Becoming a Sayeret (IDF Special Forces) Combat Soldier

The following  is Michael’s memories  from  his training  with Israel’s elite forces in the 1960s, during one of Israel’s most difficult periods, when the small Israeli army faced much larger Arab forces. 

Michael Pick fought in defense of Israel in the 1967 Six Day War, the 1973 Yom Kippur War, and many other military conflicts in between. In 1982, I met Michael deep in Lebanon during the 1st Lebanon war. He was already married with four children, but still, as a reserve combat paratrooper, he continued to be on the front line protecting Israel’s borders. 

Purposely, most of the people in Michael’s unit are not mentioned by name. Many of them became generals and leaders. One them is Ehoud Barak, who later became the commander of Sayaret Matkal, the IDF’s cheif of staff, Israel’s defense minister, and Israel’s prime minister.

The article was originally written in Hebrew by Michael. It was later translated to English by me, GideonMichael, and Gideon Pick  who is also mentioned in the article, are my uncles.

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Michael’s story

I had the honor to enlist in the army on April 2, 1964. I always knew that I’ll give the army my very best and that it will be as a paratrooper. We were ten children in the family. My parents were born in Germany to a religious family. My parents became secular and their entire family severed the ties with them. Their families, the Zuman and the Pick are well known in the Haredi world.

As a child, for various reasons, I had to leave home. I moved from one institution to another. I learned very quickly that my status was dependent on my strength. Very quickly I became one of the leaders. In the institutions, the instructors did not care about the level of education. As long as the instructors did not complain, everything was fine. The teachers had a small group of students that they cared about. The pace of the class was based on the level of those students. They were the kids of rich families that for various reasons had to leave home. As far as the rest of us were concerned, as long as we didn’t bother the teachers, they kept us in class. Toward the end of most the lessons, most of the kids were expelled from their classes and played in the yard. On many occasions, instead of going to class, I worked as a delivery boy for flower shops. I always had money, which I shared with my sister who was a year and a half older than me. When I moved to an institute in Haifa, there wasn’t a flower shop that I didn’t work for. I had plenty of opportunities to join kids who became criminals, but I kept my distance from them. I knew that as long as I was strong I was also right and a leader.

One day I find myself in front of the paratroopers building in the Bakum, the IDF’s enlistment base. The main line was split into two lines. One line was of volunteers to the paratroopers’ battalion, the other line was of volunteers to the paratroopers’ reconnaissance unit (Sayeret Tzanchanim). The best soldiers in Sayeret Tzanchanim were later transferred to the IDF’s elite unit, Sayert Matkal. Most of the volunteers in the Sayaert’s volunteers line were farmers who came from the Kibbutz and Moshav movements. Many of them were in sport teams and showed off their athleticism. Some of them were graduates of the sport college Vingate in Natanya. I felt like a small shark among them. Next to me in line stood an orthodox man. We became friends. Later we became very good friends. His name was Benny. He later became a reporter for the Israeli TV. Benny told me that he came from the ultra-orthodox neighborhood in Jerusalem called Mea Shearim. His father was among founders of Sayeret Tzniut, the ultra-orthodox group that goes around religious neighborhoods and harasses women that they are considering to be dressed immodestly (this organization still exists today). The moment Benny applied for an Israeli ID card, so he could join the army, his family declared him a non-Jew, they sat Shiva on him and threw him out of the house. He slept in the streets until a Zionist religious family adapted him.

(A year later, Major-General Goren, who was the chif IDF rabbi, was one of the dignitaries in our graduation from the non-commissioned officer’s school. I had the chutzpah to approach the General and asked if I could talk to him. I told him about Benny. General Goren, who had moderate views succeeded in bridging between Benny and his father.)

Anyway, in the Sayaret’s volunteers line in the Bakum, when it was my turn, I entered the paratroopers’ building and stood in front of the selection committee. The legendry Major Marcel Tobias headed the committee. Marcel was a very large man.  When he looked into the eyes of a new recruit, the poor recruit usually got an anxiety attack.

(Major Tobias would later become the world’s parachuting champion. He later founded the paratroopers’ corps in Uganda where he died in a parachuting accident when his primary and reserve parachutes failed to open. Some people claimed that the parachutes did not open because they were sabotaged due to an internal tribal conflict in Uganda. Since Marcel was a very large man, there was a rumor that he was jumping with pillows to soften the impact with the ground. I had to honor to jump with him from a plane few times. I can testify from personal experience that it was a cruel rumor. He jumped out of the airplane like everyone else.

