Major Falah Al-Heib, a 29-year old officer in the tracker unit of the IDF Gaza Division's southern brigade, lost both his legs during Operation Cast Lead. After going through a grueling journey to overcome the disability, he intends to return to serve in the military soon.
"I set myself a goal, to get better and return to the field," he said.
During the 2009 operation's final days, when reports started to trickle in about an impending ceasefire, Al-Heib set out to patrol the border fence. During the patrol, the driver of the military vehicle asked Al-Heib to replace him behind the wheel. After a short ride they came upon roadside explosives, which detonated. Al-Heib was injured critically. The driver and the signal operator, who were sitting in the back, suffered minor injuries, while another tracker sitting the passenger seat was killed on the spot.
"I remember the details exactly," Al-Heib recalled. "We scoured the region, and then came the explosion. I looked to the right and saw my friends injured. At first I didn't understand that I was injured. I couldn't hear anything, my ears were ringing. There was a burnt smell in the air. I turned to the second tracker and shook him, but he didn't move. Then, another explosive detonated."
'Brought up to love the country'
Al-Heib was evacuated to the Soroka Medical Center in the southern Israeli city of Beersheba. His right leg was severed entirely. His left leg, which was nearly entirely severed, was reattached, but it did not regain function. The palm of his right hand, which was operated on, regained partial function. Because of the extreme pain he suffered, Al-Heib was sedated for two consecutive weeks. When he woke up, he began the long road to recovery at Tel Hashomer Hospital, where he underwent additional surgery and a lengthy rehabilitation process.
He spent more than a year at the rehab department, learning to walk and function again. During that time it was clear to Al-Heib that he will return to serve in the IDF, possibly even in a combat position.
This past July Al-Heib began studying for his Bachelor's Degree in Political Science and Israel Studies at Haifa University. In addition to his studies, he will soon come back to the IDF as a tracking instructor, and in the future he intends to return to do field work as well.
"From a young age, I was taught to love the country and defend the homeland," he said. "That's how it is in my family. We are Zionists, and are prepared to do anything for the protection of the state. I have all the power to return to the army and educate generations of combat soldiers. My father, my grandfather, they both fought for the State. That's how I am, and that's how I will raise my children."
'Mind over body'
Al-Heib, a resident of the northern Israeli Bedouin community of Beit Zarzir, is a married father of two. His father, Colonel Nimer Al-Heib (Res.), served until two years ago as the commander of a tracker unit in the IDF's Northern Command.
"When I opened my eyes at the hospital for the first time and saw my wife, my kids and my parents, I understood that I got my life as a present," Al-Heib said. "They supported me and were with me the entire way. I didn't want to make them feel like the situation is difficult for me, I always kept on being optimistic, for their sake."
In two weeks, Al-Heib will tell his story at the opening ceremony of a NIS 80 million ($22.5 million) community center in Beersheba, which was established by the IDF Disabled Veterans Association for southern combat soldiers and their families. "Falah is an excellent example of the victory of mind over body," said Haim Bar, the chairman of the association. "I am overjoyed by the long way that he has come, and his determination to return to a normal lifestyle as soon as possible. I salute him."
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