A little personal story
My life, starting at the ripe age of 15, when I joined the Underground to liberate Israel from British occupation, was so full of challenging events that a month seemed like a year, a year seemed like a lifetime. From running way from British bullets when gluing pamphlets in the streets, to facing the reality that my young, beloved leader, Menachem Rivenbach, only 18, was just killed in a Lechi Underground operation. So much happened, so many friends lost, and so many emotions were buried in me since I could not share them with anyone. I was not alone with this isolation, since we knew that we could be the next one to go, our emotions were well-hidden, no external recognitions of personal loss. Even when the body of our murdered kibbutz friend was in a casket on the truck with us seating around it, we just made jokes.
And we just kept going.
In the Lechi underground, I was mostly alone, until I found my girlfriend, that is. I had to be quiet and unassuming to disappear in a crowd. No personal friends. Not outside, or inside Lechi either. Secrecy above all. Unlike military, we were alone with no release by shared experiences. Just a double life of lies. I was unable to share my story and especially feelings, with anyone. I was unable to tell the truth to any one, especially not to my own family. They must not know or I would be sent away like my brother was.
After spending four years in Lechi fighting the mighty British to liberate Israel - I spent a year at the Lechi border kibbutz, Neve Yair. We were close to the Gaza strip as well as to the established kibbutz Nirim. Arab terrorists murdered savagely three of our members, a few months apart. We got numb to death. On another occasion, coincidentally, when a bullet was shot towards my heart, a tall friend, Yaacov Avnery, was walking in front of me and got the bullet in his stomach since he was taller. Badly injured, he survived. I would not have. I risked my life to get him to the hospital, but that was standard to all of us. I barely thought about it, but when I do, I thanked him in all my heart.
Our small kibbutz was full of challenges, from security to lack of water, but especially for me since I was the only technical guy there. I enjoyed building the electrical system and repairing tractors. I enjoyed dancing nearly every night, until my legs almost gave up. I risked burning to death mounting phosphorus mines under the barbed wired fence since I did not trust anyone else to be as diligent as me. I slide slowly on my back, inch by inch, underneath the barbed wired fence, mounting these fiery mines one after another and activating them. I knew all the time where every part of my body was while I slided on my back not to ignite the mines. In addition to doing all the hard technical tasks nearly alone, I had almost no rest since I also had to guard during my time off.
But the toughest thing was being far from my girlfriend R. - (I missed her a lot, she visited but did not stay in the kibbutz since she was a city girl, desiring comfort that a new kibbutz was unable to give). So, eventually I left the kibbutz after a lot of soul searching. Our Lechi leader Itzhak Shamir (later Israel Prime Minister) asked me to return to the kibbutz. It was hard for me to refuse him since I admired him considerably, but I did not want to return. I then started to relax, with no need to look behind my back if someone was ready to shoot me, either British or an Arab. I was happy to spend some time with my girlfriend, teaching new Yemenite immigrants Hebrew and a new way of life, in a transition camp, a tent city.
And then I was called to military service, I joined the Israel Defense Forces, IDF.
Two months of IDF basic training taught me to take orders, which I did not like, and train others to safely throw live hand grenades. And despite all the discipline troubles I caused my sergeant, (we actually did like one another but he ordered me frequently to run around the training grounds with my gun in the air...) He wanted to send me to officer training, but I was tired of years of duties and did not look forward to committing extra years to military service and told him: thank you, but no.
I served in the Air Force late 1950- to early 52, just 18 months, a shorter service than normal because I got 6 months credit for my four years of Lechi service. I worked in Unit 206, the electronics unit. My huge base originally was Sarafend, later called Zrifim. It was peace time and in the beginning it was not too interesting, equipment maintenance and the like. However, one thing that made it enjoyable was the daily visit from my older brother Pinhas.
Pinhas was doing his officer training at that same huge base, and he felt that he was insufficiently fit physically. So, every day he run around that huge base and visited me on the way.
It was lovely to see him frequently especially after his years in a British prison and later in a British detention camp in Africa after he was arrested as a Lechi leader.
As time passed by, I was assigned to erect tall military antennas around the country. It was fun climbing a very thin 300 feet antenna without any safety belt, and calling friends from above as they passed below, not realizing where I was. I also had to change safety red light bulbs at the top from time to time. I was very careful, I would climb one-step at a time without safety belts, no one used them then, leaving one leg inside the tower structure, and so even if I lost balance, I would be stuck safely up there. Nothing bad ever happened. I learned to be very careful from sliding under the barbed wired fence in the kibbutz.
