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.
The US is a generous country, especially towards Israel. But we must grasp that the US Administration, especially the State Department, has the responsibility, as it should, to look after US’ own interests, not Israel’s. Kerry and Obama are seeking to improve US influence in the world, and the Middle East. To this end, the US supports Israel just enough to maintain its military superiority, but not for Israel to gain solid safety and security for the long term. Obama and most other US Administrations have arranged that Israel would continuously depend on the US.
Why does the US want to keep Israel under its thumb? To have leverage in the Arab world.
If Israel did not exist, the US would have almost no leverage, and no influence on the Arab world. The US already has negligible influence in the Middle East, and its ability to pressure Israel is almost the sole leverage the US has there.
So, do not assume and hope that this or any other US Administration has Israel’s interest at heart. The US is using Israel to retain influence in the Middle East, since the majority of global oil reserves are in the Arab Middle East, even now that we have enough oil in the US to satisfy our own demand for the next few decades. It is in the US’ self interest –increase global trade-to have ample, low cost global energy source- oil.
Israel, a country with only 8 millions, surrounded by 350 million hostile Arabs, has no true powerful friends that it can solidly rely on, therefore, it needs to continue to depend on its own wisdom, military force, and maintain a highly tuned security forces across all its areas. Israel is in a highly volatile region that will remin so for many decades. Israel can not relax, it must not forget that it is small and vulnerable and despite its dedication and impressive capabilities, it does not posses all the knowledge it needs and it has blind spots.
Israeli leaders made many serious mistakes in the past. The one across all leaders is inability to recognize that the Arabs in general and especially the Palestinians are Israel’s solid enemies. Lets not forget that PM Sharon was irresponsible by leaving Gaza without setting solid conditions to insure Gaza would be demilitarized. And the Knesset was also irresponsible by not overriding him and setting the right conditions to protect Israel. I hope they are able to demilitarize Gaza eventually.
Israel does not know what it does not know. The surprise of Hamas’ massive tunnel system demonstrated that clearly. Unknowns are normal in wars. To compensate for the unknowns requires thinking like your cunning enemy and retaining extra humility.
It seems to me that the Israelis unfortunately do not have sufficient humility and Arab-like cunning for their own security. Their remarkable economic success might have made them too confident militarily.
The world expects from Israel what no other country would do. It is unfair. But we cannot expect fairness, justice, and honesty in global affairs. Screaming about it is a waste of energy and time.
Both George Bush and President Obama facilitated Hamas attacks on Israel. Both have been unable to understand the Arab mind and Hamas particularly.
President Bush demanded election in Gaza allowing Hamas terrorists to take part in it. Hamas won. That gave them power to control and build up vast military infrastructure to attack Israel.
Second, Condoleezza Rice, President Bush’s Secretary of State forced Israel to give up the control of the Gaza-Egyptian border. This is the border that Hamas used from the beginning to bring missiles and other weapons into Gaza and use them against Israeli civilians. Israel closely controls all other borders.
President Obama followed Bush’s stupidity and did not try to reverse the situation, nor is Obama willing to face reality. He is still unable to grasp the evil mentality of the Arab world: kill whoever does not agree with you, Christians, Jews and other Muslims. Hamas’ declared goal is the destruction of Israel- Period!
President Obama should have declared years ago the truth: Hamas terrorists and their supporters are building steadily a larger and larger arsenal of missiles of longer and longer range to attack Israeli civilians. Hamas is storing and shooting rockets into Israel from residential areas, schools, hospitals and mosques.
Israel has the right to protect itself like any other country under attack. Hamas is using civilians as human shields to protect their missiles launchers, weapon storage and tunnels. Hamas must stop using civilians in combat zone. Otherwise, Israel has no choice but to destroy Hamas ability to attack Israel; Hamas is causing the Arab civilian casualties and not Israel.
The Israeli government waited too long to fully attack Hamas, using ineffective symbolic air attacks that only encouraged Hamas to escalate its tunnel buildup and attacks on Israeli civilians. Hamas was not afraid of Israel. They should be. This is not a game. It is national survival.
I feel sorry for the millions of suffering Arab civilians who are caught by forces beyond their control.
Israel has nothing to do with the internal agonies, mass murders and massive changes occurring in the Arab world. The US possibly opened the Pandora box with the invasion of Iraq. But it would have come any how. The fundamentals have been simmering for a century. Combination of powerful agonizing forces created this tragedy. A mostly arid region, no trees, few rivers, with too many people, brutal demanding religion dictating obedience to a single leader. Corrupted ruling class using force to subdue the population. All interacting, but finally overcoming the fear of dictators to build this fire.