When Marcel was fifteen years old his family moved to Austria. He joined the Austrian army when he was 16. One evening a drunk officer began cursing the Jewish people. Marcel got very upset and fired a full magazine at the officer. With the help of the Jewish community, Marcel escaped to Paris. He joined the French Foreign Legion and fought in the Sahara Desert. Two years later, with the help of the Jewish community, his father paid for his release. Marcel immigrated to Eretz Israel where he joined the Jewish brigade. )

I’m standing in front of the legend, all nervous, knowing that my future in the army is dependent on the decision of this man. Because of his Hungarian accent he couldn’t pronounce the Hebrew letter CH. He pronounced it as H. Marcel asked me “Hayal” (instead of Chayal) “Why do you want to be Tzanhan?” (instead of Tzanchan)? (In English: Soldier why do you want to be a paratrooper?) He didn’t know that I practiced the answer every day for years. I told him that I love my country and that I was willing to give my life for it. Marcel smiled and continues.

“So, soldier, why Sayeret?”

 A recruit that gave Marcel unsatisfactory answers the day before, was not accepted to the paratroopers. The new recruit began screaming that he was preparing for it for five years, that he ran every day, road marched, built an obstacle course in the kibbutz in preparation for it. He said that he couldn’t face the people in the kibbutz. Then he began crying.

Marcel said to the new recruit, “Marcel is not afraid of Syria, or Egypt, or of Jordan. Marcel is not afraid of an idiot like you, but I’ll make a deal with you. Today you are going to the paratroopers’ battalion, but first you’ll be in detention for a week. Then you’ll join everyone else. Idiot, do you hear me? I won’t write that in your file.”

Marcel dropped the new recruit to the ground in a Judo maneuver and said, “It would have been easier if you explained to me why do you want to join the paratroopers in another way.”

Then, Marcel smiled and said, “Today you are joining the paratroopers without detention.”

The soldier was still on the ground. He began kissing Marcel’s boot. In a fatherly movement, Marcel lifted the recruit off the floor and sent him to get a cold drink on Marcel’s account.

By the way, the same recruit completed all the courses successfully. We were together in one of the most difficult squad leaders’ schools. That recruit later became the commander of the IDF’s Jump School, and the commander of the IDF’s Officers’ School.

Before I had a chance to answer Marcel why I wanted to join the Sayeret, he said to me, “Soldier you have three minutes you are in the paratroopers’ building.”

 “Why Sayeret?” Marcel continued.

“I want the best,” I said.

Marcel continued with few routine questions, then I hear the magic words.

“Soldier stand still. You are in the Sayeret!”

When I was about to leave Marcel said, “listen idiot, don’t you think that I know that you are Gidon’s brother?”

(My brother Gidon was killed in action in 1956. Later, one more of my brothers was killed in action.)

Marcel said, “I’m not authorized to admit you to the paratroopers, but today I am Moshe Dayan and I close one eye because I wanted you to be admitted on your own merits.”

Then he told me that he was with Gidon on several combat operations behind enemy lines.

“I’ll make sure that they’ll work you very hard in basic training, because I want you to be a good soldier,” Maecel said.

 I started the paratroopers basic training on the wrong foot – bad luck. I don’t know what I did to deserve it:  Just before basic training started, we went on a road march to test our physical fitness. The company medic, who was also my platoon sergeant, gave me a medical kit and told me not to open it. He said that he was the only one who was allowed to open the kit. At the end of the road march he told me to drop off the kit in the clinic, which I did.

Just before we went to sleep, my platoon commander came to see me. He was escorted by three military policemen. They took me to the military base Zrifin after midnight. As we entered, I noticed a sign that said Jail Number 4. The Military policemen put me in a jail cell. I thought that it was an exercise. They brought me breakfast and took me to the interrogation room. Three military investigators wanted to know what did I do with the three morphine ampules that were in the medical kit. I understood that it was serious. I told them that I didn’t understand what they were talking about. One of the investigators left the room. The other two investigators offered me a deal: Return the ampules in exchange for three months in jail. I asked them if this is why I waited for so long to join the army, so two SOBs will falsely accuse me. I got upset and attacked them. I punched one of them in the nose and he bled. The other investigator pushed the emergency button. Few policemen came in and drugged me into a solitary confinement. I yelled at them that if someone touches me, I’ll settle the score with him in the first opportunity. They put me in a small two meters by two meters dark cell. I later understood that policemen would forgive many things, but they won’t forgive an attack on one of them.

