Parents of soldiers who died on war's last day: "The same pain and a sense of waste"
"On Friday we hoped it was all over. He called at noon and said, 'Mom, we're out,'" recalls Ruth Krips, whose son, Staff Sergeant Tzahi Krips, 20, was killed one and a half days before the cease-fire. A few hours after the optimistic phone call, Krips rang back and told his mother that his unit was returning to Lebanon following a cabinet decision to launch another major operation despite the imminent imposition of the cease-fire.
"I could tell from his voice that he was suffering," Ruth says in reference to the second call. Just minutes before Krips' unit went into Lebanon they were met by then chief of staff Dan Halutz and Defense Minister Amir Peretz.
"They told [the soldiers] 'go get them, show them,'" Krips' father, Jay, says bitterly. At 11:30 the next morning an antitank missile pierced the building the soldiers were in. Tzahi bled to death soon after being hit in the hip by shrapnel. "At about 3:00 P.M. I was sitting on the sofa watching television. From the corner of my eye I saw a taxi stop in the parking lot and officers getting out. I went outside and looked at them. I prayed for them to change direction, but then they met the secretary of the kibbutz and I saw them coming toward me," Jay recalls, tears in his eyes.
Thirty-three soldiers, 32 male and one female, were killed in the 60-hour major ground campaign that ended the war. Later, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert tried to claim that the operation changed the terms of the cease-fire agreement and enabled the Israel Defense Forces to further dislodge Hezbollah from south Lebanon. The parents of some of the soldiers who died in those 60 hours, however, feel their deaths were avoidable.
A few of the families say explicitly that the deaths were for naught. Others feel it does not matter at which stage of the war their tragedy occurred. "My loss is identical to that of the mother who lost her son on the first day of the war. If you were to ask Guy he would have asked to stay to the end," says Liora Hason, whose son Guy, 24, was killed on the last day of the war.
Some parents express bitter frustration at the circumstances of the deaths. They tell of counting the minutes until the cease-fire went into effect and of the knock on the door that came first.
"There's no difference in the pain," Moshe Nissan, whose , Corporal Yigal Nissan, 19, was killed by an antitank missile one and a half days before the cease-fire. "It's the same pain, but we feel that something was missed, that these deaths could have been avoided. It is sad and painful, I think about it all the time, why didn't they take control and act differently? Other families can accept the death, when it was in the thick of things, but for us it was completely superfluous. Everything could have been different, our children paid with their lives."
Haim Tzemah, whose son Oz, 20, died two days before the war ended, became active in the Bereaved Parents' Forum and in researching his son's final hours. "The last campaign was completely unnecessary," Tzemah says. "In the last two days the soldiers were already out, they were told they'd be going home and then they returned them. It's simply chilling."
Elad Ram, 31, of Haifa was killed on August 13, some 16 hours before the cease-fire was declared, while retrieving wounded soldiers. His family refrains from publicly assigning blame, expressing only "anger at the decision-makers."
"Elad could be sitting with us today," his brother Yaron says. "You can avoid endangering soldiers when you know they're not going to obtain critical objectives." Elad's father, Atzmon Ram, lost his brother in the Yom Kippur War. He fought in many of Israel's wars and his three sons served in combat units. "Every year we went to the cemetery on Memorial Day for my brother, now it will be for my son as well. It is hard, and the pain is forever, but what wouldn't we give for the state?" he says, with obvious pain.
He points a finger at the country's politicians: "It's infuriating to see it, the evasion of army service, the corruption, all those jingoistic types who think they know how to run a war. The ones who say, 'We have to really give it to them.' How many children have they given to the state, how many wars have they fought in? They should do some careful soul-searching first."
Other parents avoid casting blame. Kamal Aamar, whose son Tammer (Tomer) was killed in the war, says he has much to say about the conduct of the war at the political level, but "now is not the time." At the entrance of the Aamar home in Julis is a large, black basalt boulder bearing a photograph of Tammer.
Tammer, 19, served in Battalion 51 of the Golani Brigade. He and another soldier were killed on August 12, when an IDF tank accidentally ran over them. Tammer suffered a leg injury before the war but decided to return to his unit nevertheless.
"Before he went out with his unit he came home, with a bag of photos of his comrades and articles about them from the papers. He invited a friend, who took his picture, and went to see his friends and his two married sisters in Yarka and left," Kamal said recently. "I tried not to think about it but now I can say with certainty that Tammer had a feeling that he was leaving us."
Unlike Kamal Aamar, Jay Krips refuses to believe in fate. "There's no fate, Tzahi could still be with us, but he was a soldier who didn't know how to refuse. That's how he was raised."