Israeli Mentality/Koach: Three Wounded IDF Soldiers Overcome Injury

by Laura Rolnick

Wounded Soldiers 2014

Upon David Peretz’s arrival at Rambam Hospital, the attending physician circled the hallway and then asked David: “How well do you think I am walking?” Surprised at the question, David answered “fine” from his gurney. “I am an amputee from above the knee,” the doctor informed David, who had just lost a leg from the shin down in a terrorist rigged minefield. He vividly recalls the sense of hope and relief he felt from that greeting as he was wheeled into the operating room for the surgical removal of the remainder of his right leg.

Itzhak Gabbay lost a leg in an ambush by Hezbollah on the Syrian border, and only a few days after his injury he “decided to put it behind” him and “move on” with his life. He quickly highlights that coping with even some of the most potentially incapacitating injuries is “all in the mind.” “If the mind is healthy, you go on,” he states matter-of-factly. and while he still has scars and some pain, he relays his view that “of the mind is okay, a physical issue is nothing.” Vladimir Tokorev, the third injured soldier visiting our region, relays that while he still has scars and some pain, “if the mind is okay, a physical issue is nothing.”

David very calmly and even slightly humorously explains that while this was clearly not what he was hoping for, it is also a known risk of the unit type (navigating minefields) he was working with. David was born in London, and made Aliyah at age 10 with his non-religious but very Zionistic family. At age 18 he began his army service in Royal Engineering Mines, which involved opening paths in minefields using explosives. While serving in Tzor, a Lebanese beach town, his unit received an emergency call that a soldier had detonated a land mine, and was lying injured in the minefield. David’s position as a Royal Engineer involved the formulation of special equipment including sandals which divide weight precisely so as to avoid detonation. However, for the sandals to be effective, the topography must be relatively flat, and when David went in to rescue the soldier, wearing helmet, goggles, and carefully calibrated sandals, David trod unevenly on a mine and it exploded. He did not lose consciousness, and lay on the ground 3-4 meters from the soldier he was going in to rescue, scared and rapidly losing blood. He was eventually flown to the hospital, operated on, and recovered from his surgery at home with his parents, who were “heartbroken but contained,” in keeping with their “very British” manner. and while he still has scars and some pain, he relays his view that “of the mind is okay, a physical issue is nothing.”

Eventually, David decided to lift weights and get into shape. And in July 2013, after having been screened by a Dikla rep for the FIDF, David received state of the art walking, biking and running legs, which greatly improved his ability to play sports. He is very pleased to have completed the marathon in Tel Aviv, with running time having significantly shortened from this new technology, and a looser more comfortable prosthetic. David is particularly eloquent, vivacious and funny, and happily married with three children.

Itzhak, who served in the IDF for 25 years and was a commander in the Infantry Battalion, spent six hours waiting for helicopter transportation to the hospital following his injury. Though he had pain, and a difficult socket, which required several surgeries in order to accommodate a prosthetic, he learned to walk after only a few weeks. Shortly thereafter he quite remarkably returned to his unit to command with “the same duties as the other soldiers.”

Following his recovery and return to army service for many years, he now volunteers to help newly wounded IDF soldiers and their families. His method is deliberate and consistent; “I talk to the parents first,” immediately following the injury and tell them it is “no big deal.” They have varying responses to such a nonchalant characterization of a shocking new life circumstance, but Itzhak walks with them while speaking, wearing pants, which he eventually removes to reveal his prosthetic leg. When “they see that I too am an amputee, and walking well, they feel hopeful.” Only then does he begin the process of working with the injured soldier.

Itzhak married after his injury, at age 31, and has three daughters. While he loves sports, his first prosthetic leg limited him, and two and a half years ago he received new walking, running and biking legs from the FIDF, which “changed my life . . . my dream came true.” He now runs more than ten miles at a time, and bike rides with ease. He crossed the Alps twice, which “would have been impossible without the new prosthetic.”

Russian born Vladimir moved to Israel alone at the age of 15, inspired by his grandmother who instilled in him a love of Israel. He attended High School at Kfar Bloom, graduated in 2003 and began army service in a prestigious Paratrooper Brigade following a rigorous screening process. Because he was a Lone Soldier and an only child, special parental permission was required for his service. Ultimately Vladimir wanted to serve in a “more directly helpful” position, so he joined a combat unit. On a rare visit to see his parents, he awoke one morning to news that the Lebanon War had begun. Vladimir changed his ticket immediately and flew to Israel, grabbed his uniform and headed North to join his company. When his company commander was shot by a sniper rifle and Vladimir ran to rescue him, he was catapulted in the air from a missile that landed close to him. Fortunately a paramedic was there to bandage and stabilize his profuse bleeding, but due to the danger o f travel in Lebanon he had to wait many hours before he was taken to Ziv hospital in Sfat. Once admitted, large amounts of shrapnel were found inside his body. Several rounds of intestinal, hand and arm surgeries were required for his eventual recovery, and though he has scars and some pain he feels remorse only that he could not have been with his company one day sooner, as he believes that he could possibly have spared a friend the loss of his leg had he been nearby with his machine gun. Vladimir completed his studies at the Technion in Haifa in Aerospace Engineering and married a Russian violinist with whom he is expecting his first child.

These three strong, charismatic men each overcame extreme physical pain and loss while protecting Israel, and feel only loyalty and pride regarding their army service. Undoubtedly, it is the Israeli culture of strength and perseverance, which so fully permeates the minds and characters of the young men and women of the IDF, which allows so many to continue with army service, high levels of study, and physical fitness in spite of prosthetic limbs and other major injuries. And hearing from them directly about their significant quality of life improvements, gratitude and joy as a result of receiving new prosthetics and support from the Wounded Soldier program should be a true inspiration for Israelis, and FIDF supporters alike.

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