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 coffee was good, and the Chocolate Moose birthday cake was a delight as my friend and I discussed our world views. Being a psychologist he could not stop from asking many questions to discover my inner feelings. He finally burst, a rarity for him: “I don’t understand it, how could you be so solidly liberal on almost all issues and Conservative about Israel?”
I smile and said: I am a realist, not a liberal, neither a conservative about Israel. I have lived there and studied the issues for decades. I think facts as very important. My personal desires are one thing but facts can not, and should not be ignored when we try to find valid, lasting solutions to real life problems.”
We stopped and joined our host singing Happy Birthday to our honor-guest.
For a long time I have tried to grasp what could be the reasons that most of the Progressives I am aware of usually dismiss basic facts that contradict their hope of quick peace between Israel and Palestinians.
On the contrary, I can not dismiss reality. I usually dig deeper to find relevant facts, relationships and causes. I seek to understand reality; and therefore I spent many years studying engineering, management and sciences in several respected universities to understand complex issues. Working in advanced electronic engineering, in alternative energy, and political activism for decades thought me quickly that useful contributions to the real world are only possible when we accept facts. And if we ignore them, no progress is possible.
It seems to me that most of the Progressives I know and I have read, have backgrounds in liberal arts/humanities, or similar useful fields where there are many possible options/solutions. In these fields, “facts” are always open to many interpretations. So it is much easier for personal desires to influence the way one arrives at conclusions. These important fields, however, do not have the engineering/scientific discipline that dictates adherence to clear, proven, facts.
I wonder if this “flexible way” of viewing the world is one of the key reason Progressives often rejects realities they do not like.
And why Israeli liberals especially have failed consistently to bring peace to this century-old war.
Although Judaism repeatedly tells us to be realistic and practical, many Progressive Jews, in their eagerness for an idealistic world, often ignore clear and obvious facts that do not fit into their view of the world. They forget, for example, the Gaza/Hamas rocket machine, and the mass- atrocities in Syria by Hizbullah. The West Bank is largely populated by the same people with the same murderous tendencies. Think what atrocities they could do on a much larger scale if gained independence.
SOME REPONSES TO MY PIECE ABOUT PROGRESSIVES VS. REALISTS
Matania, you continuously amaze me - by your manner of thinking and how you articulate it.
Wish that your pieces were more in the public eye.
very refreshing and persuasive look at Progressive movements, especially of Jewish thinking. Thank you for sharing this observation from a scientific perspective. We, who live in Israel, deal with reality regularly and see no clear road to lasting peace in our lifetime. Those who view the century plus war between Jews and Arabs here as issues of land rights rather than religious ideology will continue to prefer the Hollywood version to what the actual world is.
Amen, Matania. I'm still trying to explain to my liberal friends that what we feel and what is real are two different things. Maybe it all boils down to left brain/right brain thinkers. One tends to be more analytical while the other is creative. I call them dreamers.
I really like the post and intend to use your arguments the next time I'm involved in a discussion of reality.
Matania: I agree. Many progressives are caught up in their devotion to "universal" ideals, abstract notions of how the world should operate, to the point that they ignore practicalities--or grounded facts, as you put it. The support for "victims" is one of these universal ideals which partially explains why so many progressives heartily accept the Palestinian narrative. It is a lot easier to sympathize with the supposedly weaker party in a conflictual relationship than to try to understand context and history.
Again, I thank you for your insights.
It is much simpler answer, according to unnamed person, liberalization (AKA as progressive) is a mental illness! So true, how else can you explain so many progressive/liberals can ignore the violent in the Muslim world? I can already hear many progressive/liberals reading this, defending the religion of peace and saying “not all Muslim are violent”, it is really not the Islam religion ………can you imagine if the Jews were the one who was killing, murdering, bombing, raping girls, kidnapping little girls, not allowing women to drive, forced to cover every inch of their body, stoning women/gays, honor killings………all this is happening every day all over the world by Muslim with barely a whisper from progressive/liberals as they are all busy telling Israel what they need to do for peace.
I do believe that the Progressive misreading is due to an idealism that will not bend to the realities of the world. The assumption that everyone is basically the same, and wishing for peace, and heedless of ideology, is dangerous and too widespread. Fine piece.
We are approaching Yom Hashoa, the Holocaust Remembrance Day. Few German Jews wanted to believe that Hitler and the Germans would really exterminate them. “His hate was just propaganda for internal consumption.” Some are still closing their eyes to the reality of the Middle East.
