Into the Valley of Death (Cont.)

No 'I don't want' in the army

Broida saw the events completely differently. Not only did Kan Dror not volunteer, not only was it Davidi who "asked" him to drive into the Mitla Pass in an open jeep, but he himself, Broida, was in the jeep and it was only at the last minute, when he was certain that he was about to go to his death, that he was ordered to get out of the vehicle. "I was sitting in the jeep and Davidi was near the jeep, about 10 meters from us," Broida recalls.

And you heard him?

"Of course I heard him. He said: Guys, I need someone to take the jeep - he was apparently referring to his jeep - and draw fire. Now, when you hear something like that, it means suicide, that's the truth. No one said a word. There was total silence."

The Paratroops' memorial site and many other places maintain that Raful was the first to volunteer, then Haim Nadel and Moshe-and-a-half.

"No one volunteered. There was a group of people next to Davidi, a lot of people, soldiers. No one said a word, there was silence when he said that. If previously someone had spoken, at that moment no one said anything."

Why? Because the implications were clear to everyone?

"It's as though I were to tell you, 'Look, go and get killed.' So Davidi said, 'Yehuda, I want you to do it.' I am quoting his words. Those were his words. And then Yehuda said, 'All right,' in a kind of I-have-no-choice tone. And he starts the jeep and I know, this is it, we are going to be killed."

You remained in the jeep?

"I was in the jeep, in the back. When Kan Dror put it into gear, Davidi shouted to me, 'Get out of the jeep, one person killed is enough for me.' Those were his words. And then I jumped off the jeep."

Did you speak to Kan Dror?

"No, I didn't speak to him. I didn't speak at all. I knew we were going to be killed there. And then Davidi shouted and I got out of the jeep. I looked at Kan Dror and saw that he was moving."

What were your thoughts while you were still on the jeep, before you got off?

"I didn't think anything. I thought we were going to be killed. There are two types in war: either you become frightened and shell-shocked, or you are indifferent, with a kind of feeling that they're shooting, so let them shoot me. I had a kind of feeling: so let them shoot me, I'm not afraid. It's a feeling you get only in moments like that. If you were to tell me today, 'Go and be killed,' I would say to you, 'No way.' But there it's war, people are being killed, so who will notice if one person more or less is killed."

You will notice.

"I will notice, but what will I say? I don't want to do it? There is no such thing. In the army, there is no "I don't want.'"

Davidi remembers nothing of what Broida has described. Of the shooting of the Egyptian workers near the Parker Memorial, Davidi says he is not familiar with the story. "We reached Raful on Tuesday evening and there were no Public Works people there or anything else." He does not remember Broida, either (which is not surprising, as Broida was a wireless operator who was seconded to his battalion at the last minute just a few days earlier). Nor does he remember the episode in which he ostensibly ordered the wireless operator to get off the jeep. But Davidi says he had many things on his mind just then, "so I'm willing to buy someone else's memory in the face of mine." Davidi also has a different recollection of the topography. As far as he can recall, he was on the hill and the jeep was below, so that even if Broida was in the jeep it would have been hard for him to hear what Davidi said.

Broida insists on his version even after Davidi's account. Gorali, too, reiterates his account. Gorali only says that it's possible that a few officers did in fact volunteer, because Davidi was standing off to the side with them, while he, a grunt, was not part of that circle. "Did you volunteer?" Gilat asked Rafael Eitan in the Hadashot story. "I thought it was necessary to go, scout, return and report," Eitan replied. "I thought that it had to be done, so I had to do it."

The historical literature contains only one account: that of the officers who volunteer one after the other, of Kan Dror who also volunteers, and of Davidi's choice of Kan Dror. Mordechai Bar-On, who was the head of Dayan's bureau, says that he heard the story about the volunteering immediately after the fighting. "Maybe [the journalist] Uri Dan wrote about it in [the IDF magazine] Bamahane," Bar-On, who afterward became a historian, says. "We in the General Staff viewed the story as a fact."

Kan Dror's namesake cousin also heard about the episode later, when he was still mobilized in the war. This is the version that appears in the grounds for awarding Kan Dror the Medal of Valor and in all the books that described the incident, from Shabtai Teveth's volume, which was written immediately after the war, to Uri Milstein's book about the Paratroops Brigade, published in 1968. And it's also the version that appears in the Education Corps' lesson, which gives Davidi's account in full, including the description of Kan Dror's paleness.

Everyone thought he was dead

Kan Dror's jeep drove about 100 meters into the wadi. "It took a minute or two," Broida relates. "I saw the jeep. It was daylight. Suddenly I heard shots, bursts of fire, and the jeep stopped." Broida was certain that Kan Dror had been killed, an assumption shared by Davidi and all the officers. Milstein writes in his book that the heroic act was of no use. "Kan Dror's suicide drive did not help locate the sources of the firing," Milstein writes.

Davidi maintains that what Kan Dror did was of critical importance. "The officers had binoculars and they identified the targets, and without that we would not have known where the enemy was," Davidi says. "An assault on the enemy without information about where they were would have had only a slim chance of success." The assault Davidi is referring to began when dark fell, at about 7 P.M. Kan Dror had set out about four hours earlier. What Davidi didn't know was that during all this time Kan Dror lay bleeding by the roadside. His jeep had turned over on its side and he had rolled out of it and managed to crawl to a ditch. The commander of an IDF halftrack that passed by the jeep during this period was certain that Kan Dror was dead, and in any event, Davidi says, "he was not allowed to stop because he took fire from a high place, which entered the halftrack, so he did the smart thing by not stopping."

