Sergeant Adir Ovadia was given an honorary citation this week for his fearless work in Operation Protective Edge; he told Arutz Sheva in an exclusive interview that as he worked under fire to save fellow soldiers, he also witnessed what he believes to be a miracle.
Ovadia, a soldier doing his mandatory service in the heavy equipment company of the IDF combat Engineering Corps' 603 Battalion, was deployed into Gaza. There, his role included clearing routes to allow Israeli troops to operate, exposing terrorist tunnels used to attack the IDF, and locating pits and explosives meant to kill soldiers, with the last goal being his unit's main mission.
He had just recently finished a course and begun in his position as a military engineer, a combat position that he worked hard to get into after first being drafted in a non-combat role with the Ordnance Corps.
Speaking about his emotions at being told suddenly that he would be entering Gaza, Ovadia related "you get filled with energy, all of your blood starts flowing."
One day "we heard an explosion," he recalls, telling of how a report came in of a bulldozer that had been directly hit by an anti-tank missile inside Gaza. His mission was to open an alternate route to reach the battle zone where the bulldozer had been struck.
Ovadia drove his bulldozer first leading his unit towards the damaged vehicle, recalling "we were stressed out asking 'who are they?', because we knew (the bulldozer) was from our battalion."
While clearing the path, Ovadia in his vehicle approached the house that the anti-tank missile was fired from, and as he advanced gunfire erupted towards him from the various windows of the building.
"They started to fire from the first house, which we (eventually) crushed and it collapsed. We continued working for around two hours under incessant gunfire, just gunfire and more fire without any stopping," he stated. "We destroyed the house with them (the terrorists) inside. (Then) the shooting stopped."
The three terrorists inside the house were killed, and in doing so Ovadia and his commander Tamir Asulin, who was also given an honorary citation, prevented the threat of more missiles being fired from the structure at Israeli forces.
In situations like that, when faced with deadly fire, "you don't think about anything," said Ovadia, noting that the only thing on his mind was doing his work the best he could so as to provide quiet and stability for the residents of the south who suffered constant rocket barrages.
After the harrowing mission, Ovadia and his crew were sent out of Gaza into the surrounding staging area. On the way there, Asulin told him "I have bad news for you, promise me that you won't break down." Ovadia told him that he wouldn't break, asking him to tell him the news.
"He told me 'Moshiko (a nickname for Moshe – ed.) is dead. Moshiko was killed.' I stopped myself," said Ovadia. "I got to the staging area, I saw all my friends crying on the sand, crying hard. I got out of my vehicle; I tried to hold it in and not cry but you can't, it's too strong."
But amid the tragedy Ovadia witnessed what he terms a miracle, as all the belongings of Moshiko were unharmed, despite having been in the bulldozer that was struck by a powerful missile that took the soldier's life.
"All of his things were clean. Nothing was burned. He was a religious man, he was a believer. In his vehicle were religious texts (a prayerbook – ed.), tefillin (phylacteries), tzitzit, none of it was damaged. Not even a small bit of them was burned," Ovadia recounts.
"I looked at that and I said one thing – this is from heaven what happened here. I was there in the vehicle with my commander Tamir Asulin, we couldn't believe it, we were in shock," he noted. "All of the things there, all of the books, all of the holy things, nothing happened to them. There are even pictures of it."
Speaking about the citation, Ovadia acknowledged "it makes me happy, I won't say it doesn't. This is something that will accompany me my whole life, with this person (Moshiko – ed.). It's more for him than for me."
He said he was sure that his commander, Asulin, would agree that his citation too was for Moshiko, and that what they did was for him.
Video from the special Arutz Sheva interview, in Hebrew, can be seen here: