This story is about two boys from my neighborhood of Talpiot in Jerusalem, where we grew up. Both were three years older than me and one of them, the paratrooper, had studied at the same Salman Aran Elementary School on Hebron Street where I was a student. When I was in college and we followed the Lebanon War on the radio in the classroom. The tragedy of the two Yuvals with the same surname Harel shook us at the time.
I want to tell you about an almost unbelievable and double tragedy of two Jerusalem families who didn’t know each other prior. In war there are many tragedies that bring eternal pain. And sometimes there are unusual tragedies involving unrealistic coincidences. This is about two Israeli soldiers of the same name who lived in my neighborhood and who both died in the same week during the 1982 Lebanon War. Both bore the name Yuval Harel. One Yuval Harel served in the Armored Corps and the other Yuval Harel was in the Paratroopers Brigade. Both were 19 years old.
Yuval of the Armored Corps was killed at 2.30 pm on Tuesday, June 8, 1982 near Sidon when a missile hit his tank. The other Yuval, the paratrooper, was killed at 12:55 p.m. on Thursday, June 10, 1982 when Israeli Air Force aircraft accidentally bombed his unit east of Ein al-Hilweh near Sidon. Thirty-four Israeli soldiers were killed in this bombardment.
The devastating news that their son Yuval had been killed in his tank was shared with the Harel family in Talpiot on Friday morning, June 11th. When the team arrived in Talpiot to break the sad news to the parents, they couldn’t find the address and asked the neighbors where Yuval Harel lived. However, the neighbors mistakenly led them to Yuval the paratrooper’s home, which happened to be a few blocks from the home of Yuval the tank crewman. The fact that the two soldiers had the same name and lived in the same neighborhood had confused her. Army officials knocked on the family door of Yuval the paratrooper and broke the terrible news. The family burst into tears and began mourning their dead son.
An hour later, army officials realized they had accidentally gone to the wrong house. They immediately rushed back to the paratrooper’s family home, informed the now-grieving family and apologized to them for their terrible mistake. Then they quickly went to the home of Yuval from the Armored Corps and informed his family of their son’s death.
Five hours later, while the paratrooper’s family was still recovering from the shocking error, but nonetheless relieved and elated to learn their son was not dead, another team of IDF officials arrived at their home. When they knocked on the door, the mother yelled at them, “A team was already here and told us that it was a mistake and that my Yuval was not killed! That it was another Yuval Harel from the neighborhood.” But the team, which included a doctor and a nurse, suspecting the shock the mother was going through, hugged the mother and told her: “It’s true, there was a mistake in the morning, it was another Yuval Harel who was killed, but unfortunately your son Yuval was also killed.”
In all the years that have passed since then, and still today, I can’t stop thinking about what that family went through that Friday afternoon 40 years ago. The two young soldiers from my neighborhood, who bore the same name, were buried side-by-side in the same row in the Mount Herzl War Cemetery in Jerusalem. This tragedy is one of many that shapes Israel’s existence and continues to awaken on Memorial Day.
A song was written about the tragedy of the two Yuvals titled “Brit Damim” – “Blood Bond”:
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