Three big policemen entered my cell. I told them that if anyone touches me, I’ll wait for him next to his house and will make a large scar across his face. They looked at each other.  An officer came and yelled at the policemen to get me out of the cell. I noticed that my company commander, and my company sergeant were present. I was told that my company commander did not believe the accusation. He did his own investigation and found out that the kit with the ampules was switched by accident. It was evident that I was innocent. A fat Lt. Colonel, the deputy jail commander, came and told me that I’m lucky that the policeman that I hit was willing to accept an apology. I apologized. My company sergeant, told me to forget the incident. He was glad that I hit the military policeman.

The entire company did the first three phases of basic training together. In the fourth phase, the Sayeret trained separately. Basic training was very difficult. Tough road marches with heavy loads and long runs. Some gave up and left. I understood from a friend that was in Golani that their training was similar to ours. In the last phase of basic training we learned how to survive alone. We were taught how to kill. There were few operations that involved killing. Some for self-defense, others to settle the score with people who murdered Jews for no reason. We also learned how to fight alone against tanks.

In basic training, we had a company commander that liked to work us very hard. We are still friends. His name is Yosi. He made us march from our base to the training area, regardless how far the training area was. Yosi, continued to climb in the military ladder. His last assignment was the commander of the Lebanese border.

An entire squad of twelve trainees was in each tent. One of the trainees was Eitan Nave. Years later Eitan was killed on Ammunition Hill in Jerusalem during the Six Day War. He fought bravely and received the Israeli Medal of valore after his death. He is mentioned in the famous song Givat Hatachmoshet (Ammunition Hill). Eitan was a quiet man. He had a talent for inventing things. Another person in our squad was Nachman Levi. He was killed in the Six Day war in the Sinai desert when he was a company commander in the battalion.  One of the trainees in our tent, who asked me not to mention him by name, was a serious and disciplined person. His parents owned hotels. He was among the soldiers who were later accepted to Sayeret Makal. He participated in many operations behind enemy lines. Some of them are still secrete. He received the Israeli Medal of Courage. He helped me writing this memoir.

Another trainee was a tall guy from Iraq. He was born in Bagdad. I think that he was more than two meters tall. If basketball was then the same that it is today, he would have been a star. When he was angry, he pronounced the guttural letters in a way that made us laugh. He had a heart of gold. His brother had a bakery in Kfar Saba. Every other week we all waited for the large package that his brother used to send him. It was customary that packages were shared between all of us. He was in an excellent physical shape and helped soldiers who dragged behind in road marches. He had fast hands. When someone lost some of his equipment, he would steal it from the older companies. He did it as long as we didn’t say where we got it. When he was angry, he spoke in an Iraqi dialect. He began dating a nurse who was born in the US. When we went on activities behind enemy lines, she used to wait for us in the ambulance and treat the injured with all her heart. When we wanted to hear the guttural letters, we teased him that we wished that we were injured so his girlfriend could perform a mouth to mouth resuscitation on us. Later they got married. She graduated from medical school and he became a successful construction contractor.

Together with us in the tent was a guy from Canada named Aldo (nickname). He was a lone soldier. He came from a rich family and had plenty of money in his wallet. We called him Mouse because he used to eat his sweets at night when everyone was sleeping, so he won’t have to share it with us. The squad didn’t like him. He had no friends. Aldo had a special sack where he kept his sweets. He used to lock it with a combination lock. Every time he had a chance, he counted his sweets to make sure that nothing was missing. One night when I returned from guard duty, I found Eitan Nave playing with Aldo’s combination lock. Eitan told me that as a challenge he must open the lock. A minute later the lock was open. We were in shock when we saw the amount of sweets in the sack. We celebrated our success by eating some of is sweets. In the morning, there were screaming throughout our camp. Aldo was crying that he was robbed.

One day our platoon commander ordered me to befriend Aldo, he was worried that Aldo will commit a suicide because the entire company stayed away from him. Aldo was talking to me all day about him getting a driver license for a semi-trailer after the service. One day, one of my friends and I did a terrible thing. We were scheduled to go to Jump School the next morning. We went to our platoon commander and asked him not to send Aldo to Jump School with us. The platoon commander was livid. He screamed at us for making such a request. The next day when we arrived at the Jump School we noticed that Aldo wasn’t there.

