Misgav Am is in a pastoral area overlooking southern Lebanon and the Hermon and spread out below is the Huleh Valley. The view is spectacular. Occasionally the quiet is disturbed.
I grew up there during the seventies and eighties in a reality in which war was no stranger.
The kibbutz was often attacked by a barrage of katyushas fired by the PLO from their bases in southern Lebanon. Then, in the dead of night, sleepy and barefoot, covered by a blanket we would run to the shelters.
I was in the second grade when Zahal (the Hebrew acronym for the Israeli Army) entered Lebanon for the first time (Operation Litany), and consequently, for two weeks we lived underground. In the shelter we studied, ate, played and slept. We were not allowed to put even our noses outside.
This insane reality has not changed.
On the last day of Pesach in April 1980, five members of the "Arab Front for the Liberation of Palestine" infiltrated the kibbutz (communal village) and gained control of the building housing the babies. They immediately murdered Sammy Shani, the kibbutz secretary, and the baby Eyal Gluska. After many long hours and after a battle in which Eldad Zafrir of the Golani commando unit was killed and many others were wounded, Zahal managed to release the hostages. The feeling that Misgav Am was impenetrable was replaced by constant fear. A little more than a year later another catastrophe struck, this time in my family.
In the early hours of the 20th of July 1981, one of the days later known as the ten-day battle, after having spent several days in the shelter my mother went out to take a shower before work. A salvo of katyushas fired by the PLO from Lebanon towards Misgav Am caught her at the entrance of our house, one step away from the entrance.
The shelter shook. Only a few meters separate the room, I slept in my parents' room. My mother slept with me in the shelter and for some reason she decided to get up and go to work that day. The kibbutz was almost completely paralyzed in those days and only a few went to fulfill emergency duties.
She was not among the few but still she went. After a short while our father came to fetch me and my brothers at the bottom of the steps of the shelter and said: "Mother is gone." I don't remember that I cried, maybe because a child born on the kibbutz is not allowed to cry. Maybe because a boy not yet 11 years old did not fully understand what his father was trying to tell him. Perhaps I do not understand to this day. My father did not hold on. In March 1993 he too "was gone."
Strange, but the desire for revenge was not part of me. Somehow I tried, years later, to make sense of the loss. I assume that this attempt helped me to survive and was the motor that drove me to the activity that I will tell about here.
Four days after my mother was killed, a cease-fire was declared in the north. Indirect negotiations led to an agreement signed between Israel and the PLO, which lasted for a little over 10 months. In the beginning of June 1982 an assassin from Abu Nidal's organization (Abu Nidal was one of those who broke away from the PLO and was hated by Arafat) attacked the Israeli ambassador to Britain, Shlomo Argov, and fatally wounded him. In retaliation the Israel government decided to invade Lebanon with the aim of "destroying the nests of terrorists." This pretentiousness cost much blood. Twenty years passed, part of the players are still in the field but the pretentiousness continues to lead us and the spilt blood continues to flow.
After the outbreak of the El-Aksa Intifada, I joined the Forum of Israeli-Palestinian Bereaved Families for Peace. Members of the Forum give lectures in schools where they share with the pupils the loss they have experienced and their conclusions thereafter. The pupils are stunned. They have never seen a Palestinian and Israeli sitting together, talking about their mutual pain and the possibility of attaining conciliation.
These activities aim to make the public aware of the enormous tragedy common to both nations, in this bleeding country, which is dear to both.
I wish to devote a few words to one such activity, which took place not long ago: donation of blood from Palestinians and Israelis. On the 8th October, in the morning, a few Palestinian members of the Forum arrived at the Magen David station in Jerusalem and donated blood. At lunchtime a few Israeli members of the Forum went to the government hospital in Ramallah also to donate blood. The object of this activity was to say to both nations and their leaders: we share our blood and future.
At the Kalandiya Barrier, south of Ramallah, most of the Forum members managed to mingle with the Palestinian pedestrians and cross the border. Itzchak Frankental, chairman of the Forum, and I wer left behind. Since we were barred from crossing the barrier, we tried to find somewhere else to cross the border. A local taxi winding its way deftly in the narrow and desolate streets of Ramallah took us to the local hospital. The blood donation procedure ended and our hosts, members of the medical staff, parted from us with warm words as we left on our way to the Mukata'a (Arafat's compound in Ramallah).
If you have not been there it will be difficult to sense what all of us were thinking. The area is almost completely destroyed and we had the feeling of having arrived at a place that had just experienced a serious earthquake. What remains is a building, part of which is still standing, inside which Arafat and his people are crowded. The rest is mostly destroyed. A very terrible feeling. In another part of the Mukata'a the debris is being cleared and some construction work is being done. However, it is far from full reconstruction.
The cars stopped and we waded through thick dust, the result of the unbelievable damage, to the entrance of the Palestinian Authority building. Armed policemen, who politely showed us the way, upstairs, to the office, met us. At the end of the Palestinian cabinet meeting, Arafat received us in his narrow and humble office, One by one we approached and shook his hand.
It was my turn. I shake the hand of the murderer of my mother, Tsippy Yesod. I shake the hand of the man who is closely connected to my family's tragedy-the death of my mother and that of my father a few years later-and say a few words of greeting in Arabic. Years after my mother's death I paged through a book full of documents taken during the Lebanon war and found amongst the documents the order to fire on Misgav-Am on the cursed morning of the 20th July when my mother was killed by the direct hit of a katyusha. The commander-inchief of the armed Palestinian forces, Yassar Arafat, signed the order.
It was important to me to meet Arafat. Strangely I do not aspire to revenge but the possibility that I will be able to forgive or forget or think as if our family tragedy does not exist. I feel that we are obligated (however difficult it may be) to remove from the public discourse the mutual hatred produced by the crimes we have committed against each other so that we can try to prevent further bereavement and make conciliation a possibility. I am convinced that it is of great importance to meet with the leaders of the Palestinian nation.
The leaders and their people are the means whereby this unnecessary and cruel bloodbath in which we are all wallowing both Palestinians and Israelis will end. The refusal of most of the public in Israel and its government to speak with the Palestinians or worse disregard of the basic, legitimate rights of the Palestinians on their land, God save us all, is leading not only away from reaching the peace and quiet we all long for but causing us to march slowly but surely towards a deep chasm. The fresh graves dug daily, on both sides of the border, are the hair-raising evidence of the process.
Our forum the PCFF, has set as its goal to try and change this reality and to show Israeli society the price paid and that which will be paid by many, many, too many, other families in Israel and Palestine only because there is no peace.