The Appeal of the Brown Beret: The Story of the IDF’s Golani Brigade

“Every corner of the country is marked with the blood of Golani Brigade soldiers. That is the way of the brigade: to be wherever Golani soldiers are needed, to decide the battle, to bring victory, to give life to the State of Israel.” The words of Yitzhak Rabin describe the feelings of many today in Israel

Golani soldiers form the name of the Golani Brigade. From: “Brown Beret – The Story of the Golani Soldiers” [Hebrew], p. 122

How it all started: farmers protecting their land

The Golani Brigade was founded in February 1948, a few months after the breakout of Israel’s War of Independence. The name, of course, comes from the Golan Heights, which the brigade founders could see at a distance from their moshavim and kibbutzim in the country’s north. In its first few months, the brigade operated sporadically – soldiers would leave work on the farm for a specific mission assigned to the brigade and then go back to their daily routine as farmers.

Golani Brigade soldiers enjoying some downtime during training in the Galilee, 1950. Photo: Boris Carmi, the Meitar Collection, the Pritzker Family National Photography Collection, at the National Library of Israel

In the 1950s, many of the veterans of the War of Independence were discharged, and the ranks of the Golani Brigade were filled with new immigrants from the cities and the transit camps, people unfamiliar with the country’s conditions and customs. Rehavam “Gandhi” Ze’evi, who was commander of the brigade’s 13th “Gideon” Battalion, said of this time:

“We found that our soldiers came from some 30 different countries, and beyond preparing them for the army, there was a need to teach them Hebrew – reading, writing, and speech.”

“Golani,” he said, “was a real melting pot.”

Soldiers of Golani’s 12th Battalion, 1951. Photo: Boris Carmi, the Meitar Collection, the Pritzker Family National Photography Collection, at the National Library of Israel

Golani, despite its natural affiliation with Israel’s north, did not limit its operations to that region. Once the brigade completed its missions in its own sector during the War of Independence, it moved south to take part in a number of important operations, including the conquest of what would later become the city of Eilat.

Historic telegraph announcing the conquest of the Eilat area by the Negev and Golani brigades. From “Golani – A Family of Soldiers” [Hebrew], p. 38

Golani’s unique spirit was evident as early as 1956, during the Sinai Campaign that took place that year. The “First Breachers” Battalion (the 51st) contained many new immigrants who arrived in Israel without their families and who had nowhere to return to after the fighting was done. At a party that was held to celebrate their release from service following the war, many expressed fears that they had no home to go to, no job or family to support them. Battalion commander Shlomo Alton heard them and got up to say a few words:

“I am telling you, and I don’t care if this goes against General Staff orders – go out and live your lives, try to build something. Those who can’t make ends meet should know, here at the base, you always have a home. The ‘First Breachers’ Battalion will always take you in.”

A Golani soldier at rest following the end of an exercise, 1972. Photo: IPPA, from the Dan Hadani Archive, the Pritzker Family National Photography Collection, at the National Library of Israel

Even the color of the brigade beret, which was decided in 1976, expressed the connection between Golani soldiers and the land itself. The earthy brown also represented the founders of the brigade, the farmers who carried hoe and rifle to maintain the young State of Israel.

A few examples from among dozens of books on the Golani Brigade kept at the National Library of Israel

Yitzhak Rabin, who was Defense Minister at the time and who served twice as Prime Minister, described this connection nicely, in a speech he gave in memory of the brigade’s fallen in 1989:

“Every corner of the country is marked with the blood of Golani Brigade soldiers. That is the way of the brigade: to be wherever Golani soldiers are needed, to decide the battle, to bring victory, to give life to the State of Israel.”

Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin with Golani Brigade Commander, Col. Moshe Kaplinsky, attending an IDF exercise in the Golan Heights, 1995. Photo: Ofira Yochanan, from the Dan Hadani Archive, the Pritzker Family National Photography Collection, at the National Library of Israel

The early Golani Brigade was a parallel Zionist microcosm of the young state, an ingathering of the exiles connecting north and south, native-born workers of the land and new immigrants fleeing the European inferno, sabra city kids and recently-arrived newcomers from the peripheral “development towns”. All felt part of the Golani family. The brigade’s commanders understood over the years that this embracing spirit of unity was what attracted so many new recruits – the idea that Golani was more than just a training ground for soldiers and commanders, but a cohesive social unit bringing together all levels of society.