Many years passed, I was a shift head in the Israeli police, Acre station. One night I was instructed to take the entire shift and set up a road checkpoint near Tiberias to catch thieves who operated in the area. As we were checking cars at the checkpoint, I receive a message to stop a semi-trailer driver who was zigzagging on the road and risking other drivers. I was told that he was driving in my direction. I don’t know why, but the first thing that came to my mind was Aldo. The driver did not stop at the checkpoint and blew his tires as he crossed the metal spikes that we laid across the road. I was told that the driver was an Arab from East Jerusalem and that he smelled drunk.

Five minutes later, a new Mercedes stopped by me and I heard “Big Pick!”. I approached the car and I couldn’t believe my eyes, the SOB Aldo was sitting next to the driver. He told me that he was in a hurry, but that I should come and visit him for a coffee in the hospital’s ophthalmology department when I’m in Jerusalem. I answered in sarcasm. “Once cheap always cheap, you are inviting me to the hospital’s cafeteria because the hospital pays, but don’t worry, I’ll bring with me some of the sweets that I still have from your sack.” Aldo screamed that I was a thief and drove away.

Few months later I was in Jerusalem on duty during the intifada (Palestinian riots).  I Found myself next to the hospital. I took one of the policemen with me and went the ophthalmology department. I asked one of the nurses where I could find Aldo.

“You may be a policeman, but you are still disrespectful. He is Professor Aldo to you.” the nurse said. 

“A Professor? What professor?” I said.

Suddenly I heard Aldo laughing behind me.

“You’d be surprise, a professor” he said.

He took us to his office. I held him by his shirt and whispered, whom did you kill to get the diploma?“

“When you asked that I won’t be with you in Jump School you changed my life.” Aldo said.

“The next day the platoon commander sent me to Medics School. The school commander was an ophthalmologist in his civilian life. We became very good friends. This is how I entered the medical field.”

We kept in touch. One day Aldo told me that he was returning to Canada to open a hospital. We meet every time he is in Israel.

 My squad leader in basic training was on my case. He punished me on left and right. He made me dig holes. I held myself not to punch him. I kept asking myself why he was doing it to me. The entire platoon told me that the squad leader was especially hard on me. One day he left for officers’ school and a new squad leader replaced him. The new squad leader liked me and my motivation. My friend Benny was not accepted to the Sayeret and continued with the battalion. I didn’t think that we will be back together in the near future. He continued his basic training in Bet Lid and I moved to the Kfar Sirkin area. From time to time we met in joint exercises. Later Benny finished successfully officers’ school and jump instructors’ school. He told me that in the beginning he had physical difficulties, but his platoon commander kept him there because of his unique background. He caught up quickly.

 After basic training, I was sent to a sharpshooters’ school in Dora camp near Netanya. I was the youngest in my course. In my class were soldiers from all the IDF’s filed units. Some of the trainees had already graduated from squad leaders’ school. We were seven paratroopers in the course. The course commander was a fat Lt. Colonel. He called all seven of us and told us that he did everything in is power not to have paratroopers in the course, because paratroopers were troublemakers. The other paratroopers in the course were sergeants. I was the only private. In the meeting that was conducted pretty much as a loud screaming, it was decided that the paratroopers will be exempt from guard duty and in return we will behave ourselves.

 Sharpshooters school was like a vacation for me. We practiced less than five hours a day. I spent time in Netanya. I dated a female soldier from the base. I loved the course and I was one of the top three sharpshooters.  I lived the good life, except for one incident when we, meaning I, booby trapped the door of the mess hall sergeant. The course was six weeks long. We were in the fifth week. Since all the other paratroopers were sergeants and I was a private, it was decided that I will be the one to booby trap the door. We used a fuse that normally was attached to explosives to initiate the explosion. On its own, the fuse wasn’t dangerous, but it made a loud noise when exploded. The sergeants gave me a short lesson on explosives. We decided to booby trap the sergeant’s door because we felt that he wasn’t respectful enough to the paratroopers. We felt that he didn’t double our desert portions. When the poor sergeant opened the door, the fuse exploded. We made sure to be visible at the canteen and other public areas to establish an alibi. After the explosion, the course commander called us to his office. We played innocent and gave him our alibi. He said that he knows that only us are capable of pulling off something like that. Then he asked that whoever graduates the school will behave himself. I interjected and asked what did he mean when he said “whoever graduates”.

