Recently the State of Israel and the General Staff of the Israel Defense Forces thanked me and my comrades for our service 35 years ago in southern Lebanon: There was an official medal for the military campaign in Lebanon (1982-2000). The small, colorful badge is made for a uniform that none of us still wears today, because our obligatory reserve service is long behind us.
In the accompanying letter, IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi wrote:
“Twenty-one years ago, the borders of Lebanon were closed, thereby ending Israel’s 18-year presence in the southern Lebanon security zone. For the tens of thousands of Israeli soldiers and officers who served in the security zone north of Israel during their military service, the mission was clear: to defend Israel’s northern residents. The First Lebanon War and the following period in southern Lebanon had shaped not only the north, but in some ways the entire Middle East. Lebanon was a kind of war school for a certain generation. In Lebanon we also met that country’s sons, the South Lebanese Army (SLA), with whom we fought shoulder-to-shoulder. It can be said that we shared the same fate.
“The land of the cedar has been a heavy burden on us, both physically and mentally. Many left their lives there. Many have returned from the field of battler suffered from post-trauma, and still battle the repercussions in everyday life to this day. You are either injured physically or deeply in your soul, but you are also an example of determination and strength. Awarding the Lebanon Campaign Medal is a national and moral duty and embodies respect and esteem. Generations of soldiers and troop leaders, the injured and relatives of fallen soldiers are proud of your military service in Lebanon and your contribution to the security of Israel. The State of Israel, the army and I as the head of the Israel Defense Forces salute you!”
The ceremony of it all amused and touched all of us a little. Memories of the war in southern Lebanon were awakened. We all called each other and didn’t really know what to do with the medal. This little button is a nice thank you for our years in Lebanon defending our families in Israel. Lebanon is a beautiful country. I spent a large part of my mandatory service north of Israel. At that time we crossed the border either with helicopters, armored personnel carriers or military jeeps. The green hills and mountains with the pastoral villages always seemed like a mirage to us, because of the danger of terrorists lurking everywhere. Initially our enemies were PLO terrorists, who later gave way to Shiite Hezbollah terrorists.
Quite a few comrades from my troop, such as Oren Kamil, Ronen Weismann, Alex Singer, Schmulik Adiv and Rami Ben Zvi, fell in combat and paid with their young lives in Lebanon. To have survived those years was a grace and a miracle. But at the same time these years shaped us as young people. Everything we have experienced and participated in has shaped who we are. Life is not something we can take for granted, we now appreciate and enjoy it more. The time in Lebanon today can be seen as a kind of gift, but one that I do not wish for anyone. Every day is a gift – just like the little souvenir that the post office sent us at the end of October.