This spirit of acceptance can explain why so many young Israelis seek to enlist in Golani, to this day:

“A new recruit showed up when we were stationed on the northern border, it was freezing, snow. After two weeks, he came and told me he wanted to leave, that he can’t serve in these conditions,” recalled an officer was the brigade deputy-commander in the 1980s. “I told him: ‘You’re important to me, you are irreplaceable, stay. In Golani, everyone is important.’ He went home. Came back. He told me: ‘My whole life, no-one, anywhere – not at home, not at school – ever told me that I’m important. I always felt unnecessary. And I came here, to Golani, and you, a lieutenant-colonel, tell me I’m important. That’s why I’ll stay.’ And he stayed and went on to complete a squad commander course with honors.” (From: “Golani – A Family of Soldiers”, [Hebrew], p. 15)

Golani Brigade commander Gabi Ashkenazi at a brigade ceremony, late 1980s. From “My Golani” [Hebrew], p. 194

Service in the brigade was etched in the minds of many of its former soldiers as a significant experience. The well-known Israeli author Meir Shalev even wrote about it in the IDF magazine, Bamachaneh, when he came to visit a Golani Reconnaissance Unit base, 20 years after leaving the army. Shalev was wounded in a training accident just before completing his service in the elite unit. His writing, full of characteristic humor and wit, expressed the feelings he was left with after his intense time in the military:

“Jeeps dry my throat. I can’t stand to eat any kind of canned food. I hate when it rains on me. I’m ready to strangle any commander who abuses his soldiers. I hate hunters because I know what it feels like to take a bullet. I love travelling with a topographical map in hand.”

And despite all these ornery complaints, Shalev didn’t forget his service in the unit:

“The unit was an entire world. It was good friends, it was struggle and effort, it was also a first real acquaintance with pain and death. Of friends and enemies. At the time, the days of my youth, serving in the unit was the greatest thing that ever happened to me.”

From Meir Shalev’s article in Bamachaneh, September 7, 1988. “The equipment is improved, but the face of the unit greenhorn remains the same… that same miserable mixture of an aching, desperate body and a lack of sleep”

The history of the Golani Brigade is strewn with missions which seemed impossible at first but ended in highly significant victories for the State of Israel. At the Tel Mutilla battles north of the Sea of Galilee in 1951, a Golani reserve unit carrying out a training exercise encountered Syrian forces moving through a demilitarized zone. 40 soldiers were killed in difficult battles which took days, at the end of which, the Syrians were pushed back.

In the Six-Day War, Golani forces attacked the fortified position of Tel Faher in the Golan Heights. 34 Golani soldiers were killed, including admired battalion commander Moshe “Musa” Klein, but the outpost was taken by the brown brigade.

Towards the end of the Yom Kippur War, Golani forces stormed the peaks of Mount Hermon. In a long and difficult battle, and after the first effort to take the position failed, the brigade’s soldiers successfully regained control of the snow-capped mountain, which they dubbed – “the eyes of the state”.

In all these cases, and many others, Golani’s sense of pride and heritage stemmed from the belief carried by every soldier in the brigade – their insistence that they could succeed at any mission they were tasked with.

The brigade and its soldiers have paid a heavy price over the years, but nothing has been able to break its spirit. The brigade’s special nature has helped its troops cope with the difficult trials it has faced

The soldiers also frequently make use of dark humor to help deal with the dangers they face:

“One of their habits was to take bets on who wasn’t going to make it back. Sometimes they would sing El Malei Rachamim [prayer for the deceased], meaning me,” recalled Raviv Nir, the Recon unit commander. “I understood that this was a way to release fear and I allowed it. (From: “Night Predators – The Story of Golani Recon” [Hebrew], p. 212).

South we went, to the city among the fields

During the night we entered, crossing the sands,

We sunk to knee-depth, shivering with cold

Then we knew, we had come to the city of strife.