Sadly this upheaval will not disappear soon since the fundamental facts of much of the Middle East are:
Rapid Population increase, especially easily impressionable youth below 25. Below the age of reason and self-control. Continuous reduction of arable land due to climate change. Thus a sustainable living is no longer feasible in many regions. Rural population migration to dense cities. No jobs, especially for youth, therefore no hope. Combine this entire explosive situation with brutal teaching of fundamental Islam, including tribalism and hate of the stranger. All of these create and propagate this fundamental, impossible to distinguish fire. Saudi keeps the population quiet by distributing some of its vast oil wealth. But spreading fanatic Muslim religion globally using the West oil money. Other Arab states do not have it.
Egyptians have their own love/hate relationship with their culture of oppression and hate. Ninety millions people, half of them underfed, with no-future. Egypt population rose from 30 millions to 90 millions in half a century with same amount of land and less water. Some African counties demanding more water from the Nile. How can el-Sisi change this?
Twenty three millions mostly poor Syrians have been fractured into their more elemental units, by tribe and sect with some 170,000 already murdered and millions of refugees. ISIS has grown to show the essential face of Arab culture- domination, brutality and fundamentalism Syria rose from 4 millions 1954, to some 23 millions today, with less arable lands. Fewer water resources, some controlled by Turkey
And the danger to Israel? Are the Palestinians who came from Syria and Iraq different? Remember how they danced and scattered candies when Saddam’s rockets reached Tel Aviv in the Gulf War? The Palestinians were the only Arabs who supported Sadam at that 1991 war. Many of them celebrate killing. King Husain, the previous king of Jordan, told the Israeli Security Chief that the Palestinians admire Sadam brutality since they want to be like him, able to kill friend and foes without a blink of an eye.
Do not assume the majority of the Arab/Muslim people want to adopt our own culture. It is arrogant on our part to think we know what best for them, and it is a fundamental error to think they want to be like us. They feel they are superior to the West. Christians and Jews have to be second class citizens lowered in all ways below the superior Muslims. And millions of them want to achieve that height again.
Most of the Arabs are fundamentally oppose to our essential way of life. The building blocks of Western culture such as moderation live and let live, Democracy, Tolerance, human values, equality, plurality, binding agreements, are not part of Arab fundamental culture. And would not be for a very long time. If it could change it has to change from within, and that may take centuries. It took the West centuries of brutal wars to arrive at the European Union.
It is impossible to change a narrow, uncivilized, brutal mind-set that has been formed through the culture of many generations.
Before the Israelis fought for their lives, created the State of Israel and won the1967 war, American Jews suffered from wide discrimination, on the job, in housing, universities, and social settings. Many Jews here forgot the indispensable value of the State of Israel to their own awakening, to their freedom and their happiness here. Israelis’ success was our success, their freedom, our liberation here. The Israelis sacrificed 23, 000 brave people in addition to one hundred thousands injured (immense percentages in tiny Israel then) to create Israel and thus give Jews pride and strength worldwide.
Again, this is crucial: Jews were integrated into American society because of Israel’s strength and pride. Even after the Jewish contributions during WWII, American anti-Semitism was strong and consistent. Before Israel, Jews across the world were mostly known for our history and our millennia-old weaknesses. No nation wanted us for long. To survive we became the “Wondering Jews.” We were known for our subservience and our holocaust. We lived in constant fear because of millennia-long life-threatening discrimination and pogroms. Those sad experiences were our internal and external identity.
Israel’s independence and strength broke this terrible mold. Israel gave us the emotional strength here, which was necessary for Jewish integration into American life. With a strong Israel we had a proud identity, and we had a home. Thus Israel gave Jews in the US respect and thus freedom from persistent anti-Semitism. All of these came ONLY AFTER the Israelis showed us what Jews could do.
If Israel is weakened, so is the strength and acceptance of American Jewry.
We are facing now global anti-Semitism of the depth and breath we have not suffered from the time of the holocaust. We must grasp that this global anti-Semitism is not just against Jews who wear kippas, but also against American “liberal Jews.” We mistakenly think here that we are free, well integrated, and independent. We also think that global anti-Semitism is just against Israelis who do not want to listen to reason and make peace.
Some of us in America care more for the wellbeing of our sworn enemies, while disliking passionately other Jews who do not agree with them.
We Jews are our worse enemy. Some of us try to lift ourselves by considering other Jews as inferior because we do not agree on either core Jewish values or how Israelis should behave. We should drop the shackles of the Diaspora, and recognize and embrace our own Jewish unity and stand tall together. We have a lot to be proud of. From our inception, 3500 years ago we have made more contributions to the world than possibly any other nation on earth. Feel it, be proud of it.
