A 24-year-old British-Israeli soldier stationed at the border with Lebanon has said he “prays and hopes” the conflict will not escalate further, amid exchanges of fire at the nothern frontier since the war with Hamas broke out in Gaza.
Josh Banks, an IT worker from his hometown of Radlett, Hertfordshire, moved to Israel when he was 18. He was called up to join the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) on 7 October, after Hamas opened fire against civilians over the border with Gaza.
Mr Banks, whose family still lives in Hertfordshire, said he has been stationed in the north to ensure there were no infiltrations from Hezbollah fighters.
On Sunday, the Lebanese Shia militia launched an attack on Israeli army posts and a border village, as Israel retaliated with strikes into Lebanon.
Mr Banks told i on Monday that his division spent the first four nights of his latest deployment “sleeping on rocks without anything” except a sleeping bag.
“It got pretty cold at night, we were sleeping anywhere with space in a relevant base where we were with the division,” he added.
Sporadic fire across the Israel-Lebanon border over the past week – the worst border-violence since the countries were briefly at war back in 2006 – has raised concerns that fighting with Hamas militants in Gaza, in the south. could escalate into a broader conflict.
Mr Banks said: “While it’s a concern and while a war with Lebanon would obviously mean casualties on both sides, from a personal point of view, I pray and I hope that the situation doesn’t escalate.
“Life is the most important thing, peace is the most important thing,” he added, echoing comments by Israel’s defence minister Yoav Gallant, who said Israel did not want an escalation in war.
“If Hezbollah chooses the path of war, it will pay a very heavy price,” Mr Gallant said on Sunday. “Very heavy. But if it restrains itself, we will respect that and keep the situation as it is.”
Mr Banks said that after four nights of sleeping outside, he spent two nights in “100 little tents” given to the platoon by “generous” local residents.
“It was absolute luxury, it was phenomenal, it felt like the Hilton hotel,” Mr Banks said.
On Sunday night, civilians who were being evacuated to safer parts of Israel offered their homes to the troops while they were away, so the soldiers slept in living rooms or on any floor they could find, including in the kitchen.
“The assistance and support and love and care from the civilians and the people, it raises all of our spirits unbelievably,” Mr Banks added.
He said the troops had provisions of tinned tuna and sweetcorn and similar goods in their backpacks, but none have been opened yet thanks to locals providing hot meals three times a day.
On Tuesday, a hairdresser will be visiting to cut their hair, another small act to raise the morale.
“Every day they just remind us of what we are protecting and what we are doing and they remind us that what we are doing is right and we are fighting for the good guys,” the 24-year-old said. “The support and the unity is just unlike anything else anywhere, just constant love.”
Israel is thought to be preparing a ground invasion of the Gaza Strip, one of the most densely populated areas on Earth with over 2.2m people on 365 kms square, as it called up more than 360,000 reservists in one of the largest mobilisations in its history.
More than 1,400 Israelis have been killed since Hamas launched its surprise attack on 7 October, while about 2,750 Palestinians have died in retaliatory strikes by Israel on Gaza.
Mr Banks, who has Israeli citizenship through his parents, became a reserve for the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) after serving with the army for two years and eight months at the age of 19.
After he was called up, he told i last week that he was “petrified” about what might happen in battle.