Translation of an excerpt from Gaza – a Hebrew poem by Itamar Oren, who served in the Golani Brigade’s 12th Battalion. Oren took part in the raids on Gaza City in the early 1970s and was killed in the Yom Kippur War. From: “Golani – A Family of Soldiers”” [Hebrew], p. 150


Some 1450 of Golani’s soldiers have fallen in service over the years, and they are commemorated at the memorial site at Golani Junction in northern Israel. 71 of them were killed on October 7, 2023, when they suddenly found themselves on the front lines. Their heroic efforts helped prevent an even higher civilian death toll. Many more Golani soldiers, far too many, have since fallen in the fierce battles in Gaza. The spirit of the Golani soldiers has not fallen, however, and their strong sense of pride continues to accompany them, wherever they go:

“Ask a soldier where he serves and he will tell you: this or that battalion, this or that company, or this or that corps; ask a Golani soldier where he serves, and he’ll only have one answer: ‘I’m from Golani.’” (From: “Golani – A Family of Soldiers”)


The Emotional Resonance of Music During War

Throughout Israeli history, music has been utilized to calm the chaos of war and make sense of tragedy. When words can’t quite get it right, music often can. As we deep-dive into four of Israel’s most famous wartime tunes, we can start to understand why music is just so important to our dear country, especially during dark days such as these.

IDF band, 1984, Ilan Ossendriver, the Pritzker Family National Photography Collection, the National Library of Israel

From the earliest of times, people have been using music to channel their emotions. Early Mayans used soothing songs to aid with the difficulties of labor and birth, the Vikings sang melodious chants when marching into war to scare their opponents and boost their own morale, ancient Innuits would make use of throat singing to pass down their culture throughout generations. And the People of Israel were no different.

As the biblical story goes, when the People of Israel escaped persecution and slavery in Egypt, they played tambourines and sang songs of joy, led by the biblical figure Miriam and the righteous women around her.

Artist’s depiction of Miriam with her tambourine, Ze’ev Raban, photographed by Zeev Radovan, 1992, Center for Jewish Art at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, the National Library of Israel

Song is immensely powerful – this is a belief that was acknowledged way back in the ancient world, and is still recognized today. And one of its uses is during times of war, both in battle, but also for the comfort, assurance and perseverance of those who are suffering and need a certain special ignition of hope. Songs composed during wartime are often unique in their outpouring of emotion and the rawness ascribed to them.

Naomi Shemer is one such example of a singer whose wartime songs captured the hearts of the Israeli nation possibly more than any other composer before her. If any song has the power to symbolize something as terrible as a war, then the song Lu Yehi, more than anything, has come to represent the Yom Kippur War.

Lu Yehi – Performed by Chava Alberstein

 You can also find this song in the National Library of Israel collections


During the first devastating days of that war, Shemer composed a collection of lyrics that expressed her hope and prayers for the Israeli soldiers’ safe return home. At first, she used the melody of the Beatles’ song “Let It Be” (the Hebrew words Lu Yehi are a direct translation of the title) but, influenced by her husband Mordechai Horowitz, Shemer decided to later compose an entirely new tune. “I won’t let you waste this song on a foreign tune. This is a Jewish war, and you should give it a Jewish tune,” said Mordechai. Listening to his advice, Shemer worked on completing her new melody before performing her freshly composed song on Israeli television, where it captivated audiences, and reflected back to them their own feelings in a way that most people couldn’t hope to do alone. The song became something of a national prayer in Israel during that time (more about this here).

Draft of Lu Yehi Naomi Shemer, 1973, the National Library of Israel

When the National Library of Israel was endowed with Naomi Shemer’s personal archives, they included both her handwritten lyrics to Lu Yehi as well as a special little pocket book. This pocket book contained the words of the fourth verse of her song “Jerusalem of Gold”.

Yerushalayim Shel Zahav – Performed by Shuli Natan

 You can also find this song in the National Library of Israel collections


At the beginning of 1967, the Mayor of Jerusalem commissioned a song about Jerusalem from Naomi Shemer. This song, Yerushalayim Shel Zahav, was written for the Israel Song Festival at a time when Jerusalem’s Old City was occupied by Jordan – a difficult period in which Jews could not enter the Old City and worship at their holy sites. It describes the longings of the Jewish people for Jerusalem and their yearning for peace.

Jerusalem of Gold” (Yerushalayim Shel Zahav), Naomi Shemer, 1967, the National Library of Israel

Less than a month after the song’s publication, however, the Six-Day War broke out and the IDF was able to take the Old City. Upon hearing this jubilant news, Naomi Shemer decided in that very moment to add a final verse to her song, celebrating the return of the Jews to their ancient holy sites. Naomi Shemer’s song thus became the unofficial anthem of the Jewish people, and still symbolizes the mood of many Israelis during the Six-Day War.