The commander smiled and said, “I just received a phone call from the paratroopers’ headquarters. In the morning, you are returning the equipment and reporting to your unit. Since you are one of the top sharpshooters, you receive a diploma.”

The Golani soldiers in the course hugged me when I left. I returned to my unit worried about the unknown. When I got back to Sirkin I didn’t know whom to report to. I went to the offices and met my friend, the new admin officer, a captain from Tel Mond. The captain told me that a new squad leaders course begins the next day, and that my platoon commander from basic training recommended me. He added that he heard that it was especially difficult course and that he had connections with the unit’s physician. He offered to get me a dismissal from the physician. I said that I couldn’t do that. I promised Marcel that I’ll do my best. He gave me an afternoon pass and went to visit my sister in Kfar Vitkin. The next morning, I reported to the course.

General Zvi Zur was the chief of staff at that time. He was a very tough person. He decided to make everyone work very hard in the squad leaders’ school. He decided that all the special units, including Seyeret matkal, Syeret Tzanchanim, Sayert Golani, Shayeted 13 (navy seals), Combat Engineering, and Nachal paratroopers will train together. He gave us a present; extending the course by a month and a half, making it five months long. A regular squad leaders school was three months long.

The course commander was Major Zvi, a paratrooper. (In the Yom Kippur War, when Zvi was a Colonel, he was the brigade commander of the Hermon. Since I took part in capturing the Syrian Hermon, I came to visit him on the Israeli Hermon, which was a short walking distance. He asked me to help him with something. When I was there, I had no choice but to notice the horror of the war. I can’t get into details).

I don’t think that the IDF had a more difficult squad leaders cours that ours. We started the course with 392 soldiers, only 73 of us finished it. Per the chief of staff order, the course was in the desert near Dimona. The base was constructed especially for this course. There was no air condition back then. The deputy commander was from Golani. He was a SOB. To his credit, I must say that he knew the material. Major Zvi gathered the paratroopers for a meeting two hours before the course began. He told us that he didn’t want us to humiliate him. If anyone thought that he couldn’t finish the course, Major Zvi recommended that this person should return his equipment and leave now. He said that each one of us was selected by a committee because we showed motivation, camaraderie, and the will to help others. He said that if someone will humiliate him, he’ll make his life miserable. He finished by saying that he was not going to make it easier for us, the opposite, he was going to make it harder. He expected more from us, especially from Sayert Matkal. (Each Sayert sent to the course six corporals and two sergeants.) Major Zvi added that he was just told that the trainees wouldn’t be grouped with other trainees from the same unit, that we will be mixed with trainees from other units.

Suddenly Major Marcel Tobias shows up, by a personal request of the IDF chief of staff, to serve as a strategic advisor to major Zvi. His was promised that at the end of the course he’ll return to his lifelong love, commanding the IDF’s Jump school.

First Marcel told us that tough training makes it easier in battle. Then he told us what to do to avoid catching disease from prostitutes in the area. We rolled on the floor for half an hour laughing our hearts out. Afterword he came to me and gave me a hug.

“I heard that you are a good soldier,” he said.

“I’ll teach you how to attach explosive to the Sargent Major’s door,” Marcel whispered.

Then, he patted me on the shoulder and told me to go and get ready. I still have no idea who told him about the episode in the sharpshooters school.

Our assembly area was in Tel Nof (Israel’s largest airbase and the home of the Jump School). To my surprise, I ran into my friend Benny. He fought relentlessly to be sent to the course. We were seven soldiers who were sent directly from Basic Training to the Squad leaders’ school. Shortly after we received our equipment, Major Zvi told us that we will be marching from Tel Nof to the training area in Dimona (over a hundred kilometers). In my squad there were three soldiers from Golani, five from Shayeted 13, three from Combat Engineering, two from Sayeret Tzanchanim, and three from the battalion. We became a unit very quickly. I became the squad leader. I told the squad that from this moment forward we are one unit. That it didn’t matter which was our home unit.

We repeated all the exercises we did in Basic Training. This time it was different; we had to repeat every exercise several times. We worked very hard. In the course, we had sea training. In one exercise, we practiced landing on the beach from landing crafts when a drenching rain hit us merciless. We were completely soaked. I must say that the soldiers from Shayetet 13 helped us getting through it. The next training exercise was learning how to individually fight with anti-tank Bazooka rocket launchers against advancing enemy tanks. Many IDF officers followed the excercise closely since the training was a military experiment on how to merge soldiers from all the elite forces.

