Roni Hirshenson - "I Don’t Have the Privilege to Give Up Hope"
I was born in Jerusalem in 1942, married Miri and had five kids, Tami, Hadas, Liat, Amir and Elad.
Misgav Am is in a pastoral area overlooking southern Lebanon and Mt. Hermon. Spread out below is the Hula Valley. The view is spectacular and occasionally, the quiet is disturbed.
I grew up there during the seventies and eighties, when war was part of reality.
The kibbutz was often bombarded by katyusha rockets that were 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 the Israeli Army entered Lebanon for the first time (Operation Litany), and consequently, we lived underground for two weeks. In the shelter we studied, ate, played and slept. We weren’t allowed even to poke 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 that housed the babies. They immediately murdered Sammy Shani, the kibbutz secretary, and baby Eyal Gluska. After many long hours and a battle in which Eldad Zafrir of the Golani commando unit was killed and many others were wounded, the IDF 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, closer this time, in my family.
During the early hours of July 20th,1981, on one of the days which will later be known as the ten–day battle, and 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 one step away from the entrance to the house.
The shelter shook. Only a few meters separated the room, I slept in my parents’ room. Although my mother had slept in the shelter with me, for some reason she decided to go to work that day. The kibbutz was almost completely incapacitated in those days and only a few people left the shelters to fulfill emergency duties. She was not among the few but still she went.
After a short while, my father came to fetch me and my brothers from the bottom of the stairs 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 it to this day. My father didn’t hold on to life, and in March 1993, he too was “gone”.
Strange, but I wasn’t consumed by revenge. Years later I tried, somehow, to make sense of the loss. I guess this helped me survive and what drove me to the activity I will tell about here.
Four days after my mother was killed, a cease–fire was declared in the north. Indirect negotiations led to a signed agreement between Israel and the PLO, which lasted for a little over 10 months. In the beginning of June of 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 Shlomo Argov, then Israel’s ambassador in Britain, and wounded him fatally. In retaliation, the Israeli government decided to invade Lebanon, aiming to “destroy the terrorists’ nests”. This pretentiousness had cost a lot of blood. Twenty years have passed, and still we are lead by the same arrogance and precious lives are continuously lost.
After the outbreak of the El–Aksa Intifada, I joined the Forum of Bereaved Israeli–Palestinian Families for Peace. Forum members give lectures to students in schools, where they share their personal loss and experience, as well as their conclusions. The students are quite stunned –they have never seen a Palestinian and Israeli sitting together, talking about their mutual pain and the possibility of attaining reconciliation.
These activities aim to bring to public awareness the enormous tragedy of both nations in one bleeding country, which is dear to both.
One such activity, was blood donations from Palestinians and Israelis. On the morning of October 8th, a few Palestinian Forum members arrived at the Red Shield of David station (Israel Ambulance Services) in Jerusalem and donated blood. At lunchtime that day, a few Israeli Forum members went to the Ramallah Government hospital to donate blood. The objective of this activity was to say to both nations and their leaders: we share our blood and future.
South of Ramallah, at the Kalandia Barrier, most of the Forum members managed to blend in with the Palestinian pedestrians and crossed the border. Yitzhak Frankenthal, chairman of the Forum, and I were left behind. Since we were barred from crossing the barrier, we looked for another place where we could cross the border. A local taxi winding its way deftly in the narrow and desolate streets of Ramallah took us to the local hospital. After our blood donation procedure ended, our hosts, members of the medical staff, parted from us with warm words as we left on our way to the Muqata’a (Arafat’s compound in Ramallah).
It is difficult to relay what we were all thinking when we arrived there. The compound was almost completely destroyed and it felt like we were standing on land that had just gone through a serious earthquake. There were remains of a building, the part which was still standing, where Arafat and his people were crowded in. The rest was almost completely destroyed. It was a very terrible feeling. In another part of the Muqata’a, the debris was being cleared away and some construction work had started.
We got out of the cars that drove us and we waded through thick dust, the result of the unbelievable damage to the entrance of the Palestinian Authority building. The armed policemen who met us, politely showed us the way upstairs to the office. After the Palestinian cabinet meeting had concluded, Arafat received us in his narrow and humble office. One by one we approached to shake his hand. It was my turn. My mind was racing: “I’m shaking the hand of the murderer of my mother, Tsippy Yesod! I’m shaking the hand of the man who is closely connected to my family’s tragedy,– the death of my mother and of my father a few years later, –and I’m saying a few words of greeting in Arabic.”
Years after my mother’s death, I leafed through a book of documents taken during the war in Lebanon, and among them I found the order to fire on Misgav– Am, on the cursed morning of July 20th, when my mother was killed by the direct hit of a katyusha. The order was signed by the commander– in chief of the armed Palestinian forces, Yassar Arafat.
It was important for me to meet Arafat. Strangely I did not aspire for revenge, but I did hope it would be possible for me to forgive or forget or to imagine somehow that our family’s tragedy does not exist. I feel that we are obligated to remove from public discourse (however difficult it may be) the mutual hatred produced by the crimes we have committed against each other, so that we can try to prevent further bereavement and make reconciliation a possibility. I am convinced that it is of great importance to meet with the leaders of the Palestinian nation.
The beginning of the end of this unnecessary and cruel bloodshed both Palestinians and Israelis wallow in, lies with the leaders. The refusal of Israel’s government and its people to even speak with the Palestinians, and worse, the total disregard of the basic and legitimate rights of the Palestinians to their land, is leading us, God forbid, away from the peace and reconciliation we all long for, and directing us slowly but surely on the path towards a deep chasm. The fresh graves dug daily, on both sides of the fence, are the hair stiffening– evidence of the process.
The PCFF has set a goal to affect change in this reality and to bring forth to the Israeli public the high price already paid, and which will be paid, by far too many other Israeli and Palestinian families, only because there is no peace.