On a cold night in February 1999, a force from the commando unit of the IDF Paratroop Brigade climbed 1,200 meters up Kalat Jaber, not far from Maydoun, in South Lebanon.
Their goal was to prepare an ambush for Hizballah fighters known to be circulating in the area. Before the soldiers took their position, the advance guard split off and scouted the cranny that had been chosen, where it was caught off-guard by short-range fire.
The commander of both the force and the Paratroop Brigade Commando Unit, Maj. Eitan Balachsan, a native of Ramot Naftali, was killed on the spot along with a friend, engineering officer Cpt. Liraz Tito. Officer David Granit , who was at the rear of the main force, took command and directed the rescue effort. It was a short battle (about 12 minutes) under difficult field conditions and with poor visibility, and Granit was also killed. The force was extracted by helicopter, with its fallen commanders, five wounded, and deep ruminations about the nature of decisiveness and camaraderie.
The Noam Association , which was established in memory of Eitan Balachsan, conducts a leadership conference every year.
Last week, the annual conference was held at Tel Hai. Like every year, participants included hundreds of young men and women from the Mechina of the Upper Galilee, Nachshon, and Kerem El, whose presence and participation were felt throughou t.
At the conference, various aspects of leadership are examined through the lens of remarks by public figures and study circles. The KKL, a funding partner of the conference, asked Dani to speak as the representative of the KKL–Joint Council partnership:
“… Similar remarks were made by Yitzchak Rabin in his speech as the chief of the general staff of the IDF on Mount Scopus after the Six-Day War, at a ceremony where he was awarded an honorary doctorate by the Hebrew University. He said, among other things:
“… These phenomena begin with the spirit and end with the spirit: the ability of our fighters to transcend the situation comes not from iron, but from consciousness of a supreme calling, of a recognition of the justice of our cause, of a deep love for the homeland and recognition of the difficult task placed upon them: to ensure the continued existence of the nation in its homeland, to preserve—even at the cost of their lives—the right of the people of Israel to live in its state in peace and tranquility, as a free, independent people.
This army, which I was privileged to lead in this war, came from the people and goes back to the people. A people that transcends when tested, that can best any enemy thanks to the caliber of its ethics, its spirit, and its soul, which serve it well in times of trial.”
And having told you this, I have to stress the real difficulty of leadership of the social variety, of the ability to find the strength to share constructive, piercing criticism with your commanders and leaders when there is a need for criticism, because such criticism is the foundation of the success of all nations that survive their struggles.
We are privileged to have personal, concrete examples of this kind of leadership in our day, in the current chief of the general staff, Lt. Gen. Gadi Eizenkot, and police commissioner Lt.-Gen. Roni Alsheikh, who show uprightness, ethical strength, and personal endurance in the face of irresponsible and antidemocratic assaults, and in doing so exhibit the best kind of leadership.
Eitan, David, Liraz, and my other friends who were killed or seriously injured during their service did this, and we did this out of the courage of our convictions and the knowledge that the State of Israel would be an independent, worthy national home for the Jewish people, our Druze brethren, and other minorities here in the Land of Israel. A worthy home must have worthy leadership. It must have decency, and it must have courage.
Today, when we come together in memory of Eitan Balachsan and his friends, it is fitting that we voice and remember these things and take to heart the unforgettable words of Nathan Alterman:
For not for naught, my brother, did you plow and build.
For soul and home we war!
Joara, Tel Amal, Kineret, Chanita,
You are our banners, and we the wall.
For we shall not fall back, there is no other way,
No nation retreats from the trenches of its life.
A company went, went at night, as a chain.
Your presence, my homeland, proceeds with them at battle!”