Naomi Shemer at the piano, the National Library of Israel

Shemer was not the only songwriter to have this effect on the nation, however. As the First Lebanon War raged around him in 1982, esteemed Israeli lyricist Ehud Manor was inspired to write a searing text that dealt with his own emotions following the death of his brother during the War of Attrition. As Manor sat in his living room with his wife watching the daily news play out reels from the battlefield, he broke down in tears and started jotting down words on a scrap of paper. These lyrics would eventually become the song Ein Li Eretz Acheret – “I Have No Other Country”.

Ehud Manor on the radio, 1969, IPPA Staff Photographer and Shalom Bar Tal, the Dan Hadani Collection, the Pritzker Family National Photography Collection, the National Library of Israel

When the song was released in 1986, it emerged as a profound musical testament that resonated with the collective sentiments of a nation grappling with the tragedies of war. Against the backdrop of the challenges and strife around them, the melody not only encapsulated the turbulent emotions of Israelis at the time, but his insightful lyrics echoed the collective atmosphere of the war. Ein Li Eretz Acheret became a significant cultural touchstone, being voted Israel’s favorite song time and time again. Later chosen as the Song of the State of Israel by the Yediot Ahronoth newspaper. The song has been given different political interpretations but it actually offers a musical narrative that goes beyond political boundaries and has thus been recycled multiple times throughout Israel’s recent history to articulate the intricate emotions woven into the fabric of a society which continuously finds itself facing conflicts.

“I have no other country. Although my land is burning, my veins, my soul with an aching body and with a hungry heart, here is my home. I will not be silent. For my country has changed her face. I will not give up on her, I shall remind her and sing into her ears, until she opens her eyes.”

Ein Li Eretz Acheret – Performed by Gali Atari

 You can also find this song in the National Library of Israel collections


Even more recently, during Operation Cast Lead in 2008-2009, as hope for a brighter future seemed so far off for so many Israelis, a song that had been released a few months earlier suddenly hit home in a new way: Ayeka. After becoming a Breslov Hasid, Shalom “Shuly” Rand was expected to spend the rest of his life learning Torah and walking in the traditional Hasidic path set out for him. But, being an introspective and thoughtful man with a rebellious streak, this was not the route he chose. While staying true to his religious beliefs and practices, and fathering seven children, he also became an actor and began composing and singing music.

Ayeka – Performed by Shuly Rand

 You can also find this song in the National Library of Israel collections


Arguably his most well-known song is a prayer that came straight from his heart. As a man who had lived through dark days as well as the good ones experienced by all Israelis, he writes of his faith being challenged. Confused and lonely, he turned to the heavens with a question, or even a plea – ayeka?! – “where are you?!” Rand communicates his feelings candidly in this song, with vulnerability and perhaps a touch of rage, as he turns to G-d and questions how the Master of the Universe could allow so much suffering and heartbreak in the world that He created.

When Operation Cast Lead shook the people of Israel just a few months after the song’s release, many Israelis recalled Rand’s lyrics and felt their own feelings echoed in his song, understanding that this man’s confusion and his struggles with faith were also their own during the distress that lay all around them. Rand expresses his longing to understand how to cope in difficult times, as well as the bigger frustration which comes with knowing that he may never have answers to these questions. It was a sentiment that so many ordinary people could align with during the conflict which arose that same year, and lots of Israelis considered it an apt reflection of the times they were living through.

“Oh G-d almighty, openly speaking, sometimes I have no desire to be in Your world. Where can I hide from You? What will I claim, how will I justify myself, what shall I say? Merciful and gracious G-d, before You is a Jew, hanging by a hair-thin thread, fighting the sadness, the despair that gnaws like a worm. The happiness had fled from me and so did my sanity. Voices from the past whisper to me to stop, but I keep on rowing in the dark, asking and wishing, where are You?!”

 IDF band, 1984, Ilan Ossendriver, the Pritzker Family National Photography Collection, the National Library of Israel

And now, as Israel has been at war since the unimaginably dreadful events of October 7, we see this same musical phenomenon playing out once again. If you look today at the top Israeli music charts, you may notice that the songs being listened to in Israel right now reflect the war that we are experiencing. Many of the most popular songs in the country at the moment were written to express the national mood of mourning, of helplessness at the situation we find ourselves in, but also of hope for a brighter future.