I came from a large family, but I didn’t have a place to spend Shabbats and holidays. I had a family in Tel Mond, but I didn’t feel comfortable there. I didn’t get along with my father. He had conservative views and we always argued. It was a very hot summer. I remember one week when we had a very difficult exercise; we marched 110 kilometers with heavy gear. About thirty percent of the soldiers didn’t finished the road march. In addition to my gear, I did most of the road march carrying the gear of a soldier from Combat Engineering. On Friday evening everyone, who wasn’t detained for misbehavior in the past week, went home. I was invited by a Shayetet 13 soldier in my squad to go home with him to Kibbutz Revivim. I was very tired and decided to stay, so I could get some sleep. That evening, when I went to the mess hall, I was seen by one of the Golani platoon leaders who was in charge of the detained soldiers. The officer noticed me. He thought that I was one of the detainees. He gave me a double guard duty because he thought that I skipped the guard duties. I tried to explain him that he was mistaken, but he didn’t listen. In addition, he assigned me to work in the warehouse. This was an officer who was hated in his organic unit and was sent to the course to get rid of him for few months.

The next morning, he came to the warehouse and began bullying me. I asked him few times to leave me alone. He slapped me. I lost my patience and punched him in the face. It was a hard hit that required a medic treatment. He put me in jail. A soldier who worked in the warehouse hated this officer and told me that he’ll testify on my behalf. Privately, I was happy to be in jail. It gave me an opportunity to catch few hours of sleep. The next day, Sunday, I was told that I’ll be court marshaled by Marcel at 3:00 PM, and that for certain I was going to prison. The battalion policeman led me to Marcel’s office.

“The last thing on my mind was that you will be brought to me for a court martial,” Marcel said.

 “Hell, you weren’t listed in last weekend’s detainees list,” Marcel said.

I was emotionally overwhelmed and I began crying. I told him everything that happened. Marcel called Major Zvi, the course commander, and ask him “Aren’t there any good guys in Golani, that they sent us this idiot?”

Major Zvi called the officer to tell his side of the story. The officer yelled that I was a criminal, and that I punched him in the face. Major Zvi told the officer that he was upset that I didn’t hit him harder. He yelled at the officer that I voluntarily stayed in the base. I asked that the soldier from the warehouse will be brought to give his testimony. The soldier supported my testimony. Marcel was fuming. He told the officer that he had 30 minutes to leave the base. He added that he will call the Golani’s brigade commander that evening to report the incident.

 A week later we had another sea training exercise. It was raining hard. The sailors tried to help us. We spent the first two days jumping to the water. The water temperature was two degrees C (35 F). We ended the exercise by landing on the Ashkelon beach. It was Friday and we returned to the base in trucks. We arrived at the base at 11:00 AM. Soldiers who went home for the weekend had to be in formation at 12:00 PM. Once again, I decided to spend the weekend at the base. At 6:00 PM, my friend Dani from the Shayetet and his sister, woke me up and dragged me to their house in Beer Sheva. They were a wonderful immigrant family from India.  His sister Zehava took me to a party at one of her friends’ house. It was fun. Before his sister took us back to the base, their father asked me to come again for Shabbats.

 Three months had passed, some trainees were dismissed and others left on their own because they couldn’t keep up with the training. No one in my squad dropped out because we were united. I kept a close eye on Benny. Major Zvi selected me to be the course’s Team Leader. On one hand, it was a great honor, but on the other hand, it was a headache. Major Zvi arranged that the we, the paratroopers, will get to the training area by parachuting to organize the camp for everyone else. When we, the paratroopers, were alone with him, he criticized the people who didn’t live up to his standards. After that he used to invite us for coffee and cookies.

 My platoon leader, Reuven, loved my performance as a soldier and on many occasions demanded that I’ll go with him to Dimona for Shabbat. I spent my weekends between Dani’s family and Dimona. Reuven and I became close friends. Because an officer was not supposed to socialize with trainees, we kept it as secret. In one of the parachuting events to a campsite, Reuven broke his leg. It was exactly when we finished the fourth month of the course. The new officer that replaced Reuven was the squad leader who made my life miserable in basic training. I went immediately to Marcel and told him that I quite because the new officer hated me for a reason I don’t understand. Marcel invited both of us to a meeting. Marcel, who always said what he thought, said: “Idiot, what do you have against Pick?” The officer said that I was with his brother in the same boarding school, and that at one time I beat his brother hard. Marcel yelled that he didn’t have time for nonsense and demanded that we will shake hands.

