Unsung hero

In a southern neighbourhood of Jerusalem, just a stone’s throw from the so-called Green Line, is Airplane Hill. It’s nothing special to look at and is absent from all tourism itineraries. It is a place where most people drive by without stopping on their way to their destination. 

Yet, the golden rule of Israel says that if a place has a name – no matter how insignificant it seems – something memorable happened there. Such is the case with Airplane Hill. On top of the humble mound is a small monument kept clean by children of the nearby elementary school. The inscription recalls 21-year old Dan Givon, an Israeli pilot whose plane was shot down during the 1967 Six Day War and crashed in the place where the monument stands today. 

Dan grew up in a kibbutz in the north of Israel. The now elderly kibbutz members still remember him as the child who formed a music band and wrote songs about the beauty of the land of Israel. When he was not singing, Dan dreamed about being a pilot. When the time came and he had finished school, he worked hard to get in shape so he could join the Airforce. He completed the tough course which required mental and physical fitness as well as a wide knowledge of aviation mechanics. Dan received his wings just as Egyptian and Syrian forces were on Israel’s borders calling for the destruction of the young Jewish state. It was a day before what was to become the Six-Day War. Two days after the ceremony, the young man was in his plane defending Jerusalem from Jordanian artillery 

The Jordanians were fortified on the what is now Airplane Hill. They had dug a network of tunnels, hoping to storm Jewish neighbourhoods and kill the Jews. The Israeli Airforce sent four planes to destroy the stronghold. Danny, one of the pilots, flew over the hill at very low altitude trying to tilt his plane at an angle in order to annihilate the Jordanians. Sadly he failed to dodge the anti-aircraft fire and took a direct hit. He crashed into the hill and was immediately killed. In order to fulfil their promise of never leaving a man behind, two soldiers were set to rescue Dan’s body from the burning aircraft. Disaster struck. The men stepped on mines and sustained serious injuries. 

When news got back to the kibbutz of Dan’s death and also the injured soldiers, people were devastated. Another son of kibbutz members had also been killed the day before. 

Dan would become just one more of the thousands of young people who have fallen in battle in defence of Israel. All of them are ordinary kids with extraordinary courage. Their devotion and fearlessness has enabled generations of Israelis to live in our land. The two soldiers who tried to retrieve Dan’s body both named their sons Dan after the war, fulfilling the unspoken commandment that in Israel we must always honour and remember the ordinary people who do selfless extraordinary things.