Some 65% to 85% of Palestinians, by Arab polls*, want to eliminate Israel by any means they can. It is in their charters, mass media, schoolbooks, street signs and public declarations. But some like to dream that the PA (Palestinian Authority in the West Bank) is “peace-loving.” I wish it was the case, but it was never so. (*Percentage depends on period of polls.)
It is a good thing for Israel and the West that Hamas and the PA would combined since any one who think that one is a terrorist organization and the other one is peace oriented, is mistaken.
The main reason the PLO is not more militarily aggressive is that the Israeli security forces are there and ready to go in when called for. However, since Israel left Gaza, Hamas has been mostly free to send over 10,000 rockets and mortars into Israel. The reason they did not kill more Israelis is that Israeli communities and homes have adequate civil defense.
The PLO is a wolf in sheep clothing and the sooner people in Israel and the West accept this reality the better.
Do not “kill the messenger,” I wish most Palestinians were peace oriented, and both sides would live in long-lasting peace, but ignoring distasteful reality never helps.
If Israel disappeared, will the inhuman turmoil in the Muslim world die down?
Will Muslims of all denominations stop murdering one another in Syria? Iraq? Yemen? Egypt?
Will the innocent civilians in fractured Libya have a moment of rest and security?
Will Saudi Arabia stop erecting large mosques all over the US teaching extremisms?
Will Iran stop its race to a nuclear bomb?
Will Hamas murder many PLO as they did taking over Gaza, when they take over the PLO West Bank?
Will Hizbullah continue to aid Assad murdering his people? And take over Lebanon completely?
Will the Muslim extremists that attacked Israel be embolden and have more time to concentrate on the “Big Satan,” the USA, now that the “Little Satan,” Israel, is no longer their target?
Will Turkey return to its pre Ataturk days of Muslim extremism and brutality to all under its rule?
Will Muslims EU minorities become majorities with their high birth rate, taking over much of Europe?
Obviously, the world will be a much darker place for all humanity.
So, why this US Administration and many of its supporters are doing their best to weaken Israel?
Because they have little grasp of the Muslim world’s mentality and way of life. And project the more civilized Western ways on the primitive, mostly brutal Arab world.
Israel is an outstanding country not due to its amazing economic progress, $260 billions GDP, not for the amazing population absorption, starting with 600,000 Jews at its Independence, to 6 million today. Ten times! Not for the fact that while it was absorbing at great costs destitute Jews from all over the world, it had to fight several wars against immense odds and must dedicate a significant part of its budget to maintain its military strength. And not for building a modern high-technology country out of a desolated land. Israeli determination, ingenuity, love of the land, and high energy are well known.
It is due to Israel’ outstanding treatment of its enemies, the Palestinians. The Palestinians are the enemy of Israel, by their own declared charter to take all the land from Jordan to the Sea, by their vicious terrorism- dismembering babies and playing football with the heads of dead Israeli soldiers. And by 15,000 rockets they shot at Israeli civilians, and by their hateful media and education systems. Most moderate Palestinians escaped long ago. Christian Arabs nearly disappeared.
No other country in the world would have tolerated such a situation but instead would have destroyed its enemies. Not the Israelis, kids gloves all the time despite its immense costs in Israeli lives, suffering and economic burden. And not because they have to, but because this is their nature. Israelis hate to inflict pain even on their enemies.
After the amazing Israeli victory of 1967, Israel offered to return land for peace. The Arab nations answered with "Three No's":
"No peace with Israel, no recognition of Israel, no negotiations with Israel..."
The Israelis did not know what to do with the Palestinians after 1967. If they return the lands, the Arab nations could use it to start another war. So they had to hold it pending negotiation. Eventually Egypt and Jordan made “cold peace,” actually just absence of war. The Gaza and Lebanon experiences left Israelis dubious of any additional “land for peace” move...
When General Dayan had the responsibility for the civil management of the West Bank and Gaza after 1967 he decided to treat its dedicated enemy with civility. The first time in their lives the Palestinians received medical care, free education, access to universities, and help rebuilding their poor areas. The Jordanians and Egyptian treated the Palestinians like third-class people, and they still hate one another.
