Land of My Birth – The title of this article may well conjure up a romantic scene with a lake of swans and ducks, but in reality it is the name of an IDF call-up exercise which was held the first of April 1959. But this leads to the obvious question: What do ducks have to do with the IDF? To see the answer, read on.
The events began in the early evening, when the popular Kol Yisrael program “Chazanut Requests” was interrupted, and the announcer said in an official-sounding voice:
“The listeners are asked to stay close to their radios and wait for a very important announcement, which will be brought soon.”
This announcement was enough to bring the entire State of Israel to a high level of tension, since the country was surrounded by enemies on every border. Guesses and rumors about what was happening flew in all directions.
The inhabitants of the land remained glued to the radio, which was the only medium for widespread communication. The nine o’clock news opened with a dramatic announcement, read in nine different languages. The one thing that the announcer failed to mention was that this was simply an exercise:
“The general staff of the IDF hereby announces a call-up of reserve forces. Those soldiers whose call-up sign appears listed below must report to their bases immediately. And here is the list: A Troop of Artists, The Face of Importance, and Water Ducks.”
The optimists among the listeners felt that this was an April Fool’s Day hoax, but most of the people were sure that a tragedy had befallen the new country. Dedicated reservists from all the units of the IDF retrieved the military equipment that they had stored in their homes and waited, ready to hear additional call-up signs that might include their own units.
Political leaders also fell for the trap and reacted as might have been expected, each one according to the party which he represented. Menachem Begin, who was in the opposition at the time, rushed to make a patriotic declaration, where he said:
“While it is true that the failing government did not act properly in hiding vital security information, if our army has been called to action we will all stand behind them, without any exception, as we always have.”
From the other side of the political spectrum, Esther Vilenska, of the Communists, warned the forces of the IDF not to move beyond the borders of the country.
However, the exercise had a much more serious effect outside the country. Within a few minutes of the announcement, the whole world was sent into turmoil, and radio networks reported around the world that Israel had announced a general call-up of reserves. It goes without saying that the Arab countries on the borders of Israel also reacted immediately. Syria announced a general call-up and moved troops to the border, afraid of an imminent Israeli attack. Jordan announced that it had taken steps to guarantee the safety of the kingdom, and Egypt also reacted harshly.
The Prime Minister and Minister of Defense, David Ben Gurion, was surprised to hear the call-up announcement in his home. He realized what was about to happen, including the panic that might result, both in Israel and abroad. At the time, the Chief of Staff Chaim Laskov and the Head of Operations General Meir “Zorro” Zorea were sitting in the Mann Auditorium in Tel Aviv. They had been invited to a gala concert in honor of the Queen of Belgium, who was on a state visit to Israel. Ben Gurion personally phoned the auditorium and asked to call the IDF commanders to the phone. But the usher who received the call was convinced that he was hearing the voice of a popular mimic and slammed the phone down.
An investigation commission that was appointed to study how such a dramatic announcement had been made without informing the Minister of Defense and the Chief of Staff blamed several “middle level officers” who had carried out their mission “with excessive zeal.” But Ben Gurion did not allow the lower levels to take the blame. He moved “Zorro” to a different position and fired the head of the Intelligence unit, Yehoshafat Harkevi.
Source: Yinon Roichman, “The War that Didn’t Happen,” and others. Reprinted with permission from Zomet Institute (www.zomet.org.il). Translated from the Hebrew by Moshe Goldberg. To subscribe to receive the complete version of Shabbat B’Shabbato please write to email@example.com.
The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.