25 years after the boat disaster: Rami Michaela commemorates his friends with a song

A body without a soul
Application after application
It doesn’t leave for a moment
A shard of memory
Won’t let me sleep again
peeking out the window for a moment

“This is what was in the field. This is what remains. In one night these fighters, who were there, who did such an important mission, returned home as a body without a soul. This is exactly it.” These are the words of Rami Michaela – currently the principal of the Orat Ormat school in Yavneh and 25 years ago, on the night between September 4 and 5, 1997, the intelligence officer of the “Poplar Song” operation, which is now known as the “Ship Disaster”.

Michaela was one of the fighters of the 13th flotilla of the Navy, which lost 11 fighters at the time in what is considered one of the biggest and most painful military disasters in the country’s history. Recently, and as part of his daily efforts to commemorate his fallen friends, Michaela initiated the writing of the song “Body Without Soul” by the singer, composer and creator Maor Titon. Michaela, who was there and in a sense also stayed, obviously identifies with every word. “This operation basically turned the bowl upside down. We were punched hard in the stomach,” recalls Michaela. “I was on a vessel with the fleet commander, who was at a certain distance from the force, and suddenly I saw a huge explosion. It was a huge mushroom. At that moment I realized that something bad was happening.”

In one moment they are gone

sounds of war
They come in a convoy
Close your eyes
Enter into the fire
In a moment it will be over
What is left from here in the meantime?

These are the days of the safety belt. The period of the stubborn and Sisyphean struggle against Hezbollah, which carried out more and more terrorist attacks against Israel and forced the IDF to respond. As part of the “Poplar Song” operation, a force of 16 fighters from the Navy’s elite unit was supposed to lay an explosive ambush against a senior member of the Amal organization near the coastal town of Antsiriya. However, what was defined in retrospect as an intelligence failure meant that the information about the operation reached Hezbollah, which set an ambush for the fighters of its own. 11 were killed, four were wounded, and the IDF rushed to fly a helicopter to the area to rescue the victims and locate the bodies of the dead.

The rescue force, which landed on the spot about half an hour after midnight, was hit by fire from a passing vehicle, from which the doctor who accompanied the force, Captain Dr. Maher Dasve, was also killed. Despite heavy pressure exerted by the commanding echelon to finish the rescue work and take off as soon as possible, the rescue force insisted on staying in place in order to finish the The search for fighters left in the field.

On the right – Rami Michaela (photo: Private)

Finally, the helicopter returned to Israel before two bodies were located, and by the decision of the commander of the force, several fighters remained at the scene, who managed to locate and rescue the body of one of the dead, the late Yochanan Hilberg. Another helicopter that landed at the location around five o’clock in the morning returned them to Israel, while the body of the fighter Itamar Ilya Z “L, who remained in the field, was returned to Israel a year later in a deal with Hezbollah, along with parts of the bodies of other fighters.

Also killed in the disaster were the commander of the force, the late Lt. Col. Yossi Korkin, and the late soldiers Raz Tavi, the late Gal Rodovsky, the late Ram Levins, the late Aryeh Abramson, the late Yaniv Shmiel, the late Zvi Grozman, The late Guy Golan and Major Dr. Yitzhak Bentov. “One of the most challenging and difficult things was dealing with the loss,” recalls Michaela. When you know that on the other side are all your friends, who just a few minutes ago you talked to, you saw their smiling faces and the desire to mobilize for such an important mission, and then in one moment they are gone.”

“A second after the disaster I had to collect the clothing and personal equipment of each and every one of my friends, the fighters. I collect the personal belongings, and inside I know that this is it. That the friend whose personal equipment you are collecting is no longer with you. He just died.” This is not the first time that Michaela shares his memories and feelings from that night when he was exposed to the harsh sights and was required to collect the personal equipment of his friends, but it seems that his words resonate with fresh pain as if the event happened yesterday. “We knew that we were not able to load all the parts of the bodies into the helicopter and that there were more bodies in the field,” he recalled. “Despite this, we did not give up, and at five in the morning more or less the force cleared and made its way to Israel. This is where the investigation phase actually began.”

The boat disaster in Lebanon, the scene of the collision (Photo: Reuters)The boat disaster in Lebanon, the scene of the collision (Photo: Reuters)

where are we going now
And where will it hurt?
Who pays the price?
And how much more can you think about tomorrow
when they are not here

The investigative committee established after the disaster first moved between two possible scenarios – a planned ambush or a malfunction in the cargo that the fighters carried on their backs. In the end, it was determined that an intelligence failure caused the information to be leaked (in contrast to an investigation published by “Maariv” reporter Ran Adelist, in which it was claimed that no ambush was laid and that the fighters were killed by the explosion of the charges they were carrying). “You deal with the bereavement, and at the same time go through the investigative committees and try to understand where you are in this story. You enter into a crazy, personal and mental whirlwind. You are drawn into a completely different world, which you were not used to before. I went to this operation one Rami, and came back another Rami” , says Michaela in pain.