At other times, I maintained and operated short wave transmitters at several Air Force bases. With 24 hours on and 48 hours off, week, after week, I was busy. During my off periods, I had just enough time to earn money erecting home antennas for private people on Tel Aviv roofs. It was much safer than the IDF jobs. Eliezer Sirkis, a friend from Lechi, had a radio store a short block west of Magen David Square and gave me jobs from time to time erecting roof antennas. My Air Force salary was $4 a month, and it was not sufficient even for bus tickets to go home on vacation. So I used my BSA motorcycle to drive around and worked during my time off to pay for the expensive gasoline.
With all of these risky Lechi understood and border kibbutz life behind me I thought I was safe. Little did I know what was awaiting me in a quite shelter underground.
CLOSE TO DEATH
For several months, I worked at a radio communication station in a bunker at Ramat David, an Air Force base in central Israel . At that quiet base, at that peaceful time in Israel , I came closer to death than any other time in my life.
It was a long trip to the base from my home in Tel Aviv, but working there 24 hours on and 48 hours off was a good arrangement for me. An “Egged” bus would drop me three miles from the base and I would walk to it. As long as it was good weather, it was no trouble at all, especially with a tasty compensation along the way.
The walk to the camp was between lovely apple orchards, belonging to a nearby kibbutz. Many soldiers walked back and forth to the base that way and also liked fresh green apples. They were not bashful stealing them, neither was I. The kibbutz placed foot square green and red signs all along the path saying: “private property, stay off.” And these signs were enforced by five foot high wired fences all around the orchards. Luckily they did not use barbed wired on the top like the ones that surrounded our military bases.
I love fresh fruits and vegetables and I ignored both the signs and the fences and always took my illegal apples as I passed by. I would first check left and right to see that no one was around, and listen that it was quiet for a time. I would then climb quickly the unstable fence, and pick two apples and climb back fast. I knew a lot about fences. I had already build wired fences in our Lechi kibbutz, and even climbed once a ten foot barbed wired fence, which I survived with millions of cuts, so these apple fences were a child’s play to me.
I stuffed the apples immediately in my backpack that contained spare clothes, books, etc and proceeded to the base, my home away from home.
One time I went to the base, but almost did not return. I was so close to heaven, it was sheer determination that saved my life. It was nearly noon and I was eager for a thick cheese sandwich with all the trimmings. I brought with me: tomatoes, cucumbers, and onions, all so fresh- it was picked last evening and brought to market in just a few hours. After smearing the olive oil on the thick slices of black Russian bread, I spread on slices of Feta cheese and vegetables on top, almost drooling with anticipation. Meals were very important events in this boring environment.
There was very little to do alone in these underground bunkers beside reading and studying. On that day, after studying mathematics for a time, I had to stop. I became saturated with numbers and equations. My best high school friend Naftali Vilensky and I were studying mathematics. We hired a private teacher together to help us prepare and I did my homework at the bunker. We were planning to go to the US to study electronics and thought that they were probably so advanced compare to us (since we were 5 years after high school) that we better be prepared. A year later, at the University of Washington , I found out I was so advanced compare to my freshman class that after a short time they moved me to a higher level.
For safety sake, we were supposed to work in teams at the underground transmission centers, but budget cuts had eliminated that a long time ago. We were solidly alone for the duration of the 24 hours shift. No one saw us or knew that we existed. Several times a day I had to change the transmitters’ operating frequency to improve reception at the various bases across the country. We changed frequencies by changing coils, taking one out and replacing it with a different unit.
The powerful 500-watt short wave transmitters were US made, 4 feet cube, boxy, and ominously black. On the front, they had several small lights; one of them -bright red- was especially important. That light indicated that the thousand-volt DC power, enough high voltage to kill you several times over, was on. It alerted us to the danger of possible electrocution when we opened the unit. And several times a day we had to open the top of the transmitters and replace a set of coils.
Another safety feature was wisely built in- a visible power switch. In order to change the coils I had to open a 10 by 10 inch door at the top of the unit to reach the coils. As I opened that little door I saw clearly a large 2-inch long, open safety switch. I could see that the power was interrupted when the door was open by the position of the safety switch. And to be safe I looked again at the front red light. It was dark- clearly off. I believed that all was safe and I started to replace the coil.
I inserted my right hand inside the unit, grabbed the coil inside and froze. I saw only black with some bright stars moving around. I was awake but unable to move at all. Just a piece of granite, for all practical purpose. But something was still alive in me, my brain. I knew that high-level electricity, especially if crossing the heart from my hand to the ground, froze the muscles and thus I had negligible time to act, or die.
I ordered my body: "PULL, PULL, PULL, YOU MUST BREAK THE CONNECTION!" "DO IT NOW."
But my muscles were frozen by the one thousand volt going through me.
