Nurith Stavy

Baby of the siege

In our small family the past did not exist. My mother was an only child born to a Praguian family that was exterminated in the Holocaust. She came here alone on a ship, and was imprisoned for half a year in the British detention camp in Atlit. My father, of Lvov, Poland, had immigrated to Palestine back in 1934, leaving him the only survivor of seven siblings. But father told us nothing; he was very introverted. I do know that he managed to fight in the British army, and later on in the Haganah.

I was born in Hadassah Mt. Scopus hospital on November 24th, 1947. My mother stopped nursing me during the War of Independence, when I was 6 months old. Jerusalem was under siege then. I was underweight and the doctor said I would die if I did not eat, so mother and I were transferred to Tel Aviv in one of the convoys. Father was an officer and fought who-knows-where. Since arriving in Palestine, he insisted on living in Jerusalem only, but did not agree moving into an Arab home. He never explained why.

When I was two and a half, my brother Yigal was born. He dreamed of becoming a pilot from the time he was very young, and would build airplane models from plastic, and later from the wood of Balsa trees. We slept in the same bedroom until I was eighteen. My half of the room was filled with insects and tortoises, and his half was filled with airplanes. We had a lovely childhood in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Rehavia, and I was very attached to him. Yigal and I belonged to Hatzofim (The Scouts youth movement), and were raised on such values as love of Israel, and the fact that when it comes to people, race, religion and nationality have no bearing - that's how it is in Hatzofim. In the tin wall, which divided the city, there was a hole, through which we would peer curiously at the walls of the Old City and the Arab vehicles on the other side.


Smoking Shisha after the War

Father was an accountant and mother worked in the Yad Vashem Museum and prepared cards for all those who perished. She later worked in the Ministry of Finance, in the Remuneration Department. Yigal was in the 10th grade when I was recruited into the IDF's Nahal ("Fighting Pioneer Youth") Unit along with a group from Hatzofim. We went to Mei-Ami, Nahal settlement, near Umm-el-Fahm, which was a hostile village. The previous class of Nahal soldiers suffered fatalities, when two soldiers, who were standing guard at the entrance of the settlement, were shot and killed by Arabs. I kept guard with a weapon. On occasion, "rats" (informers) would cross over from the other side and I would have to say "Stop! Password!", and then give them over to one of the officers.

After the settlement period, we moved to Kibbutz Tel Katzir, where I worked in the henhouse. We would constantly see the Syrian tanks in the military post, "Tawfiq", above us. When the Six Day War broke out, all the men were drafted and we, the girls, remained in the kibbutz's shelters. The first shelling caught me on my way to feed the hens. I found shelter in a big water pipe, where I remained alone the whole day, until it got dark. My brother was in Jerusalem at the time, where he took responsibility for a public shelter.

On the last day of the war, a helicopter landed in our Kibbutz, from which emerged "Dado" - General David Elazar, who was then the head of the northern command. There was great excitement. The guys immediately drove to El-Hamma (which later became Hamat Gader), where there was a mosque. Some of the guys pillaged a finjan (Arabic for "coffee kettle") and some cups, and somebody took a little mat. One of the people who worked with me in the henhouse went up to see the Golan Heights and stepped on a landmine. In the meantime, we received news of good friends from Hatzofim who had been killed.

After the war, I went up to Mt Scopus with my family to see where I was born. We stood in the amphitheater and looked at the view. I was so moved, and my eyes filled with tears. I really did not feel like a conqueror. In the very same spot where we had once peeped through the hole in the tin wall, there now stood a Jerusalemite bread-pretzel seller, and from this spot we would henceforth make our way to the Old City regularly. On the left side of the Damascus Gate, salep, malabi (milk-based pudding perfumed with rose water) and watermelons were sold, and we would all sit on cushions, across from the hookah with the Arabs. The restaurants on Salah-al-Din Street were our home. Till this day I often visit the restaurants of the Old City, and till this day I have my shisha (hookah). I would regularly drive to the Cremisan Monastery in Bethlehem, and drive to Bet Jala to buy wines. We would also travel many times to Jericho. We adored Jericho. There is nothing like sitting in a Jericho café under a Poinciana tree.


One hostage, one fatality

After my army service I studied at Hebrew University in Givat Ram. One sunny day, I sat at the edge of the pond near the National Library, when suddenly a mushroom-like cloud of smoke rose from the cafeteria right opposite me. A terror attack. Wounded people ran out screaming, and one, whom was covered in blood, was a classmate of mine. I personally know Jerusalemites whose family members have been killed in terror attacks.

I had worked in the Israel Association of Community Centers, and as part of my job I would travel to all the Arab settlements because the association built community centers in every locality - Rahat, Jisr az-Zarqa, Lakiya, Baqa al-Gharbiyye, Umm al-Fahm, Tuba-Zangariyye. I also worked across the "Green Line", in the settlements of Gush Etzion. Kiryat Arba also had a community center.

My brother Yigal received his pilot wings. He hated the army, but loved flying. During the Yom Kippur War he was part of the Phantom Squadron, also known as "The One", and we were very worried about him. This squadron suffered the highest number of fatalities during the war: many pilots and navigators were killed. I lived in Ashkelon back then and he would come and visit me. If I was visiting my parents in Jerusalem, he would come over to them. I would go downstairs to wait for him so I could have him all to myself. He was 1.86m in height, tall and handsome. Yigal shot down a Syrian Mig, and survived the Yom Kippur War. But then came the War of Attrition.