We must respect our own diversity, at least as much as we respect the diversity of the rest of society. Until we respect and appreciate that our common values are well beyond our differences, we will go down hill.. Brotherly despise is not a path for long-term survival.
God will help those who are unable or unwilling to realize that we Jews live together or die together. American Jews, European Jews, South American Jews, and Israelis too. That is the lesson of our long history.
American Jews have a very poor record of truly fighting for their brother’s safety. We stood by while the holocaust was going on because many prominent, well-established American Jews did not consider European Jewry their brothers, such as the leaders of the New York Times and their kind. And some were afraid to attract attention to ourselves because it might increase American anti- Semitism.
Israelis welcome the financial and political support American Jews give to Israel, but the fact is that Christian political support is significantly more powerful and more influential than Jewish support. And we should respect and appreciate their support.
Remember, when we fight and dislike one another because they do not think like us or practice Judaism like us or feel differently about Israel, we will all fall together.
“One lie has the power to tarnish a thousand truths.” Al David
The phone rang during my breakfast, I reluctantly answered it: Matania Here.
His normally soft quiet voice was irritated and he said:
Matania I just got your email about the Iranian nuclear danger. You must meet with the Bee editorial board and tell them what you wrote.
But Mort, if any one can reach them it would be you.
No, they do not want to see me or listen to me. I tried.
To you Mort?
Yes. You have to try to reach them. You know the issues well. May be you can reach them.
The Bee staff did not answer my calls or letters either.
It was a further indication of the anti-Israeli bias of the Sacramento Bee that I was familiar with for years. Even a prominent citizen of Sacramento as Mort Friedman was unable to talk with them about Israel. Their consistent bias against Israel remained solid to this very day. They made up their minds and do not want to hear other views. Any letter to the editor that either my wife or I write about Israel is rejected.
Remarkably, a Presbyterian committee in Sacramento, not known to love Israel, asked me to present the Israeli case to them, which I did. In a later email.
Because I was an engineer and a scientists and spent decades separating successfully technical facts from fiction, I believed I would be smart enough to note media bias against Israel with ease. I was wrong. It took a special seminar by a professor of media, presented by the Sacramento Jewish Federation two decades ago, to open my eyes to the judicious and consistent manipulation by the biased media. That includes the Sacramento Bee, The NY Times, LA Times, The Economist, Time Magazine, PBS and NPR and many more. I will give you just a few examples how they cleverly and bluntly distort the Israeli/Palestinian narrative to instill in our minds the anti-Israeli bias they are so dedicated too.
I would not be surprised if you tell yourself: not me, I am smart, well educated, and they would not pull one on me. My wife felt that way until I showed her in details how by just changing a few words in the title and/or inserting the "right" picture our attitude could be easily shifted. She is now pointing to me anti-Israeli bias I am unable to see some times.
The Sacramento Bee takes the cake on story manipulation. Just a few examples
A. During the second intifada when Palestinian terrorists blew up many Israeli busses across Israel the Bee showed prominently on its front page a very LARGE picture of the grieving family of the TERRORIST WHO MURDERED MANY INNOCENT ISRAELIS, and who was killed later by the IDF. However, in a much smaller picture on the same page the Bee showed the family of one of the VICTIMS OF THE TERRORISTS bomb. The impact was that the Bee glamorized the terrorist and essentially blamed the Israelis for his family agonies, while minimizing the tragedy of the terrorized victims, the Israeli family.
B. In November 2012 Hamas sent some 150 rockets into Israel, killed a number of Israelis and finally Israel responded by target killing a Hamas leader. The front page of the Bee read: ISRAEL KILLS HAMMAS LEADER, to give the clear impression is Israel is an aggressor attacking Hamas, while the facts are the opposite. Then 2 pictures in the back did not show any of the casualties or the damage caused Israelis suffered by the instigators, the Gaza's terrorists, but shows a dubious picture of a possible Palestinian victim.
C. After the Turkish Gaza flotilla attempt to reach Gaza, the Bee had an article on the bloody incident. Since most people are busy they do not read the articles, but mostly look at the titles and pictures. To make the desired negative impact, since a picture is worth a thousand words, they added a picture to sink the issue further into our minds. It showed two large Israeli soldiers holding between them a smaller youth. It intended to show the “brutal” way the Israelis treated the ship protesters. When I showed it to an audience who is not sympathetic to Israel, none of them realized how misleading it was: The soldiers were surrounded by large thick concrete walls and they all had weeds up to their knees. I am not aware of any ship with huge concrete walls and heavy weeds growing on it.
The Bee found a picture that they like, which had nothing to do with the Turkish incident, and used it to twist our thinking.
Just a few of the ways how the media, drip by drip, manipulate our minds to think about Israel as the aggressor and the Palestinians as innocent victims.