As electronic technician I was always careful with electricity, almost always wore rubber-soled shoes for insulation from electricity. I never wore a ring or other metal things on my fingers, to reduce likelihoods of electrocution. And luckily then, I was standing on a thin rubber mat. But none of it helped enough then.
I pulled and pulled with the last strength in my muscles. Nothing.
Finally, my determination broke my frozen state and I pulled my right hand away from the coil with the infinitely small strength I still had.
I have no idea how long it took, but it had to be in milliseconds otherwise I would not be alive. I did not feel any damage or pain. But I did not wait, I was not sure I was really ok so I ran up the concrete stairs to the ground above, saw the beautiful sunlight, breathed my lungs full again and again and said to myself loudly: “I am alive, I am alive!”
A few soldiers passed by looking at me and my strange exhilaration. One of them asked me, are you ok? You seem so white?
I wanted to tell him: if you just knew. But I told him, everything is fine. I could not explain what happened. They would not understand.
I sat on the entrance at ground level, looking around and continued to smile.
Wow! That was a close one.
Finally, after enjoying the beautiful day for a time I went back down and as I approached the door to the transmitter room, I saw again the big sign on the door:
IF YOU LOVE WINE, WOMEN AND SONG, BE CAREFUL, ELECTRICITY CAN KILL YOU.
I saw it many times before, but this time I did clearly know what it meant.
I felt then like killing the bastard who modified the safety switch. If he were there then I would have loved to give him a test of my 1000-volt DC.
I never found that idiot.
ARTICLES BY DR. MATANIA GINOSAR ON THE ISRAELI STRUGGLE
First, let me introduce myself.
My name is Matania Ginosar, I was born and raised in Israel and was heavily involved in the creation of the state. I joined the Israeli underground Lechi (or “Stern Gang”-as the British called us) at 15 fighting to free Israel from Britain, was arrested twice and escaped, was a founding member of a border kibbutz, served in the Israeli military, and naturally I am concerned about the peace prospect there. My family is in Israel for some 200 years, and all my family, but me, live there, many of which have been peace activists for decades. And with all my heart I wish for peace in the Middle East and a good life to all the people in that troubled area.
I am an American citizen for several decades, married and helped my wife raise some lovely kids. I earned a BS and MS in Electrical Engineering, was a Teaching Assistant at MIT, and earned a master in Management and Doctorate in Environmental Science from UCLA. I am interested in solar and wind energies and live in central California. I made major contributions to California in these areas when I was the head of the solar office and the wind energy program for the state. For ten years I developed political pressure on Congress against nuclear war in several states as a full time volunteer.
For several years I gave seminars: "Discovering the Beauty of Judaism" in two local synagogues, and gave numerous talks about Israel.
For many years I have studied and written evaluation papers about the Israeli-Palestinian situation, which were well received. Many recipients requested that I send the material to their friends too, and that is how these articles were born.
My main goal is to inform Americans on the facts in that conflict since much of what we get from the media is incomplete or distorted.
Dr. Matania Ginosar
A letter to:
Editorial Page Editor
The Sacramento BEE
Dear Mr. Schrag:
I am not a militarist. In fact, I have worked full time for nuclear disarmament for eight years as a volunteer. But I believe that the Bee attitude towards Israel is too narrow and unrealistic, to say the least. I did not respond previously to the many anti Israeli cartoons by Renault, your cartoonist, and to the over simplistic articles on the Israeli situation you have carried over the years. I thought that one of these days intelligent people will see through the so-called solutions that are advocated by unrealistic, though well meaning, liberals. But I am surprised by the Bee that even now, after the Iraqi episode you are still so blind to reality. It is more than sad. It is inexcusable for intelligent, thinking people.
Some like to point to the nearly bloodless changes in Eastern Europe as an example what may be done in the Middle East. But the Arabs are not Western people and feel differently about human life. In Saudi Arabia they cut the hands of thieves; in Baghdad they hang people in the public square in front of thousands and show it on TV, and they gassed those they wish to. The Iraqi sent Scuds to kill civilians in Israel to the applauds of thousands of Palestinians in Jordan and the territories. The PLO, its predecessors and derivatives, kill women and children for over forty years now. More Palestinians were killed last year in the Territories by other Arabs than in clashes with the army. The Saudi pilot who shot down the first Iraqi plane in the air said, on U.S. TV, that he could not have lost. If he shot the Iraqi he would be a hero, if he were killed instead he would have gone straight to heaven. Arabs do the majority of international terrorism, including the killing of hundreds of uninvolved people in the PANAM destruction in 1989. These do not represent Western values and do not show compassion for human life.