The Palestinian answer was Intifada 1 (1988) and Intifada 2 (2000), which Arafat-- the “peace partner” of idealistic Israelis-- initiated and was supported by the majority of Palestinians. Instead of severe military penalties, Israel erected a defensive shield: “The fence”, (similar to our fence with Mexico, who is not dedicated to destroying us). It has reduced Israeli’ casualties significantly. And every idealist attacks this “wall”.
The atrocities the Palestinians have committed are barely known here. While the Boston marathon bombing shook the US for weeks, last year Israel had some 1900 terrorist attacks in a country five hundred times smaller, with a population fifty times smaller than the US.
The total Israeli casualties by Arabs attacks from 1947 to date are 24,000 deaths, over 100,000 injured, and a million people traumatized. (In US proportions, 24,000 deaths is equivalent to 1.2 million people!!!)
What did we, the US do after losing 3000 innocent civilians on 9/11?
We invaded and destroyed much of Iraq and Afghanistan. Some half a million civilians died in Iraq because of the war we inflicted on them! And untold civilian casualties in Afghanistan.
And what did Israel do with immensely more casualties? Very few counter-attacks, limited in scope and in civilian casualties. It developed instead defensive systems such as the Iron Dome to protect to some extent its civilian population rather than attack the enemy and inflict civilian casualties.
If Israel behaved as we did they would have destroyed major part of Gaza and the Palestinian regions, but the IDF protects their enemies’ lives at a significant cost in lives to themselves.
The civilian casualties in Afghanistan from US drone attacks are more than ten to one. Palestinian civilian casualties from Israeli drones are less than one because the Israelis abort attacks when civilians are near the targeted terrorist.
And what else does Israel do? It treated in its hospitals some 180, 000 sick Palestinians living outside Israel last year. An Israeli hospital at the border with Syria treats injured Syrians irrespective of their affiliation. Israel sends food and extra water to Jordan for Syrian refugees.
During the repeated rocket attacks from Gaza, Israel supplied electricity, food and necessities to the Gazan population who support rocket attacks from the middle of schools and other dense population centers.
“The IDF did more to safeguard the rights of civilians in combat zone than any other army in the history of warfare.” UK Colonel Richard Kemp. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JM0fTss0UX4
Tell me if you can another country that would treat with such respect for life its enemy who swore to destroy it and is doing its best to murder its civilians?
I know Israel is not perfect, but it is amazing compare to most countries in the world including the US.
Tel Aviv beaches are lovely, clean sands, gorgeous young ladies in bikinis sunning themselves and warm waters to swim. However, I was not interested in swimming. I wanted to enjoy the warm air and recall the many memories I have from this beach, from nearly drowning at age 7, to lovely summers with my sister and mother. But most of all I remembered how good it felt hugging my sexy girlfriend Razia on warm nights.
It was so early that the tractor marks all over the beach were still evident. Each morning tractors rack all popular Israeli beaches for possible bombs planted by terrorists at night.
I set in the shadow of a closed guardhouse, looking and daydreaming. Just a few young people were jogging along the quiet beach; it was early spring, out of season. A small number of youngsters braved the cool water but did not stay too long. When I swim there, I can easily stay an hour jumping up and down with the little waves.
A well tanned, 50 years old, solidly built man, dressed in a business suit, was walking slowly in the soft sand towards me. He wore no hat despite the bright sun, but his large sunglasses were prominent. Some 20 feet away, he stopped, put a red towel down deliberately, took off his jacket, folded it neatly, and laid it down carefully on the towel. Then he pulled a gun out of his pants pocket, wrapped it in a dark cloth and covered it with his pants. He had his swimming suit underneath. I looked at him, and he returned my gaze.
I had to ask: “Why are you having a gun at the beach?”
He looked at me, hesitated and then said gravely:
“It is not your business.” And went swiming.nearby.
He was swimming energetically back and forth in the clear blue water keeping an eye from time to time on his belonging.
He came out, dried himself carefully, looked at me, and removed his swimming trunk under his towel, standing precariously on one leg at a time, and got fully dressed. As he unwrapped the gun and put it in his right pocket, he shook his head a little as if unsure what to say, but then said:
“OK, I will tell you now, I am working in a large beach hotel near by, and we all have guns there. What will happen if some terrorists try to force their way into the hotel?”
I nodded my head in thanks, and he walked slowly back towards the huge hotel.
Do you know why I am telling you this true story?
Because too many people are convince they know what is right for the Israelis, while they sit here blind to the everyday life of the Israelis. And this is a very mild story.