 IDF band, 1969, Shalom Bar Tal, the Dan Hadani Collection, the Pritzker Family National Photography Collection, the National Library of Israel

Songs do more than just entertain us. They provide us with guidance in times of hardship, they provide us with companionship in knowing that others feel how we feel, and they provide us with words for feelings that we can’t quite express alone. Listen to the lyrics of the songs mentioned in this article, and many of the most listened-to songs in Israel right now and see if you feel the same way. The chances are that you, like so many others, will find a friend in these words and melodies.

 IDF band, 1969, Shalom Bar Tal, the Dan Hadani Collection, the Pritzker Family National Photography Collection, the National Library of Israel

The State’s Watchful Guardians: Female Field Observers on the Border

IDF field observer war rooms are spread across Israel’s borders, working 24/7. The soldiers and officers who operate the systems contained within know that the security of their entire sector often depends on their judgment calls. On October 7, dozens of field observers were killed by Hamas terrorists who broke into Israeli army outposts. This is the story of the IDF’s field observers – the eyes that protect Israel’s borders.

An IDF field observer on duty, never taking her eyes off the screen for a moment. Photo: IDF Spokesperson's Unit

It’s July 2020, in the early hours of the morning. The observation war room of the southern Golan Heights is relatively quiet, but dramatic events are about to unfold. Noa, a veteran tatzpitanit, or field observer,  scans her sector on her screen. She knows the area like the back of her hand, even when it’s dark out. She knows the farmers who pass by every day, the shepherds, the nearby villagers.

But this time she identifies four suspicious figures – bent over, moving cautiously. To the untrained eye, they look like wild animals in search of a meal. Noa identifies them as human figures carrying large brown bags and moving towards Israel’s border fence.

She declares an ongoing incident. Additional field observers, a sergeant and the officer of the war room, are called in, while elite Maglan soldiers prepare an ambush near the fence for the uninvited guests. Meantime, the four can be seen splitting up on screen, with three of them moving towards the fence and one staying behind to watch their back. They place the explosives and quickly retreat, certain that they’ve succeeded in their mission – when IDF forces open fire on them. Noa the field observer and the southern Golan war room managed to prevent four Hezbollah terrorists from carrying out their hostile plans.

This is just one of thousands of stories that exemplify the critical role played by field observers in protecting Israel’s borders – by stopping terrorism, weapons and drug smuggling.

Field observers during an exercise. Photo: IDF Spokesperson’s Unit

Field observers are part of the IDF’s Border Defense Corps, which includes combat battalions alongside male and female combat intelligence collection soldiers. The field observers are charged with the duty of endlessly surveying their respective sectors, across all of Israel’s borders. Oftentimes, observers will be the first to identify suspicious activities and be the first to have to make the judgment call of whether to call in combat forces.

Combat intelligence collection soldiers in training. Photo: IDF Spokesperson’s Unit

Field observers are combat support troops, who work from observation war rooms in the most dangerous of areas. We received tragic confirmation of this fact on October 7, when dozens of field observers were killed trying to protect their outposts and war rooms. They were also among the first to identify the danger and attempt to warn of it. They serve in the Border Defense Corps alongside light infantry units like the Karakal, Bardelas and Lions of the Jordan battalions – all containing male and female soldiers fighting side by side.

In the 1990s, the IDF began to seriously consider how and when to integrate women into combat roles in the IDF, though there were earlier cases as well. There are still voices that oppose the integration of women into these roles, but recent events have shown that female combat soldiers are up to the task. In recent years, the IDF has become one of the most interesting armies in the world when it comes to women in combat and combat support roles. While many armies around the world integrate women in their combat array, Israeli female combat and combat support troops take part in real time fighting on a nearly unprecedented scale in modern times, turning them into an interesting test case and the subject of many studies.

