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A Tale of a Cemetery


June 25, 2024
Sondra Oster Baras


On October 7, 2023, the military cemetery in Karnei Shomron consisted of four graves in a small section adjacent to the regular cemetery.  I remember the deaths of three of them well.  In 1997, while Israel was still heavily involved in Lebanon, trying mightily to defeat the terrorist groups there who posed a constant threat to Israel, two helicopters carrying soldiers to the front crashed, killing all the soldiers  in the choppers.  It was a terrible tragedy.  The helicopters spiraled down to Shear Yashuv, a quiet moshav in the Galilee.  Seventy three soldiers died that night, including Shiloh Levy, a young soldier from Karnei Shomron. 

In 2000, the IDF withdrew from Lebanon, determined to continue defending the northern border from the Galilee and the Golan Heights.  But the security vacuum left by Israel’s departure was soon filled by Hezbollah, the deadliest terrorist group Lebanon had ever known and one of the most powerful terrorist organizations in the Middle East.  With increasing frequency, they began firing rockets and missiles to the north of Israel.  Israel responded from time to time but Hezbollah continued its  attempts to destroy Israel.  In 2006, Benaya Rein fell in battle during the Second Lebanon War, the most recent serious attempt to defeat Hezbollah. Benaya grew up in Karnei Shomron and is buried there.

Since October 7th, Hezbollah has been attacking Israel with greater intensity.  The entire north of Israel has been evacuated, and Israel is planning a serious attack against Lebanon once it has taken control of Rafah in Gaza.

In 1997, terrorism in Judea and Samaria was growing steadily.  One Friday night, terrorists infiltrated the community of Otniel, south of Hebron, and murdered three students in the Hesder Yeshiva there.  A Hesder Yeshiva combines military service with Bible study.  These three students had already been inducted into the IDF but were on the study part of their service.  They were murdered in the yeshiva kitchen as they prevented the terrorists from entering the dining room where hundreds of students were enjoying their Friday night meal.  One of the three was Yehuda Bamberger, from Karnei Shomron.

Since then, terrorism has continued to grow throughout Judea and Samaria.  In Otniel alone, several residents were murdered in and around the community over the years.  In 2016, Michael Mark was murdered while driving with his wife and children to visit relatives for Shabbat.  On October 7, 2023, Michael’s nephews Menachem and Elchanan Kalmanzon, left Otniel to save people in the Gaza Envelope.  They rescued 100 people from Beeri before Menachem was shot and Elchanan murdered by terrorists.  A few weeks later, Michael’s son and Elchanan’s cousin Pedaya fell in battle.

On January 1, 2024, my nephew Amichai fell in battle in Gaza and was buried in Karnei Shomron.  A few weeks later Yisrael Sokol and Adam Bismut fell in battle in Gaza and were buried in Karnei Shomron.  Gilad Boim fell in Gaza on May 16th.  On June 10th, a group of soldiers were killed and injured in Gaza as they entered a booby-trapped home.  Two soldiers from Karnei Shomron, childhood friends as well as comrades in arms, fell in that incident — Yair Roitman and Yair Levine.

On October 7th, there were four graves in the military cemetery.  There are now 10 and tractors are busily at work to expand the cemetery.  Karnei Shomron is a town of 11,000 people. Seven local soldiers fell in battle since October 7th and one young woman was murdered on that terrible day at the Nova Music Festival.

The soldiers buried in Karnei Shomron gave their lives fighting for their country. Some fought in Lebanon years ago, where we are now facing greater threats than ever before.  Some fell in and around Gaza in recent months where we are currently fighting to defeat Hamas.  Each time we went to war to try to defeat these murderous, monstrous terrorists, we were stopped from finishing the job, by international pressure.  Even as we fought a battle on behalf of the entire free world, we were left to fight the battle on our own with very little backing, sometimes under enormous censure. 

I was at the funeral for Yair Levine.  It was a blistering hot Friday afternoon and thousands gathered to pay respects to this 19 year old fallen soldier.  He had just been drafted last summer to an elite commando unit.  He had not even finished his training when he was sent to Gaza by an army desperate for young soldiers.  His grandparents are old friends and neighbors. When we went to visit them a few days later, Moshe told us that he sensed his grandson did not expect to return from Gaza.  I can’t wrap my head around that — imagine a 19 year old, knowingly fighting bravely for his country, sensing that he will have to make the ultimate sacrifice.

So much death.  So much sacrifice.  So many heroes.  We doubt our leadership, but we are amazed at our young people.  They give us hope for the future.  I pray to God that we do win this war and that our hostages come home soon.  We know the battle will be a long one and our enemies may never give up their hope to destroy Israel.  We have no choice.  We will fight and pray — we will never give up.

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