Towards the 25th memorial day for the disaster, Michaela realized that an opportunity had arisen to perpetuate the memory of his friends. He turned to Thiton and asked him to help with the task. “The commemoration was on my mind all the time,” admits Michaela. “It’s been 25 years, and it’s not just a date on the calendar. It’s a long time, and now is the time to do this act.” Why did you choose to commemorate them in a song? “A song is something that can be preserved for generations. You can use the song to convey the message to the families, convey the personal identification to each and every one of them. A song connects everyone, it’s a universal language. As soon as you understand the words, the content, the situation – you connect to it” . Tithon responded to the request to commemorate in a song the memory of those who fell in the boat disaster.

After a joint meeting with Lt. Col. (ret.) Roni Follett, then one of the senior officers in the field and who survived the inferno with an injury, the work plan was determined and they set off. For the sake of the task, the students of the film major at the Herzog Beit Hashmonai school were involved in the process, with the aim of documenting the process and produce a film that will serve as their matriculation final project. Did the students connect with the story that happened 25 years ago? “They connected very much. During the release of the song, I served as a teacher and taught at school. They know me as a teacher, but were very happy and excited to hear my personal story and delve into it.

The boat disaster, Maariv publication (photo: Maariv archive)The boat disaster, Maariv publication (photo: Maariv archive)

Over the course of seven months, they accompanied me through the story and went through an exciting and special process with me.” In his hat as an educator, Rami adds and tells about the gaps in Israeli society in the knowledge of historical facts, which is fading among the young and being forgotten over the years. “The young do not know this operation, do not even know what a strip is The security and where is South Lebanon. They do not know the decree nor the terrorist incidents in the past. They know what is here and now. That’s why we fight all the time so that history is not forgotten. I want the youth to know this disaster too. That nothing will be lost.”


A body without a soul
into the unknown together
Do not leave hands
Another foggy night upon us it falls
Lift your head to the sky

When Michaela is asked about the first time he heard the song, he shivers. “The thoughts and words of the song are exactly what I felt all this time. This is exactly what went through me,” he says. The text was written and composed in one night, and instantly became an anthem, a commemoration, a memory.”

Releasing the song in memory of my friends comes full circle for me. On my personal note, when I finished the process of releasing the song I felt relieved. Something I buried over the years, and suddenly one song releases it. I suddenly felt like I was in a different place compared to where I was before. As if something had been released in me.”

Michaela reads out loud the WhatsApp message he sent to Tithon after hearing the song for the first time: “Morning Or. Describe to you in words the huge gratitude I feel towards you for your commitment. Something that has been sitting in me for 25 years is bursting out. It’s such an anguish that in your throat you help take out my anguish. I heard You have sung the song dozens of times, and thank you again. You have no idea what a messenger of good deeds you are to me, and to many others. Thank you.”

The boat disaster, cleaning up the remains (Photo: Roni Shitzer)The boat disaster, cleaning up the remains (Photo: Roni Shitzer)

“Maor’s thoughts and his words are exactly my feelings,” explains Michaela. “That’s what I felt all this time. That’s what sat on me. That’s exactly where he took those words so accurately. ‘A body without a soul’, that’s what was actually there in the field. The rescue force that stayed there and rescued bodies without a soul by helicopter.”

The phrase “who pays the price” appears in the song. What does this mean to you? “I look at the friends who are no longer with us. In the end, the ones left behind are the families, friends, people who were partners in the operation. In this story, each one of them paid a price. I also paid. My wife also paid, she was there for me the whole way, with everything I experienced And I passed. Without her I would not have survived the darkest period of my life. My children also paid a price. Everyone pays. Me and many others.”

“The part that describes exactly the moment of the explosion enters my body like a punch in the stomach. It automatically connects me to the event. Every time I hear this stanza I see with my own eyes the moment of the explosion.” Even after the release of the song, it is doubtful whether Michaela will ever stop the commemoration, as if he is responsible for the fact that his friends were killed. “Everyone had their own personal event, and I feel a personal responsibility. From the first moment the operation was launched until today, I took it as a personal responsibility. To this day, I ask myself if there was anything I could have done differently.” And just before the end of the interview, Michaela apologizes. “I want to apologize to everyone,” he says in a choked voice. “From everyone. Even from the families. I don’t know if I did something unintentionally, which is the reason for all this commemoration. I feel a moral obligation to this event, and this song is also a form of asking for forgiveness.”

Source: Maariv.co.il – חדשות מהארץ והעולם by www.maariv.co.il.

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