 While in the course, we also served as a reserve unit for the entire army. When the border was hot, usually the Syrian border, more than once we participated in fire exchange with Syrian and Jordanian soldiers. I operated a 0.5 machine gun; a killer weapon. If someone is hit in one is limbs by a bullet from this machine gun, the limb just falls off. If someone is hit in his upper body, he prays to die faster. By the IDF’s chief of staff order, we spent the last month of the course in the Golani base Filon near the Syrian border. We spent the days in training and the nights in ambushes.

 The end of the course finally arrived.  The parents of all the trainees arrived. I didn’t tell my family. I knew that no one will show up. A family of a friend from Combat Engineering adapted me and it was nice. It was a surprise, I didn’t know it in advance, I was selected as the outstanding soldier in the graduation ceremony. Everyone was awarded corporal ranks, I was awarded the rank of a sergeant.

We were supposed to get ten-day vacation after graduation. One of the graduates had a brother who worked in Tnuva (Israel’s primary dairy products suppler at the time). He found me a temporary work as a bearer. Major Zvi invited me to the canteen and told me that he had a difficult conversation with the paratroopers’ brigade commander “Hoka” (Yitzhak Hofi).  (He later became a Major General and the commander of the Northern Command in the Yom Kippur War. Hofi was the only member of the IDF General Staff who believed that the Arabs were preparing to attack. After the war Hofi was the head of the Mossad). Major Zvi told me that Hofi wanted me in the battalion immediately, but that he arranged a three-day vacation first. I told him that I didn’t understand why. I was in Sayeret Matkal. I had nothing to do with the battalion. Major Zvi told me that the army found out that I was the brother of Gidon Pick who was killed while in the Syaret. That there was nothing he could do about it. (Few years later I lost another brother who served in an army intelligence unit.)

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In the paratroopers battalion, Michael continued to excel. To my knowledge, at the time, he was the only soldier ever to serve as a battalion sergeant major in a combat unit, while still in his compulsory service. He later served in a special unit of the Border Guards. The feature picture is taken during his time with the Border Guards.

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Below is the Paratrooper Song, filmed at the IDF Jump School around the same time Michael was a trainee.

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Eitan Nave, Michael’s friend and teamate, who was killed on Ammunition Hill on June 6, 1967. Eitan is the recepieant of the IDF highest medal, the Medal of Valor.

One of the Six-Day War’s best-known folk songs — Givat Hatachmoshet — tells the story of the battle that took place on Ammunition Hill. This song describes a grueling battle that was waged at the site of a police station built by the British in northern Jerusalem on a site called “Ammunition Hill”. During the 1948 War of Independence, the Arab Legion conquered sections of northern Jerusalem which resulted in the creation of an Israeli enclave on Mount Scopus which was cut off from the rest of Israeli Jerusalem. Ammunition Hill became one of the Jordanians’ fortified positions preventing the two segments from being united. One of bloodiest battles of the Six-Day War was fought on Ammunition Hill (Givat Hatachmoshet). To gain access to Mount Scopus and the Jerusalem-Ramallah Road, the task of capturing Ammunition Hill and the fortified Jordanian Police Training School, was assigned to IDF Paratroopers.

It was clear that the capture of the hill would be crucial in gaining access to the Old City. Built on a slope, the winding fortified trenches were planned in such a way that one trench provides cover for other trenches. This was one of the reasons it was hard for the paratroopers to advance and capture their target. A huge reinforced concrete bunker also made capturing the hill difficult. Ultimately, Paratroopers took the hill, only after blowing the bunker up. The fighting that took place on the night of June 6, 1967 lasted four hours. In those few short hours 36 men lost their lives.

The song Givat Givat Hatachmoshet (Ammunition Hill), was filmed on Ammunition Hill shortly after the 1967 Six Days War

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In the Yom Kippur War, Michael served with the reserve airborne brigade on the Golan Heights. In these short video,  some of the paratroopers actions are docmented, including the capture of the Syrian Hermon.  

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In this picture, as a civilian, Michael Pick provides security for Shimon Peres during a vist to Michael’s hometown. Shimon Peres was an Israeli prime minister, Israeli president, and an Israeli defense minister.

