Alon was born in Israel in 1985. He grew up in Jerusalem with his older brother and a baby brother and sister. They lived in a small fourth-floor walk-up in a non-descript building on the road to Bethlehem just a few miles to the east, where his parents went to shop for vegetables and fruit every week until the first intifada broke out in 1987 and the everyday atmosphere between Jews and Arabs became too fraught. Alon’s father was a prosecutor, which, in that country’s system, meant he was a member of the Jerusalem police department. His mother was an American who came to Israel as a college student and was beginning to make her way as a journalist.
In 1990, Saddam Hussein invaded and occupied Kuwait. Six months later, in January 1991, a coalition led by the United States went to war against Iraq to kick Hussein out of Kuwait. Hussein responded, in part, by firing rockets called SCUDs at Israel. Since he had had a chemical-weapons program, and since the Israelis had no way of knowing whether he might have the capability of loading chemical weapons onto the SCUDs, everyone in Israel was issued a gas mask. Everyone. Alon and his older brother had kid-sized masks. Their parents had grown-up-sized masks. Babies, like Alon’s brother and sister, could not wear them, obviously, so they were issued mamatim—clear plastic tents the size of a tiny playpen into which they could be placed and zipped up with an air filter.
The Israeli government told everyone they should not and could not go outside their homes without their masks. For Alon’s parents, any journey from their fourth-floor walk-up with their year-old twins, not yet walking, meant they had to carry the babies down, mamatim slung over their shoulders along with their own gas masks, while their older children toted their masks in train.
The SCUD attacks came at night, two, three in the morning. The family would hustle into the room in their apartment designated as the safest; it had a heavy blast door, and the window frames and doorjamb were sealed as best as possible with wet towels to keep out the gas. Everyone would put on his or her mask. The babies, often crying in terror, were put in the mamatim—though at one point Alon’s sister spied her uncle, whose face was entirely obscured by the mask, and started playing peekaboo with him to pass the time. “Cu-coo,” she said.
One afternoon, trapped in their apartment, Alon was drawing at the kitchen table and, all but unconsciously, he started to make a whistling noise. His mother froze in place. The noise was a perfect rendering of the unholy sound of the siren that indicated a SCUD was in the air on its way to Israel.
Forty-two SCUDs were fired in 18 separate attacks over 39 days. They were inaccurate and, as it turned out, had no chemical payload. But 13 Israelis were killed and over 4,000 buildings damaged. Alon was five years old.
Alon’s high-school years took place during the second intifada, launched by Yasser Arafat’s Palestinian Authority after they refused the offer of a Palestinian state alongside Israel. In the Jerusalem neighborhood of Baka, where he walked to and from school and hung out with his friends, there were multiple suicide bombings. By the end of the second intifada, nearly 1,100 Israelis had been murdered and thousands injured. Alon finished high school in 2003 and went into the IDF. Skilled with his hands and possessed of a cool intelligence and even cooler demeanor, he was placed in a prestige brigade called the Givati. And at age 19, he found himself deployed to the Gaza Strip, the territory on the Mediterranean south of Tel Aviv that had been occupied by Egypt until Israel’s stunning victory over its then–most dangerous enemy in the Six-Day War.
Israel had not wanted to occupy Gaza; Israel’s defense minister, Moshe Dayan, had actually ordered advancing Israeli forces to avoid the Strip so as to avoid securing its territory. But the goal of the war was to defeat Egypt, and Egypt was both retreating through and making a stand in Gaza. Dayan was overruled by his superior, Yitzhak Rabin, the battle was engaged, and Gaza taken.1
The occupation of Gaza was a burr, not a territorial benefit. In the decades following the 1967 war, hundreds of thousands of Israelis moved themselves to the West Bank, to the ancient provinces of Judea and Samaria, the historical home of the Jewish people, where they formed the “settlements” that have caused such controversy. But Jews do not hear the same mystic chords of memory from Gaza, and so efforts to settle them in Gaza to create geopolitical “facts on the ground” never really took root. By the early 2000s, 8,500 Israelis had moved to 21 tiny settlements, in a situation so dangerous that those 8,500 Jewish Gazans had to be guarded by 24,000 Israeli soldiers.
