked in my life.

We continued marching... and marching... and marching. All the while the mortars and air force proceeded to blow up almost everything in front of us. Apparently the idea of the bombing was not just to clear our path but also to make sure that no civilians remained in the area. Y'all need to understand just how big of a deal it is to be bombed by these things. The explosions are so massive that even from a distance of a kilometer you could feel a solid rush of air against your face and your ears popped from the sudden change of pressure. Now imagine that you are sitting in your house, stubbornly refusing to evacuate, and then mortars start landing 50 meters from your backyard. The idea was that anyone willing to stay in the area after that was either a terrorist ready for a fight and/or suicidal. The technique worked really well, and most of the urban areas we entered were almost completely void of civilian life. Contrary, of course, to what the media would have the world believe.

At about 5 am we arrived at our new destination. It was an abandoned orchard just outside the first city. We quickly dug in and waited for the sun to rise and the rest of the Israeli armed forces to catch up. It was so cold I couldn't feel my feet and I was actually worried that I had a serious problem. Likewise I think most of us had mild hypothermia because some of us, including myself, started passing out while standing up. Later I heard that at least six soldiers from a sister battalion had to be evacuated from severe hypothermia.

I also heard that the Golani battalion had walked into a booby trap. Golani had entered the assault more from a southern and diagonal angle, if you were to consult a map. Golani, however, is known for entering combat quickly and sometimes even recklessly. In some situations this feature is an advantage. In Gaza, however, it proved to be detrimental. In the paratroopers we had proceeded slightly slower, with our mortars (hopefully) blowing up any mines, explosives, or other booby traps along the way. Apparently Golani moved in too fast, or their mortars had missed something. They stepped on a very large mine. Two of their soldiers died and twenty of them were wounded.

I would like to stress, by the way, that the information given about other units is usually NOT based on my first-hand accounts. It is information passed to me by other persons, rumors spread among troops, or conversations heard over the radio. If any of the information provided about, for example, the Golani entry, is not 100% accurate, please let me know. I want my accounts to be as accurate and truthful as possible. I am simply reporting to the best of my knowledge what I saw and heard both about me and my fellow soldiers.

--YBC

First Sergeant Yared M. Ben-Caro is a combat soldier in the Israel Defense Force. During the Gaza War, he served in Paratrooper Battalion 890 in the Heavy Weapons & Recon Company as Lead Sharpshooter and Missile Specialist.

I'm Back!

Installment XII

January 22, 2009 2:01 PM

First off, I am very happy to report, thank G‑d, that I am alive and 100% free of holes and all of my limbs are still attached to my body. I am in severe need of a chiropractor, lost some weight, and am having difficulty sleeping regular hours, but that is about the extent of the damage done to me personally from the war.

I can't tell y'all how shocked I was when I checked the blog and saw so many comments! It is simply impossible to express how it feels to know that so many people that have never met me are supporting me and my friends and praying for us. And it's not just that I appreciate the prayers for my safety. But just seeing the Jewish people come together as one in support of a common goal is a wonderful thing. That to me is even more important than our safety.

I also want to sincerely apologize to everyone for the total lack of contact. I was placed on the very, very front, and cell phones were strictly forbidden. They let us send out letters, and I tried to notify various persons briefly of our status. But due to various logistical difficulties my messages never made it out of Gaza, and they merely handed the notes back to me at the end of the war.

In the next few days I will be able to sit at my computer and comfortably type out the blog that I kept during the war. I will proceed to give a brief account of my viewpoint from the front lines.

So stay tuned...

--YBC

P.S. I'll also be sharing with you some pictures. I hope you enjoy!

First Sergeant Yared M. Ben-Caro is a combat soldier in the Israel Defense Force. During the Gaza War, he served in Paratrooper Battalion 890 in the Heavy Weapons & Recon Company as Lead Sharpshooter and Missile Specialist.

And So It Begins...

Installment XI - Jan. 3, 2009

January 3, 2009 11:48 PM

Jan. 3, 2009. Today the whole world watches me. One hundred years from now people will talk of this day and write about it.

And on this day I am happy.

I will not be able to take my internet cell phone with me. I will simply make do with a notepad and update y'all as soon as possible.

We're going into Gaza. Paratroopers 890 go in first. And I, with Heavy Weapons and Recon, start the show.

...And so it begins.

--YCB

First Sergeant Yared M. Ben-Caro is a combat soldier in the Israel Defense Force. During the Gaza War, he served in Paratrooper Battalion 890 in the Heavy Weapons & Recon Company as Lead Sharpshooter and Missile Specialist.

My One Prayer

Installment X - Jan. 3, 2009

January 3, 2009 8:57 PM

Jan. 3, 2009. At my Bar Mitzvah I made a pledge to do whatever I could to defend the Jewish people, and, if possible, with the IDF Paratroopers.

Eleven years later here I am.

We all have dreams. Only a small few of us are privileged to realize them.

So if I survive this, I will have lived my dream. If I don't, then I will die next to my best friends doing what I have always wanted to do.

I am privileged to take part in a legacy that began with Simeon and Levi rescuing their sister, Dinah: taking great risks to defend the Jewish people.

For me there are no more politics. I am not a hero. I am a 24 year-old Jewish pharmacy technician, banker, and aspiring writer that dislikes missiles falling on his apartment and his friends sitting in bomb shelters.

I have only one prayer. That, live or die, I do not fail the Jewish people. And even more importantly, that I do not fail my friends.

--YCB

First Sergeant Yared M. Ben-Caro is a combat soldier in the Israel Defense Force. During the Gaza War, he served in Paratrooper Battalion 890 in the Heavy Weapons & Recon Company as Lead Sharpshooter and Missile Specialist.

