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A Wounded Soldier’s Story

Updated: Dec 15, 2023

(October 26, 2023) Last week, our Newsletter reported the injury on the Lebanese border of a B’nei Menashe soldier, Natanel Touthang, whose wounds were described as “light.” This week, when we visited Natanel in Rambam Hospital in Haifa, we were made to realize that “light” is a relative term. With partial sight in his left eye and none at all in his right eye, both damaged by debris and shrapnel from a shell that struck the army position he was in, he was awaiting an operation that would, it was hoped, restore the right eye’s vision. Yet his spirits were high, and ours, too, were raised by his story.

One of four children, Natanel, now 27, was born into a B’nei Menashe family and grew up in Phailen, a neighborhood of Lamka, formerly known as Churachandpur. His father, a civil servant in the government department of agriculture, put great stress on his children’s education, and Natanel, after finishing high school, attended Churachandpur College, from which he received a B.A. degree in political science. By the time the family was offered the chance to make Aliyah in 2018, Natanel’s father had passed away, his older brother had died in a swimming accident, and his two sisters had married and lost interest in living in Israel. “It was just my mother and me,” he told us. After a stay in an absorption center, the two were sent to live in the town of Bet She’an, near the Jordanian border south of Tiberias, where they still live

By now Natanel was 23-years-old, slightly above the cut-off age for army conscription. But although he found a job as a lab technician, he didn’t stop trying to join the IDF. “I kept thinking,” he says, “what was the point of coming to Israel if I couldn’t serve my country?” In the end, the army agreed to induct him for a two-year period of service rather than the usual three. “I was disappointed,” he told us, “but it was definitely better than nothing.” After his basic training, he was posted to an infantry battalion, with which he served until his discharge. His fellow soldiers nicknamed him ‘Nun-Tet,’ the initials of his name that also stand in Hebrew for neged tankim, “against tanks,” that is, an anti-tank missile. “I put those initials on everything,” he says. “My gun, my kitbag, all over.” Little did he realize how ironic this was to be.

A year ago, in September 2022, when he was discharged from the army, Natanel returned to Bet-She’an, now an army reservist, and went back to work. Soon afterward, he married his wife Yehudit. “Bet-She’an is a quiet little town,” he says. “The day of October 7, we didn’t know what was happening because our phones were switched off on account of Shabbat. I only heard of the horrible things going on in the south when Shabbat was over. Even then I wasn’t aware of the full extent of it.”

Natanel went to work the next day as usual. “That’s when I realized how serious things were. Everyone was talking about it; war had been declared by the prime minister. All I could think of was of joining my reserve unit. When I found out evening that some of my friends in Beit She’an had been called up, I phoned my commanding officer and asked why I hadn’t been. He told me that whoever was needed was being called and that I should stay home and wait.

“I wasn’t going to take that for an answer. I insisted he tell me where my unit was assembling and he did. The next day I reported for duty. I was issued my uniform and gear, but though I was hoping we would go to Gaza, we were sent to the north, to the border with Hizbollah.”

Gun emplacements in Israel's north.

Natanel’s unit was positioned on the slopes of Mount Hermon, scant meters away from the Lebanese border. The spot was isolated, in rough terrain, with a commanding view of the area. He was assigned to a pillbox, with a narrow slit to look through and fire a gun from, protected in front by a rampart of earth and with a door in the rear, Equipped with their rifles, a machine gun, and binoculars, he stood guard with a partner. Their job was to keep the area under surveillance and report any signs of enemy activity.

The first days were quiet. The only shooting in them that Natanel remembers was one evening when he watched Hizbollah missiles being fired in the distance toward Metula. A little before 5 p.m. on Wednesday, October 18, he and his partner relieved the pair of soldiers on duty before them. They checked their equipment and Natanel’s partner began to scan their right-hand field of vision through the binoculars. “I was to the left of him and further back,” said Netanel. “Suddenly, without taking his eyes off the binoculars, he screamed my name. He hadn’t reached its last syllable when something hit the rampart just below the firing slit with a huge explosion. The blast threw me against the concrete wall at the back of the pillbox and I fell to the floor. I’m not sure if I blacked out or not, but everything was black when I opened my eyes. I couldn't see a thing.

Natanel, second from the right, recuperating at Rambam Hospital, with his wife, Yehudit(second from the left) visited by Degel Menashe's executive director, Yitzhak Thangjom(extreme right) and his wife Jessica (extreme left).

“The first thing I did was run my hands over my body and touch every part of it to make sure it was still there. I suppose it's human instinct to make sure you are whole in situations like these. I heard my partner firing the machine gun while I tried to drag myself to the door. Soon medics arrived and gave me first aid. I still couldn’t see, My right arm was hit, too, and my eyes were bleeding, I could feel the medics trying to clean them. Then I was on a stretcher and in a helicopter taking me to the hospital. I remember thinking: what a shame! It’s the first helicopter ride of my life and I can’t even see and enjoy it!”

The greater irony, though, was what wounded Natanel. It was an anti-tank missile, a Nun-Tet shell! “Talk of a bullet having your name on it!” he smiled from his hospital bed.

Natanel’s arm is already healing and he has regained some of the vision in his left eye but still can’t see with the right one. “Let's hope for the best,” he answered when asked what he would do if the planned operation did not succeed. “I’ll live with whatever happens without weeping and wailing over it. I’m not a self-pitying type. God’s will has to be accepted. He does His best and expects us to do ours. The army is looking after me very well. I have a private room and my wife stays with me all the time. There are doctors, nurses, and social workers looking after all my needs. I did what I had to do for my country. I’m fine.”



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