A unique Israeli band has brought together nine former IDF soldiers who were injured during their military service, and who all suffer from varying degrees of post-traumatic stress disorder. Their music affords them an avenue to express their difficulties and cope with their past.
The members of Nine Lives met through an organization that helps soldiers recovering from injuries and PTSD. The band was formed six years ago and has now released its first full album on iTunes.
Each band member has a harrowing tale to tell.
Raz Hagag (vocals and guitar) served in the Beaufort base in southern Lebanon — immortalized in the Academy Award nominated Israeli film of the same name — during the last days of Israel’s presence there in 2000. He had just finished guard duty at his post when an anti-tank missile hit the post, killing one of his friends Tzahi Itah, the last soldier killed before the pullout.
“There are days when in my mind I’m there,” he told Channel 2 in an interview broadcast Friday night. “I couldn’t help him.”
After he left the service Hagag had difficulties adjusting. “There was a great loneliness,” he said. “A huge loneliness for me with these thoughts. I didn’t dare to speak about it with anyone either.”
“Music holds quiet within,” Hagag said. “When you’re playing your head doesn’t wander in other directions. It’s [focused on] the music.”
Matan Benayahu (vocals) was hit with 14 bullets when his army vehicle was attacked on a road outside Hebron in the late 1990s.
“I wasn’t sure if was alive or dead. I was reminded that I was alive when another bullet hit me,” he recounted. “I wouldn’t give up on this experience. I wouldn’t want it to pass or go away or to not have happened. I’d go again and go through everything I went through.”
“As far as I’m concerned I was given my life as a gift then. I was reborn,” Benayahu said.
Shlomi Gvili (bass) was seriously injured in 2004 when militants attacked the Morag outpost in the Gaza Strip. A mortar shell fell near Gvili, sending him flying through the air.
“I raised my head, saw that I was badly injured,” he remembered. “I saw my legs full of holes. I saw that two of my fingers had been blown off.”
It took 16 surgeries and an entire year to get him walking again. He suffered from lengthy bouts of sleeplessness, and says he often imagines seeing “bad things happen” around him – a terrible car crash as he drives, or a missile exploding nearby.
Today, he plays the bass guitar for the band, using only the thumb on his injured left hand to press the strings on the fretboard.
“I have three main medicines in life,” he said with a smile. “My wife, Sivan, the recording studio (where he works), and the band.”
The lyrics of some the band’s songs capture the psychological pain they suffer.
“The last war scarred me/But to your eyes it is transparent,” goes one of Nine Lives’ songs. “My body is still whole/But my heart is crippled.”
Another laments: “Today I woke up crazy/Good luck explaining to the world why you’re angry/When you don’t even understand it yourself.”
The band members were complete strangers when they started working together. Now a sort of camaraderie has developed.
“Nine Lives is an anchor in our confused world. An island of sanity,” the band says on its album cover. “It is a means to convey and share that which cannot be explained and cannot be understood.”
Asked if they were a band just before its big break or a musical support group, one member joked: “We’re a support group just before its big break.”