One night I dreamt that my brother had been killed. I saw him sprawled on the ground, and an Arab was standing across from him, holding a shoulder missile and shooting at him. Two days later, on April 19th, it was Holocaust Remembrance Day. I put on a white dress for the ceremony, when suddenly there were knocks at the door. I see Eitan Ben Eliyahu, the squadron commander, and another navigator. I said straight out: "Yigal has been killed." They said - No, the plane was shot down by the Syrians and there is one hostage and one fatality and they do not know who is who.

They drove me to Jerusalem. We went up to my parents' apartment with Amos Lapidot, then base commander, who was already waiting downstairs. My parents were elderly. It was unbearable news and I was very afraid for father. The rumor spread like fire and a myriad of people started coming - good friends and neighbors. Three days later we were told my brother was the fatality, and then the real hell began: we did not know if we would have a grave.

It was in those days that I started volunteering as an assistant for wounded IDF soldiers. I would go to Hadassah five times a week. Some were paralyzed, or had no arms, and I would help them eat. After two months all the hostages were sent back, along with nineteen coffins, Yigal in one of them. He was 24 when he was killed.

My brother was buried next to Avi Lanir, who was tortured to death in Syrian captivity. My father went to the hospital to interrogate Binyamin Kiryati, the navigator who was with my brother on the plane. He told father that after the plane had been hit by a missile, Yigal managed to eject them both. They both parachuted, and my brother, too, parachuted alive, but then they shot and killed him. We never told this to mother till the day she died.

I was 27 at the time. I left work, left everything behind and went to take care of my parents. They stopped going out. No more theater, or music; life was no longer the same. Mother broke down first and became almost petty. Father was very sad. I carried them on my shoulders all those years.


Living in occupied territories

When the Intifada began in 1988 it pained me. I did not understand why "they" were rebelling. We didn't treat them that badly. Over the years, I began to realize more and more what we were doing, especially by means of the settlements. I do not justify terrorism, but I did not believe we would become like any other conqueror from around the world. I thought we would be more enlightened, and not create such hatred towards us.

True, I live in Armon HaNetziv - East Talpiot, a neighborhood built on territory conquered in 1967. I moved there in 1980 for economic reasons. I have no problem with the fact. If they tell me to pick up and leave, I will take the compensation money and go elsewhere. I asked my neighbors from Jabel Mukaber about it. They don't want us to go; they want to remain a part of Israel - they have a livelihood here. Our cleaner is Palestinian; our pharmacists are Palestinian, and the doctor who treated me in hospital was one Dr. Kassem.

Immediately following the peace accord with Egypt, I traveled to Egypt. Immediately after the peace accord with Jordan, I traveled to Jordan. I have a dream to see where my brother was killed, but I don't believe that will ever happen. The Syrians were very cruel to the POWs, unlike the Egyptians and the Jordanians.

After my mother passed away in 2003, I was in a poor mental and physical state, but it was only five years ago that I understood that I could not continue in this fashion - feeling weighted down by the heaviness of the loss - and I started seeing a psychologist. The psychologist was a mentor in the group "Wounded Crossing Borders", and it was he who brought me there. Four years ago we participated in the "Jerusalem Hug" event - there were Christians, Jews and Moslems, and the objective was to encircle the walls of the Old City, arm in arm. But we were too few.


The Narratives Workshop - Insights from my childhood picnic site

The Parents - Circle Families Forum gives a narratives workshop to the group "Wounded Crossing Borders". In one of the group meetings we visited Lifta, a village I have known since childhood. We used to picnic there. I never thought too much about its past. As far as I was concerned, it was just another place with demolished buildings, in which Arabs had once lived. Even after '67, as a student, we used to take hikes through LIfta and Malha - another Arab village that had been abandoned - but would never talk about it. I had other things on my mind. As a social worker, I knew Lifta as a place where drug addicts hung out.

As part of our work on narratives, we visited Lifta and entered one of the homes. We heard about the history of the village, and were asked to imagine what it had been like when people still lived there. We walked to the fountain, but I felt awful there because some ultra-Orthodox men came and started shouting "Nachman me'Uman" (the slogan of the Breslev Hassidic group). The Palestinians who had joined us hoisted the Palestinian flag and planted an olive tree. I was really moved when one of the Israelis said that the Palestinians had hoisted the Palestinian flag in the same manner that we hoist the Israeli flag in Poland.

Twice I visited Bet Ummar and heard about the suffering caused them by the settlers; not that I am saying that they are completely righteous. We went to see a film about the refugees of Cyprus - the Greeks and the Turks. I also meet Palestinians at Sulha (the traditional Arab reconciliation) meetings - a somewhat spiritual encounter that takes place around a fire. The plan for next time is to go to the Yad Vashem museum. It is very important for me to show them that nakba is not a Holocaust. I also teach Hebrew grammar to a Palestinian from Bet Safafa, for the purpose of his Masters degree.

I am active because I have felt on my flesh all the pains of war and terror attacks. Fear leads to hatred and mistrust, and I believe that through personal and group meetings prejudices may be changed. My goal is to bring more people, especially rightists, to these meetings. I keep finding myself shifting between hope and despair. Every time there is a terror attack I feel horrible. Now I am sitting in one room with people who were in prison and who executed terror attacks, but who have, nonetheless, repented.


* Nurit Stavi participated in the "Wounded Crossing Borders" group.
* Upper photo by  Oded Leshem
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