Moshe Dayan as IDF Chief of Staff, 1950s. Photo: Dan Hadani Archive, the Pritzker Family National Photography Collection, the National Library of Israel. In 1940, Moshe Dayan commanded a team of Australian and Jewish soldiers who fought the Axis powers. as part of the British Army. While carrying out observation of a bombing target in the Beirut area, he was shot through his binoculars, losing an eye. When he returned to Mandatory Palestine, he became famous as a war hero, developing into one of the most influential public figures in Israel

46-Foot-High Observation Towers

Observation is one of the most important, and most ancient, methods of intelligence gathering. The first Zionists to develop what would become the Israeli intelligence doctrine belonged to the NILI underground led by Aaron Aaronsohn, which provided the British Army in WWI with information on Ottoman forces stationed in the Land of Israel.

British General Edmund Allenby, who ultimately took the region from the Ottomans, would later write of Aaronsohn’s contribution to the British victory: “He was mainly responsible for the formation of my Field Intelligence organisation behind Turkish lines.” In 1917, the NILI underground members were caught. Many were imprisoned, tortured, and executed. Sarah Aaronsohn was captured, cruelly tortured, and died from her wounds three days after shooting herself.

NILI underground members Sarah Aaronsohn and Avshalom Feinberg, Damascus, Syria, 1916. This photo is part of the Israel Archive Network (IAN) and is made available thanks to the collaboration of Yad Yitzhak Ben Zvi, the Ministry of Heritage, and the National Library of Israel

During the War of Independence, the first observation war rooms were established near the country’s borders, and these were tasked with gathering and analyzing intelligence information based on observation, aerial photos, and more. The intelligence units would accompany the combat companies, and the intelligence gathered served the higher-ups to prepare for future hostilities. From that time until about the 1990s, observation was conducted mainly from towers established at IDF outposts and along Israel’s borders.

Soldier looking out at the Jordanian border, 1971. Photo: Boris Carmi. Source: the Meitar Collection, the Pritzker Family National Photography Collection, the National Library of Israel

“The soldiers ask that we protect them”

In the early 2000s and especially due to the establishment of the Separation Barrier, the IDF began to develop the field of observation on a visual-technological basis. This was the period during which the first female field observers began operating their systems in the border region war rooms. In the past few decades, thanks to technological innovations, the field of visual intelligence has evolved considerably. Today, field observers work with technology allowing for far greater movement, in-depth observation, detailed imagery, and of course the endless monitoring of the area on a scale that was not possible before.

Although they have been doing their job for over twenty years, public awareness of the importance of their role hit the headlines as a result of that terrible day in October. Field observers were a significant element among those who suspected, identified and gave warning of Hamas’ plans ahead of time. Not only that but as soldiers stationed on the borders, tasked with monitoring dangerous areas, they were the first to see the attack coming in real time, before anyone else.

Field observers know today, more than ever, just how important their work is. Stav, who served as one, says: “The field observers know their sector the best. People can’t understand just how intimately. We identify the people who live in the area, identify every tree, every rock. We can identify if people have bad intentions based on their body language.”

Field observers in the northern sector. Photo: private album

Thanks to technological progress and the tactical benefits of their work, the responsibilities of the women serving in these roles have changed and expanded over time. Beyond warning of suspicious activities and scanning the border, field observers also observe active IDF operations in real time, watching over the combat soldiers as they move through terrain and helping to protect them with their knowledge of the area.

Gal, a field observer serving in the reserves, added that “for us as young women aged 18-19, to take part in such sensitive operations, with special units, to look the enemy in the eye and be one step ahead of them, this is a powerful sense of mission”.

Every field observer has a wealth of hair-raising events to tell of, few of which hit the headlines.

Eden, another field observer serving in the reserves, said: “In one of the operations, for which we even received a citation from the brigade commander, we directed forces inside a hostile city during the night hours. I identified an ambush that was set for the soldiers about a hundred meters away from the force, of course I announced an immediate stop to the advance. And thanks to our discovery, the forces ended the mission without casualties and of course while catching those who tried to harm us. In that moment, when you’re in the war room and you know there’s a threat a few meters from the force, you’re the one who makes the decision that we’re not advancing and the force listens to you. The soldiers know what we can do and want us to protect them.”

Five years ago, on October 7 2018, a terrorist murdered two Israeli citizens – Ziv Hajbi and Kim Levengrond Yehezkel. The two worked together with the terrorist at the Alon Group factory near the city of Ariel, where Jews worked alongside Palestinians in what was supposed to be a symbol of coexistence.