Michael (Micha) Pick is holding a Torah that was dedicated to Herut’s fallen heroes on May 28, 2015. Herut (freedom) was the village were Gideon and Michael grew up.  Michael followed Gideon and joined the paratroopers.

 

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“The service in the Israeli army is compulsory. However, most of the people who join the IDF (Israel Defense forces) see it as a great honor. The IDF is the most ethical army in the world. Israeli soldiers do not rape, do not still, and do not fire on people (individuals or groups), when they raise a white flag and surrender. Exceptions are handled quickly and harshly according to the Israeli law and international conventions. Israeli soldiers do not desecrate religious sites.

More than once, Israeli soldiers became casualties just because they showed mercy:

The Convoy of Thirty-five (or the Lamed He, which stands for “thirty-five” in Hebrew numerals), was a convoy of Haganah fighters sent on a mission to reach by foot and resupply the blockaded kibbutzim of Gush Etzion in January 1948, after earlier motorized convoys had been attacked. On their way, they captured an old Arab. The Thirty-five couldn’t take him with them and they didn’t want to harm him, so they let him go. The old Arab alerted the Arab forces in the area. The convoy was attacked by overwhelming force. The Thirty-five were killed in a prolonged battle with Jordanian soldiers, and local villagers. As a result of it, Gush Etzion was captured by Jordanian soldiers.

On many occasions, individual Israeli soldiers performed act of bravery that cost their lives to save the lives of their teammates.

During the Sinai Operation in 1956, the paratrooper Yehuda Ken Dror drove a jeep in front of Egyptian soldiers hidden in the mountains, to attract their gunfire, so his teammates could identify the enemy firing positions and silence them.  In this battle, Yehuda Ken Dror was fatally injured. In his death, he saved the life of his teammates.

During the 1967 Six Day war, in the heroic battle on Givat Hatachmoshet (Ammunition Hill) in Jerusalem, to identify where the Jordanians soldiers were firing on his unit, my best friend Eitan Nave and teammate in basic training, a paratrooper, jumped out of the protected fortified trenches and made his way forward above ground and exposed to enemy fire, so his teammates could identify the enemy positions. Eitan was killed in action. His courage under fire saved the lives of his teammate and facilitate the victory.

Michael (Micha) Pick, Israeli paratrooper.

Karmiel, Israel, 2017

The lyric of the song Givat Hatachmoshet 

It was the second morning of the war in Jerusalem. The darkness faded out in
the east. We were deep in the battle over Givat Hatachmoshet. It was a
fierce battle. The Jordanians were hard to crack.

It was a well-fortified bunker; in some stages of the battle, I had only
four soldiers with me. We came up there with two companies.

I never knew where the others were because the radio was with Dudik, the commander was cut off from the beginning of the battle, at that moment I was
sure that everyone was killed.

It was 2:30 at night
when we came through the rocks
to the fields of fire and mines
of Givat Hatachmoshet.

In front of fortified bunkers
machine guns and cannons
100 and few guys in front
of Givat Hatachmoshet.

The pillar of dawn didn’t rise yet
When all the company was already covered with blood
But we were there
on Givat Hatachmoshet.

Because of the fences and mines
we left the medics behind
and we ran with no senses
to Givat Hatachmoshet.

We came down to the tunnels
to the holes to the cracks
and to the death in the trenches
of Givat Hatachmoshet.

There were no questions
those who went first, just fell
you really needed a lot of luck
on Givat Hatachmoshet.

Those who fell were dragged to the back
so they wouldn’t disturb the others passing
until the next one fell
on Givat Hatachmoshet.

Maybe we were lions
but if you wanted to live
you should not have been
on Givat Hatachmoshet.

We decided to blow up their bunker with the bazooka it made a few scratches on the concrete. We then decided to blow it up with explosives. The guy at the back would throw me the packs and I would put them at the entrance to their bunker. They had a system, first they would throw a grenade, then they shot a few shots and then they would rest, so between the grenades and the shots I ran and put explosives down. I had only four meters to move because there were Jordanians all over the place. I do not know why I got the medal of honor, all I wanted was to go home quietly.

Smoke covered the hill
the sun was rising in the east
we were only seven, going back to the city
from Givat Hatachmoshet.

And this is the story
the story of trenches and bunkers
the story of our brothers the men
who remained twenty years old
on Givat Hatachmoshet.

 

 

 

 

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Author: Gideon