But Kan Dror was a strong young man, as his cousin relates. Even though his body was "punctured like a sieve," he survived for hours, and later, with indescribable strength, he managed to crawl out of the pass. Broida has tears in his eyes as he describes the sight. "Kan Dror crawled to us in the dark," Broida says. "Suddenly we heard a weepy voice: 'Help, help." We went to collect him. And then Davidi said, 'A stone fell from my heart.'"

Other sources, such as Shabtai Teveth's book, tell a similar story of Kan Dror's self-evacuation. Davidi does not know this account. He says that after the success of the night attack, his soldiers went to Kan Dror's jeep and found him lying next to it. "We did not leave him by himself," Davidi says.

Kan Dror was taken to Kaplan Hospital in Rehovot, where he died six weeks later. His intestines were riddled with bullet holes and the physicians didn't give him much chance. His cousin Yehuda did not get to visit him because he was still mobilized. His parents and brothers visited. Yehoshua, his late brother, told Hadashot that Yehuda told him how he extricated himself from the wadi by crawling. He also said that Davidi had told him he was going to certain death, but he - according to what Yehoshua says he heard from his brother - told Davidi, "I volunteered." His namesake cousin relates that Kan Dror's mother, Simha, once went to visit her son by bus, taking with her a chicken to be slaughtered for atonement. "The chicken died on the way and the mother felt that he had died," Yehuda relates. He says that his cousin spoke very little and was barely conscious.

Today it wouldn't happen

Yehuda Kan Dror refuses to believe that his cousin did not volunteer. "I don't know of anything like that," he says about Broida's description. "I'm positive. As soon as the word was said, Yehuda leaped up. Everyone was silent and he leaped up. Not by order, as a volunteer. I'm one million percent sure. It's hard for me to believe [the other story]. I wasn't there, but I'm convinced he leaped up. He knew two hundred percent that he was going to die."

The Kan Drors are a large Jerusalem family, six generations in the city, Yehuda, the cousin, says. He himself was born in the "neighborhood of the tins," meaning Mahane Yehuda, Nahlaot. He remembers the eldest son, Eli, and the blow that befell the family when he was killed. He also remembers that his cousin Yehuda became a symbol. "A world symbol," he says. "Every year, a week before Independence Day, his photograph would appear in the papers and ceremonies would be held." But the parents, Yehuda says, did not take part in these events. They sent the brothers to represent the family, and one year even sent him. The family "was still shattered from the loss of the eldest son," Yehuda says. They were broken from the first incident, and the second one finished them completely. The father was totally broken. It's not easy to lose two sons, and both of them were flowers, too, they hadn't even married yet."

Didn't the parents ask questions?

"They wanted to avoid that as far as possible. The army also tried not to pour salt on the wounds. They didn't want to make things harder for them. It wouldn't happen today."

Were they angry?

"Not at first. But later, yes. They didn't want to show it, but they were angry, how could they not be? To send the son to his fate like that? It's totally irresponsible. With all the heroism, it's death not of a hundred but of two hundred percent. They were angry day and night at the way let him and the way he agreed, until their last day."

Kan Dror's father, Shlomo, died first, in 1979 - "of grief," says the cousin. His mother, Simha, died a year later.

Weren't they proud to have a son who was a hero?

"I imagine that inside they were proud, but the pain overcame the pride. It wasn't fair, it was murder. Think about it. I'm not saying it was done deliberately, but he was absolutely murdered. To send a person to his death, knowingly, with certain knowledge."

Despite the anger, Yehuda Kan Dror refuses to even contemplate the possibility that someone ordered his cousin to drive to his death. "There aren't any people like that today, he was one of the rare ones," he says. "The parents kept asking "Why?' The eldest son who fell - he fell. But the grief was greater for Yehuda, because he volunteered. But not by order, that's out of the question."

And if it should become clear to you that it was by order?

"If it was an order, it was the height of effrontery. I don't believe it. The height of effrontery by the person who gave the order. Why didn't he go himself? He should have gone if he was such a hero."

Oral history, uncensored

It's one of the more unusual books to have been published recently in Israel. It's also a book that's hard to categorize. It's not a novel, not really a book of memoirs, not actually a work of history - but it is a book that offers a different, surprising take on Israel's first years. A loving and painful take, to resort to a cliche.

Corinna Hasofferett, embarked on this literary journey in the wake of two friends who were with her in a youth movement and were killed in Israel's cross-border reprisal raids. For years she collected testimonies of people who knew them, taping and editing.

She interweaves the testimonies, almost without intervention on her part. The result is a narrative flow that revives the period without any prettification or mythologizing.

She herself describes the book, "Ba'aretz Lo Yadati" ("Unknown Territory," in English), as a kind of "Fighters Talk" - referring to the famous book ("Siah Lohamim") in which soldiers described their experiences in the 1967 Six-Day War - but with no censorship.

There are a few interesting revelations in the book, apart from the story of Yehuda Kan Dror. For example, confessions about the killing of captives, or a surprising confession from a member of Unit 101 - the precursor of the Paratroops, Unit 101 was established by Ariel Sharon in the early 1950s - that the unit did not have any fatalities because it operated almost exclusively against civilian targets.

But concentrating on these aspects of the book could be misleading. It offers a far broader picture of a society that was still licking its wounds from the War of Independence, the picture of a country in which the signs of the previous Palestinian inhabitants were still visible, a picture of people whose memory of the Holocaust is not something they learned in school.

This is Corinna's sixth book, and she has published it herself - both for economic reasons and also to avoid having an outside eye that might cut sensitive passages. So it's not easy to find the book in bookstores. But it's worth making the effort.