Diary of an IDF Father

These are the e-mails of Marvin Hankin, father of two IDF soldiers, Aviel and Gilad, currently stationed in Gaza. Aviel, age 27, is a medical officer for his unit; in August, he will finish the first year of his five-year commitment. Gilad, 22, was drafted into the tank corps at age 19; he will complete his three-year commitment in November. Marvin lives in Jerusalem with his wife Irit.

July 25, 2014

The war here has been going on now for just over 2 1/2 weeks.  Hamas fires 100 to 120 rockets every day into Israel.  Over 2,000 rockets have been fired into Israel since this present war started.

When rockets are fired against the targets in Israel, air raid sirens sound out in the target area.  Towns close to Gaza have 15 seconds to run to the nearest air raid shelter. Here in Jerusalem, we have 90 seconds to run down the stairs to shelter in the basement of our building.  Another plus for living on the first floor. Even inside the shelter, we can hear the overhead explosion as the “Iron Dome” anti-missile system intercepts the incoming rocket.  We are instructed to remain inside the shelter for 10 minutes as debris from the overhead explosion fall to the ground, and these can also cause damage and injury.  Actually, it has been quiet here in Jerusalem as we haven't had a rocket here now for the past week.

Aviel and Gilad are both in the army now and are either inside Gaza or on the border of Gaza waiting to go in. They have been there for the past three weeks.  Both are in the tank corps, but in different battalions. Aviel is a medical officer. He is the only doctor for his whole battalion, and as his tank goes into Gaza, he goes in, riding in the back of a tank, treats the wounded soldiers, and sends them back out of Gaza to hospitals for further treatment. Aviel will be in the army for a total of five years. Gilad is in the army for a total of three years, and he now is close to the end of his service — he finishes at the end of November.  He is the gunner inside a tank. His unit is also inside Gaza, but he is just outside the border of Gaza.

We usually hear about once a day from the boys. But Aviel's cell phone battery has just run out, and he has no facilities to recharge.  Out last message from him was yesterday.

The two boys are at an area that must be about the most dangerous a person can imagine. Of course, this keeps Irit and me awake at night.  For the last two weeks now.

There is talk of a cease fire.  On a national level, we feel there should not be a cease fire until the Israeli army has completely destroyed hamas' ability to fire rockets and has completely destroyed all the tunnels.  On a personal level, for us, a cease fire can't come too soon. We haven't seen the boys in almost a month, and we want them home for dinner with us.  The sooner the better.


Gilad just called us.  A soldier in his unit was killed just a short while ago.  He was quite upset. It was also just notified on the TV.

July 28

Aviel has been inside Gaza ever since the ground offensive started. His battery for his cell phone ran out and we haven't heard from him since this past Friday.

We hear each day from Gilad as he is able to keep his phone charged up on the field generator.  He has been on the border of Gaza since this campaign began, but hasn't actually entered Gaza.

Israel has been generally successful in intercepting the hamas rockets using the “Iron Dome” anti-missile system.  Now for a couple of days, hamas has introduced the use of mortars.  These are a low tech short range weapon and the anti-missile system is useless against it. 

A few hours ago, a mortar was fired over the border and landed very near Gilad.  He was not injured, but four of his friends were killed before his eyes and two others were seriously injured. His unit has been moved a few kilometers further back out of the range of the mortars.  Gilad phoned us.  He is quite upset, very disturbed and very distraught.  He feels he needs to talk right now to a psychologist. Of course, we have an expert psychologist in the family but she is too far away to help. 

How nice if the army would let Gilad come home for a few days.  Would he likely go back to the war after a few days at home?  Knowing his character, the answer would be a loud yes.

July 29

We spoke to Gilad today. He spent a rather restless night, with thoughts of the bloody events from yesterday in his head all night.

He explained to us just what happened.  He was sitting at the encampment with a circle of friends.  He got up to walk over to a box to take out something just when a mortar struck at just the place he had been sitting a minute before.  Four of his friends died and two were seriously injured.  He was unhurt.  But very upset at the sight before his eyes. 

The commander of the unit had a long talk with the soldiers last night and again this morning to reassure them.  An army officer is to visit them later during the day.  She is a social worker and psychologist — I didn't get clear her position.  He did sound a lot better than last night.  Of course, last night just after the event, he was understandably upset.


After not hearing from him since Friday, Aviel finally called this afternoon.  He still does not have any battery on his cell phone, but he was able to use a friend's phone to call us. He is well and was in good spirits.  For most of the last three weeks, he has spent most of his time in the back of a tank. That's how he travels to the battlefield in Gaza.  And it is where he sleeps.  Because it is a safe place, and he is ready to go if he is needed urgently.  The back space in the tank seems to be tiny, but he says that if he is tired enough, he is able to sleep.

Gilad seems to be a lot better.  He is still in mourning for his friends. But when we spoke, he seemed to be in good spirits. A lot better than at this time yesterday.

We hope we will continue to get daily contact with the two of them.

July 31

We spoke this morning with both Gilad and Aviel.  Aviel for only a few seconds as he is always on the move.  But he had a short break and they took them to a facility where they had a shower, and he said he feels like a mensch.  A real treat. Gilad had a little more time to talk with us.  He is better, but we could tell from his voice that he still suffers mentally from his recent tragic experience. They have three army officers who speak to them all the time. I guess we have to expect it to take a while for him.

This is Thursday noon.  If there is not some unexpected drastic development in the next 24 hours, it looks like we will have another erev shabbat dinner tomorrow without our two soldiers.  That makes our dinner table seem way too under populated. We like a nice family crowd for our Friday night dinners.

August 4

Gilad is home!!!   What a nice surprise!!!

There was a memorial service for one of his friends who were killed a week ago.  The memorial service was at his hometown of Safed, and a number of soldiers from Gilad's unit went by an army bus.  When the service was over, they allowed Gilad to come home for a day.  Maybe two??

I just picked him up at Jerusalem's central bus station and brought him home.  We haven't seen him in over a month now.  He looks fine now. How really good to see him.  With a beard.  A bit thinner now.  He hasn't had much of an appetite since the incident a week ago. Maybe some of his favorite home cooking will help him over that.

Now it's Aviel's turn to come home.  Cross your fingers everyone.