After tying Kim up, shooting her, as well as shooting Ziv and wounding other workers, the terrorist got away. For two whole months, the hunt was on for him. The soldiers of the observation war room in the Shechem (Nablus) area were an inseparable part of the operation – “One day, we identified him with new clothes on, for instance, this proved he had help,” Stav says. After a two-month manhunt, the terrorist was captured, to the joy of the field observers who helped capture him with their hard work.

Ynet article, 13.12.2018. Screenshot from the Historical Jewish Press Collection at the National Library of Israel

Day-in and day-out, Israel’s borders are protected by brave, intelligent, and highly motivated women. Their eyes scan the border looking for danger wherever it lurks. Even today, after suffering the trauma of October 7 in the most personal, painful manner, these dedicated soldiers continue to occupy the observation rooms and serve as the eyes of the whole country.



I would like to wholeheartedly thank the field observers who shared their fascinating stories for this article: Gili Yuval, Tal Grazi, Stav Ref, Gal Sharabi, and Eden Gorevitch.

Women who served as field observers are currently working on founding a memorial association for the field observers who fell defending IDF posts during October 7.

May their memory be a blessing.

Nir Oz Will Blossom Again: The Story of a Legendary Kibbutz Gardener

In the early days, members of Kibbutz Nir Oz suffered from terrible sandstorms that made it difficult to move, see and even eat. Ran Pauker, the kibbutz’s legendary landscaper, was called to solve the problem, and along the way, Nir Oz became a green, ecological gem. When asked about the future of the kibbutz that suffered a fatal blow on October 7 - he says the vegetation will be restored within a year, as for the community: “We’ll have to wait and see”

Ran Pauker, who has worked as Kibbutz Nir Oz’s gardener and landscaper for decades, next to the sign at the entrance to “Green Spot,” the kibbutz’s botanical garden that specializes in vegetation requiring little irrigation. Photo from a private album.

“I’ll just finish trimming the garden and call you right back,” Ran Pauker, the 86-year-old evacuee from Kibbutz Nir Oz, answered when I called to speak with him about his life’s work. It seems you can’t take the gardener out of the garden, even when he’s far away from home. Pauker and his wife Carmelit have been evacuated to Kibbutz HaSolelim in the Lower Galilee. Both were members of the first pioneering Hashomer Hatza’ir groups that founded Kibbutz Nir Oz in the 1950s. The couple was forced to leave their home behind after the awful attack on October 7. They happened to be staying with their daughter in Sderot that Saturday, and so were saved.

Like many kibbutzim that were established along Israel’s borders, Kibbutz Nir Oz also faced many challenges throughout its history. If you had gone there in the 1950s and looked around, you would have seen wilderness and sand stretching from one end of the horizon to the other.

Kibbutz Nir Oz, around 1960. Photo: Ran Pauker, from the Kibbutz Nir Oz archives


‘Nir Oz’, a New Kibbutz Near Nirim” – a report from Herut, September 30, 1955

“When we settled here, there were unbearable sandstorms in the area. I couldn’t see a few meters in front of me,” Pauker says. “I remember one sandstorm when we needed to eat in the kitchen storeroom because … the dining hall had filled with sand and dust. The storeroom was small, so we ate in shifts.”

Looking back, Pauker may have been exactly the solution that the sand-swept kibbutz needed. Upon his arrival there, although he hadn’t planned on doing so, he took it upon himself to manage Kibbutz Nir Oz’s landscaping and be responsible for all the plants and vegetation in the public sphere. On a bus from Tel Aviv to the kibbutz, he bumped into an old friend, Meir Lavi (Mayor), who was the kibbutz secretary at the time, and told him, “Ran, we don’t have a gardener. You’re the son of a gardener, you’re a graduate of Kadoorie [a well-known Israeli agricultural school], you’re done being a farm coordinator and you have no job right now. Come work as a gardener for two or three months until we can find someone else.”

Pauker agreed. “They say nothing’s more permanent than the temporary. They’re right. I’ve been a gardener ever since.”

Cover of a book published in 2015 to mark 60 years of Kibbutz Nir Oz. The photo features a well-known Hebrew slogan coined by Meir Ya’ari that has accompanied the kibbutz throughout its history and which can be translated as: “We are not road-weary, rather we are trailblazers


A sign hanging on the Nir Oz silo following the October 7 attacks, featuring the same slogan that appears on the cover of the book above. Photo: Moshe Yolovich.

