Loneliness, Guilt, Accusations: Testimony From the Gaza War's 'APC of Death'

Gili Cohen
Gili Cohen
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Israeli soldiers on an armored personnel carrier flying an Israeli flag return from Gaza at an army deployment area near border, July 23, 2014.Credit: AFP
Gili Cohen
Gili Cohen

“No one spoke. There was nothing. Only the APC [armored personnel carrier] going up in flames. And you are really close to the fire. It was a horrible feeling. I took out the only weapon I had – a hand grenade; I put it up against me, and simply told myself ‘I won’t come out of this alive.’”

This is how 1st. Lt. Ohad Roisblatt, commander of an APC in the Gaza neighborhood of Shujaiyeh during Operation Protective Edge last summer, described the minutes after his vehicle was hit by an anti-tank rocket-propelled grenade (RPG) and went up in flames. He was interviewed on Channel 2’s “Uvda” (“Fact”) program on Sunday.

Seven Golani Brigade soldiers were killed in the incident. One, Staff Sgt. Oron Shaul, has been declared a “fallen soldier whose place of burial is unknown.” The story of the observation platoon of Golani’s Battalion 13 was later called the “APC of death.” The APC burned for hours after a rocket-propelled grenade (RPG) hit the engine cover. After the initial hit, numerous explosions went on for a long time as the large stores of ammunition in the APC blew up.

An IDF investigation of the incident found that gunfire continued after the missile strike, and a number of Hamas terrorists succeeded in making off with Shaul’s body, escaping through the entrance of a nearby tunnel. Roisblatt and his radio operator were the only survivors from the APC.

There was another APC from the platoon next to Roisblatt’s when it was hit by the RPG. This APC was commanded by 1st. Lt. Guy Grossman, the new deputy company commander.

“I saw the missile hit the APC, and the APC going up in flames,” Grossman says on the show. “I assumed they were all dead. I reported that we had an APC going up in flames, an entire squad of [dead soldiers] inside. I simply grabbed my helmet quickly, put it on, yelled at my driver to drive forward so we don’t get the next missile, to get out of the area.”

After returning home from the fighting, the feeling of loneliness that struck Roisblatt and Grossman, like the rest of the soldiers in the APCs who were saved from the tragedy, only grew. Grossman was transferred to another position after the incident, and even accused that he took to long to get from his APC, which was not damaged, to the burning vehicle.

The survivors of that night, including Roisblatt, completely reject these claims against Grossman. “They made me feel that I could have prevented the abduction of Oron Shaul, and that is a very not simple feeling,” said Grossman in the interview. “You very much don’t know how you are supposed to continue to act, to live at all. It is not easy to look into the eyes of a mother when in the end you led her son into battle in such a way or another. It could be you are not guilty, but you were responsible the minute you were his commander,” said Grossman.

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