Remembering Yoram Hamizrachi on Yom Hazikaron
Updated: May 8, 2019
Lt.-Col. Yoram Hamizrachi-East, the former Israeli commander in South Lebanon, took me under his wing and taught me about Middle Eastern geo-political affairs, community and multicultural activism, journalism, the art of radio, and how to burst the balloons of the rich and entitled class in society, among many other things. That he had moved to Winnipeg, and come into my life, was a miracle.
I had never known someone with such distinguished military service as Yoram. On his father's side, he was a 7th generation Jerusalemite. He entered the IDF as a paratrooper in 1957 and ten years later as a reservist, he fought to free East Jerusalem in the Six Day War, advancing from the American district to the Damascus Gate, before reaching the Western Wall.
He covered the Yom Kippur War for German Television in 1973. In the late 1970s, he rejoined the IDF as a colonel to work with the Lebanese Christians. He stayed for several years and became the first Israeli officer to work with the South Lebanon Army, and became known as "King of the North" to Israelis. He departed military service upon a profound disagreement with the expansion of military actions into Lebanon, and resumed his career as a journalist.
He had a clarity about the nature of war, the lines that are drawn, and the human cost it exacted, that was unmatched by any speaker I have seen.
"I know who I fought against in 1967", he once told a panel discussion. "I didn’t fight against the Palestinian people. From 1948 to 1967 the owner of the West Bank and Jerusalem was the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. The enemy I fought against was the Jordanian army.” In his later years his paintings reflected horrific images of destruction and human suffering that were a window into the personal toll his experiences had taken.
After Yoram returned to journalism, in the spring of 1982, he immigrated with his young family to Winnipeg. I met Yoram when he was standing at a bus stop on McGregor Street near the family home on Matheson Ave., and my then-wife and I recognized him from his interview that morning on CTV news about the war in Lebanon against the PLO. He and his wife Beate readily accepted my young family into their home and I became the primary babysitter for their children Tahl, Ron, and Dan.
In early 1985 he assumed duties at the International Centre and hired me as his 'boy Friday' -- liason, typing documents, researching, translating for him from Hebrew to English, and introducing him to the players in Winnipeg's media scene. In the era of the Charter of Rights and rising tensions within newly-immigrated Asian and African communities struggling to survive in Winnipeg, they found in Yoram a man who understood a variety of cultures from his military career, and who would champion their needs for housing and real jobs, and not "Folkloramas and wine and cheese parties".
I saw the strategic brilliance of his military mind first-hand when we were an integral part of the first 'truce talks' that led to an uneasy peace brokered by Yoram and Manitoba Human Rights chair Claudia Wright between rival ethnic gangs in the hot summer of 1985. Elected officials actively sought out Yoram's wise counsel on many issues, and I was fortunate to be a part of those meetings and discussions, where the depth of his knowledge and incisive questions were unique and tremendously effective at advancing discussions and forging partnerships. He was also a personal advisor to the Canadian Foreign Minister on counter-terorism and was a sought-after expert in terrorism and instructed courses for the Canadian military and police forces across North America.
With Yoram, I began attending Remembrance Day ceremonies with the Jewish Legion, and about 15 years ago, Yoram and his son Ron established the first community-wide Yom Hazikaron service in Winnipeg to pay tribute to Israel's fallen heroes.
Recently I was honoured to be called to a meeting with a longtime friend and operative of Yoram's who revealed in detail to Ron and I, the crucial role that Yoram played in the rescue of Ethiopian Jews 'The Lost Tribe', marshalling resources, funding and political willpower.
His legacy both in Eretz Israel and in Canada continues to grow as time passes, and his personal relationships with Israel's most prominent leaders is only now starting to emerge from his private files.