The sandstorms made him realize that his role was much more important than he thought. It wouldn’t only change his life but would also turn him into a guru of green, economical, and ecological planning.

At the start of his journey, Pauker faced a challenge that was two-fold: How could he make life bearable in the hot, dusty desert while also saving money and water, as the expenses were costing the young kibbutz a fortune? Industrious as he was, Pauker figured out how: He carefully and cleverly planned his tree plantings and deliberately chose vegetation that was suitable for desert conditions. The green that dominates Kibbutz Nir Oz became its hallmark, and even after the October 7 tragedy, the plants still stand alongside the destroyed, burnt homes. Pauker says his secret is a combination of patience, a willingness to learn from mistakes, constant attention to conditions, and finding the right plants for the terrain.

One of the impressive Ficus trees that are spread throughout Nir Oz. Photo: Ran Pauker.
A list of contributors to the book published by the kibbutz’s founders to mark its 60th anniversary. A number of these people were abducted on October 7. Some have been released, and we are waiting anxiously for the rest to come home.

Over the years, Pauker saw that his work methods offered additional advantages: By saving money, time and labor resources, he was able to work in a more ecological fashion, better suited to a planet that is gradually becoming warmer. His ideas and developments turned Nir Oz into a role model for cultivating natural space in a way that allows for a pleasant and comfortable life, but that also takes ecological and economic concerns into account:

“I realized that if I didn’t gather the clippings [from the lawn mower] and if I used a recycler lawn mower [which leaves what was mowed on the field], I’d save on sweeping expenses and fuel. I’d also be leaving minerals in the ground and wouldn’t need fertilizer. We brought in plants that are highly resistant to dryness; we created drainage collection basins throughout the relatively flat kibbutz, and we used water from the air conditioners to water the plants. This paid off financially and environmentally.”

Experiments with different grass varieties inside a flower-shaped plot in front of the dining hall, which is still there to this day. Photo: Ran Pauker, from the Kibbutz archives.

Ran inherited his love of gardening from his father. He was born in Nahariya to parents who were among the founders of the city. His father also worked as a gardener and garden planner, and even as a child, just four-years-old, Pauker helped his father out at work. His dad gave him a small bucket of lime and sent him off to whitewash the tree trunks.

When he began working on the landscaping for Kibbutz Nir Oz, he asked his father to come help him with the planning. The experienced, German-born gardener offered him orderly, methodical work practices. When Ran was first starting out as head of landscaping, he had a vision and clear plans, and he made sure to document his work so that he’d be able to present his achievements to the community members, and later, to the wider public. Inside the lush, green kibbutz, Ran established a botanical garden named Nekuda Yeruka, or “Green Point”, which has become a plant research center visited by experts and students from all over the world.

And how did he meet his wife, Carmelit? When the two were working together in the rose nursery, of course. They bred different species on the rose bushes, and their collaboration blossomed into love, which led them to a happy marriage and a big, supportive family.

Carmelit Menashe and Ran in Kibbutz Nir Oz’s rose nursery in 1964. Photo from a private album.

On October 10, Pauker was set to celebrate the publication of his autobiography, Sipuro shel Tzabar BeHafrachat HaMidbar (“The Story of a Sabra Who Made the Desert Bloom”). The book covers his significant contributions to the kibbutz as well as to the fields of gardening and environmental studies, as experts still come to the kibbutz to learn from him to this day. Along with all of us, Pauker hopes that one day, when all the hostages including those from the kibbutz are returned home and the community begins rebuilding itself, he’ll be able to celebrate the release of his book.

The back cover of Ran Pauker’s autobiography, set to be published soon.

The botanical garden and the lush greenery of Nir Oz is a success story about making the desert wasteland flourish. When asked about the future, Ran says, “The kibbutz itself is destroyed, the homes are destroyed, but the plants still stand and the irrigation is still working, thanks to Na’amit who is responsible for the landscaping now, and the amazing kibbutz members who have been coming to help. If they’ll let us, we’ll get all the landscaping back the way it was within a year. But the big question is the Nir Oz community; what will the community choose to do and how can we rehabilitate it? As for that, we’ll need to wait and see.”

Lush, green Kibbutz Nir Oz, seen from above, 2019. Photo from the Kibbutz Nir Oz archives


This article is part of our special series: “Life on the Border: A Tribute to the Communities of the Gaza Border Region”

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