With this clear lack of Compassion for human life, even for their own "brothers", why will they have any compassion for any one else, especially the Israelis? They consider the Israelis as their enemies. They represent to the Arabs the successful West, and thus their own failure, in a decaying, feudalistic, dictatorial civilization. With this ingrained disregard to human life how can Israel allow a new Arab power in the middle of its own country? It would create a tremendous security problem, and many more deaths. It may force Israel to retake the Territories again. But the Bee ignores this reality, and it goes again with attack on Israel and Jews. During the war with Iraq you wisely discouraged your cartoonist from presenting overly simplistic cartoons about the war. Since he is especially determined to attack Israel in the most anti Semitic terms that a liberal paper can do today in California, it would have been badly received when over 30 Scuds attacked innocent civilians in Israel. So now you invited another anti Jewish cartoon by Benson, but "innocently" put it on the op ed page (Friday March 8, 1991, page B7). And to do it after the war that demonstrated so clearly how savage the Arabs can be against their own brothers. Note especially the Palestinians and their cooperation with the Iraqis against their hosts the Kuwaitis. Just imagine what they would have done to Israelis under similar circumstances.
Just look at this cartoon carefully. First it depicts JEWS vs. ARABS. It is possible that great many Arabs do hate Israel, maybe even hate Jews, as was demonstrated by the glee of the Palestinians after the Scud attacks on Israel. I doubt very much that many Jews would think or utter the words included in this cartoon. That is not our way. I also know that very few Israelis would think, let alone say, these words. I never hear them from Jews nor from the many Israelis I know. You probably do not grasp that the reason Israel attacks terrorist installations is not as revenge, but to demonstrate to them that they would not be immune from a punishment every time they attack Israelis. Most Arabs do not feel like Western people, they believe that you are a coward if you do not respond powerfully to an attack. And they would increase their attacks on civilians. Only when they know it would not pay, they may be willing to stop. That clearly happened with Jordan and even militant Syria. They learned. Very rarely attacks come from these states.
It is so sad that you, an intelligent and sensible professional, is not able to see how biased you, and the rest of the people in the Bee who make these decisions, are. This cartoon equates the Jews and the Arabs in hatred. Who is that for over 40 years attacks innocent people and kills them whenever the opportunity arises? Did Israel initiate the many wars there? Did Israel maintain a state of war with its neighbors as a national policy?
I was born and raised in Israel. My relatives were nearly killed by an unprovoked Arab attack in Nablus 1929. Three of my friends were killed out of 40 members of my kibbutz near Gaza in less than one year. The UN did not allow us to receive one of the bodies of my friends because it was badly mutilated. More than a quarter of my classmates died in the various wars the Arabs initiated against Israel. Did the Israelis ask for that? They accepted the UN partition, the Arab did not. And still do not accept the existence of Israel.
Israel did make many mistakes, sometimes big ones, like the invasion of Lebanon. Its army responded too often with too much force to intifada attacks, and similar unacceptable actions. But it seeks peaceful co existence with the Arab states.
Are you aware that the Arab states have a clear policy of not allowing Palestinians to become citizens in any Arab country in order to prolong the instability in the area (Jordan may be the exception). This policy was stated a few days ago on national TV by one of the leaders of Kuwait. Are you aware that one million Jews left the Arab states to live in Israel and left most of their belonging, and obviously their housing, there. They are integrated in Israel. Why do so many Palestinians still live in refugee camps? Do they want it? With the wealth of the Arabs oil states they could have transferred to live like human being again. But this would reduce the pressure on Israel, so they will continue to be used as pawns by the Arab states.
Many liberals are so eager to offer the Territories for peace. Do they really know what it is to live near people that are determined to kill your population, women and children, as they are doing for years? I know it first hand. I don't believe it is possible for outsiders to grasp it, but you may try. Try to imagine Sacramento being attacked repeatedly from Davis by rockets and armed infiltrators eager to blow us up. I doubt liberals here will be giving a buffer zone to the attackers. They will ask for an immediate and powerful counterattack on the perpetrators.
Read the attached story by Yosef Lapid about some of the feelings of Israelis about the recent danger. Maybe you can get a glimpse of what it means to live under constant danger. I doubt that outsiders can understand what it means to know that your very life and that of your family is always in danger. I don't believe that outsiders can feel the fear of Israeli parents for their young sons when they know that as they become adults they will face the danger of a continuous military service and border attacks, or major wars. It is easy, very easy to propose solutions to Israel when you sit in the comfort of your secure home in the good old U.S.A.
Dr. Matania Ginosar
I joined the Israeli underground LECHI at age fifteen. This blog gives my thoughts on what happened back then, what's happening now and on Zionism and Israel in general. I hope you enjoy reading this blog.