Alon was one of those soldiers, his duty to protect his fellow Jews from a potential pogrom. But clearly, the balance of forces was awry. Three times as many soldiers were present in Jewish Gaza as there were civilians living their daily lives. And so, in 2005, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon made the daring and unorthodox decision to withdraw all Israeli forces—and all Jews—from the Gaza Strip and make it entirely the province of the Palestinian Authority. To do this, the Jews living in the settlements had to relocate back to Israeli territory. Most did, voluntarily if bitterly. But about 1,100 refused to abandon the homes they had made. Israeli soldiers were compelled to remove them physically. Some literally had to pull resistant co-religionists through windows to get them out. The settlers wept. The soldiers wept.
Alon, who did not support the policy of disengagement but was a loyal soldier, was one of those weeping soldiers.
A year later, in 2006, Hezbollah kidnapped three soldiers in the north of Israel and brought them to Lebanon. That was the beginning of a missile war that lasted 32 days. Alon was deployed there. Israelis were shocked to learn that the storehouse of supplies the IDF had laid in for just this contingency had been wildly depleted, in part from looting. Alon’s mother, like tens of thousands of Israeli parents, literally drove north with sweaters and socks and boots so that their military progeny did not freeze in the mountains at night.
Alon completed his military service, though he continued in miluim—as a reservist in the IDF, he had to report on occasion to maintain his readiness. He went to college. He began to try and figure out how to make a life for himself. He married in 2013, at the age of 28. And then, in 2014, rockets began to rain down on Israel from Gaza.
Such rocket barrages had happened before, every year since 2009, but not on this scale. Some 4,500 were shot off in a day. A new conflict was on, though like all the other military confrontations after the Yom Kippur War in 1973, it was called an “operation.” Alon was activated. And back he went to Gaza.
He spent a month in a tank. To this day he will not discuss what he did there, not because of shame or trauma, but for operational security.
Now it is 2023. Alon has two kids, though he is now divorced. He lives in the middle of Israel and is making a go of it in high tech, doing something that, for the life of me, I cannot understand, even though he has explained it to me, and his mother has tried to explain it to me. He has a “deck.” That I know.
Consider Alon’s life—oh, and I forgot one detail. When he was a baby, his older brother reported to his mother that there was something “sparking” on the oil tank under the stairs of their apartment building. She called the cops. Presumably a worker traveling into Jerusalem from the West Bank had gotten off a bus, taken a device out of a backpack, and stashed it on top of the gas tank. It was a bomb. It was also a dud. But that was just dumb luck.
So, now, again, consider Alon’s life. In Jerusalem, where he spent the first 18 years of his life, he endured rocket fire from Iraq as a five-year-old—Iraq, which was engaged in war not with Israel but with a U.S.-led coalition of 42 countries, not one of them called “Israel.” At 15, men were strapping bombs to themselves and blowing themselves up near his home, seeking to take as many Jews with them as possible—after Israel offered their leaders a state of their own. Twice.
At 19, Alon was deployed to Gaza, where he guarded Jews from being torn apart for the crime of living in a place his country hadn’t even wanted to occupy. At 20, he cried as he forcibly removed some of those Jews from those homes. At 28, Gaza attacked Israel and he was forced to spend a month in combat in a tank. And now, here we are, in 2023. He has been called up yet again. I don’t know what this will mean. I suspect, given his experience, he will go into Gaza again. That will mean this 38-year-old man will have been a soldier, in Gaza, over each of the past three decades.
Not one hair on the head of a Gazan civilian did Alon disturb. Not one Palestinian suicide bomber did he offend to cause the crime. Not one rocket has his nation fired first at Gaza. Not one baby in Gaza has been beheaded by an Israeli. He is an Israeli, and they want to kill him, and they keep trying to kill him, and his mother, and his father, and his siblings, and his children. And all Israelis, and all Jews.
The other week he sat with his kids and took a little film clip of them giggling while they watched Charlie Chaplin in Modern Times. His start-up does something involving network security. He would like to show you his deck. He’s very smart, so I’m sure it’s very brilliant.
His life is a blessing. His country is a blessing. The evil that wishes to obliterate him must instead be obliterated. Alon is my nephew.
1 Please note this when you hear Rabin celebrated by Israeli leftists who want to claim him as a martyr for peace; he may have been the most hawkish leader Israel has ever had and, moreover, the most brutal toward the Palestinians.
Photo: AP Photo/Oded Balilty
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