There is No "Tomorrow"

Installment IX - Jan. 3, 2009

January 3, 2009 5:09 PM

Jan. 3, 2009. Apparently this is it.

Since last Shabbat we have been on maximum alert, waiting for the order. And everyday for the past week they have been telling us, "Tomorrow! For sure tomorrow!"

So every day our nerves have been on edge.

But now there is no tomorrow.

The state that Gaza has reached is unbelievable. At this point I think there are enough mines, tunnels, and booby traps there to rival North Vietnam. And according to the press, Hamas has legalized crucifixion and they are setting crosses in Gaza.

There is so much death, hundreds of vultures circle overhead.

There is a strong possibility, even an unfortunate likelihood, that this will be my final blog entry.

I think about the 24 years of my life. My life was far, far from perfect, but I have no regrets. I lived life to the fullest, to a fault even.

With me there are no frantic pleas to G‑d for forgiveness, nor a desperate begging for survival. Rather, it is more a calm acceptance of fate.

--YCB

First Sergeant Yared M. Ben-Caro is a combat soldier in the Israel Defense Force. During the Gaza War, he served in Paratrooper Battalion 890 in the Heavy Weapons & Recon Company as Lead Sharpshooter and Missile Specialist.

Calling for Pro-Palestinians

Installment VIII - Jan. 2, 2009

January 2, 2009 11:43 AM

Jan. 2, 2009. One thing that amazes me about the situation here in Gaza is that persons completely ignorant of the true state of affairs feel qualified to give authoritative opinions. I especially don't understand how anyone supporting Palestinians would be in favor of Hamas.

Several months ago I was on a recon mission on the Israeli side of the fence. Through my long-range monocular I spotted a man wearing black clothing and a ski mask. I watched him load AK-47s and explosives into the trunk of a small car. I called it in but was told to stand down. Why? Because after intense international pressure Israel had signed a six-month cease-fire agreement with Hamas.

Later I watched him drive into a nearby village. He killed dozens of people, particularly those associated with Fatah (PLO). And so, in compliance with international support of suffering Palestinians, I held back and watched them die.

Hamas has killed far more non-combatant Palestinians during the cease-fire than we have during a time of war.

--YBC

First Sergeant Yared M. Ben-Caro is a combat soldier in the Israel Defense Force. During the Gaza War, he served in Paratrooper Battalion 890 in the Heavy Weapons & Recon Company as Lead Sharpshooter and Missile Specialist.

You're Welcome!

January 1, 2009 2:31 PM

Editor's Note: Yared's response to our thanks for taking the time to text us these messages:

I'm thrilled to help any way I can. We are in this together and I realize that positive press is essential. And while I am not exactly Chabad myself, I am an Orthodox Jew and have the utmost admiration for Chabad and their mission to promote observance amongst Jews and providing kosher and shomer-shabbat places all over the world.

I truly appreciate your support and want you to know that you have mine. And if there is any other way I can help let me know.

Yared

First Sergeant Yared M. Ben-Caro is a combat soldier in the Israel Defense Force. During the Gaza War, he served in Paratrooper Battalion 890 in the Heavy Weapons & Recon Company as Lead Sharpshooter and Missile Specialist.

Chabad Again

Installment VII - Jan. 1, 2009

January 1, 2009 11:25 AM

Jan. 1, 2009. And once again Chabad arrived. I think that's how you know when people are truly scared. When there is a line of less-observant Jews waiting to pray with tefillin. But I guess it's better late than never.

But at this point I'm half expecting to reach our target destination with intense resistance. And then we will round a corner to find a friendly group from Chabad asking us, "What took you so long? Did you put tefillin on this morning?"

--YBC

First Sergeant Yared M. Ben-Caro is a combat soldier in the Israel Defense Force. During the Gaza War, he served in Paratrooper Battalion 890 in the Heavy Weapons & Recon Company as Lead Sharpshooter and Missile Specialist.

Soldiers Running!

Installment VI - Jan. 1, 2009

January 1, 2009 8:43 AM

Jan. 1, 2009. While organizing our equipment (again!) I was startled by an outbreak of shouting and a large pack of soldiers running in a single direction.

"What happened?" I yelled. Incoming missiles? Emergency alert? No... Donations!

The moment I heard that I also joined the herd of soldiers to be the first in line to get free stuff.

The donors were mostly American, particularly the Jewish president of a large chain of domestic and home accessory stores.

They pulled me and a few other American lone soldiers aside. So my friend said to the president, "My mom just loves your towels."

I rolled my eyes and shook my head. Smooth, dude. Real smooth. But I guess my friend meant it as a joke and he laughed.

I also met a rabbi from my home town. With us Jews it's always a small world.

But I can't emphasize enough how much we appreciate the support, especially when the entire world is criticizing us. And we've hardly even done anything yet!...

--YBC

First Sergeant Yared M. Ben-Caro is a combat soldier in the Israel Defense Force. During the Gaza War, he served in Paratrooper Battalion 890 in the Heavy Weapons & Recon Company as Lead Sharpshooter and Missile Specialist.
Yared Ben-CaroFirst Sergeant Yared M. Ben-Caro is a combat soldier in the Israel Defense Force. Born in Los Angeles, he immigrated to Israel in September, 2006, at the age of 21 after studying English, Pharmaceuticals, and Financial Management. During the 2008-9 Gaza War, he served in Paratrooper Battalion 890 in the Heavy Weapons & Recon Company as Lead Sharpshooter and Missile Specialist.
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