Meir Har-Zion (pictured left with Ariel Sharon), once described as the “greatest Jewish warrior since Bar Kochba” passed away at age 80 last Friday.
Har-Zion was born in British Mandate Palestine in 1934. Already as a youth, Har-Zion became legendary among his peers when in 1953 he and his girlfriend managed to infiltrate neighboring Jordan and visit the ancient city of Petra. Over a dozen Israeli youth had been killed in preceding years while attempting this rite of passage.
Two years later, Har-Zion was one of the founding members of the feared and fabled Unit 101 put together by Ariel Sharon as something of a retribution squad to counter rampant cross-border Arab terrorism.
Hailing back to an era of brutal tribal justice that Sharon wrote his enemies would understand well, Har-Zion’s actions nonetheless clashed severely with developing modern norms. For example, when Har-Zion’s beloved sister, Shoshana, was abducted and murdered by Jordanian Bedouins in 1955, he was inconsolable, and together with two comrades-in-arms set off on a mission of revenge that ended in the execution of five Jordanians. Har-Zion’s superiors in the IDF protected him from punishment, but the diplomatic damage had been done.
Later that year, Har-Zion was part of an attack on a Jordanian army position during which he was seriously injured in the neck and arm. An IDF medic managed to perform life-saving battlefield surgery, but Har-Zion’s military career was officially over.
Or so everyone thought. Despite being a disabled veteran, Har-Zion fought, and fought with distinction in both the 1967 and 1973 wars.
Former IDF chief of staff and minister of defense, Moshe Dayan, described Har-Zion as “the finest of our commando soldiers, the best soldier ever to emerge in the IDF,” and Sharon famously described him as “the elite of the elite.”