Israelis resigned to legacy of war

| Friday, May 4, 2012, 7:06 a.m.

KFAR BLUM, Israel - Daniella Porat Penso's grandparents helped found this kibbutz in the upper Galilee near the Lebanese border. Her mother, Dina Porat, came here from Boston at age 3 to settle with her family during Israel's 1948 war of independence.

Daniella was born in this medium-sized kibbutz of 600 people, just six months before the 1967 Six-Day War erupted with Egypt, Jordan, Iraq and Syria.

In the 1973 Yom Kippur War, when Egypt and Syria invaded Israel, Daniella was 7 and hiding in bomb shelters. She was a teenager in 1982, when Israel invaded southern Lebanon to rout Palestinian guerrillas.

Now she's a mother of two, living through war again.

"You have these landmarks, war landmarks, around this region," Daniella says, the walls of her home shaking as nearby Israeli artillery fires at Hezbollah guerrillas.

Outside, birds chirp among jasmine bushes and a cactus garden. Grapefruit and orange trees surround the house, and lush palms and firs sway in the summer breeze as another boom! echoes across the Hula Valley.

Twenty-nine kibbutzim are located in the upper Galilee, home to 16,000 people from around the world. Many of them lived through Israel's past wars and face fire again, as Hezbollah's Katyusha rockets duel with Israeli artillery and tanks.

"In '73, I was a child, but we were really, really down under the ground for three weeks," Daniella, 39, says.

Hurrying her son Barach, 11, and daughter Yael, 8, into a bomb shelter outside their home when rockets began hitting northern Israel 18 days ago took her "right back, immediately, to '73. The smell -- I feel like I am 7 years old again, in the bomb shelter. I can't stand being there."

A 'very, very scary' war

During that earlier war, kibbutz leaders felt it better to put children together with others their age.

"We didn't have that many shelters," says Daniella's mother, Dina. "The war came (as) a surprise in '73, and it was horrible. ... At night, the kids slept together and they didn't sleep with us, that was terrible. We learned after that."

Daniella agrees that it was "very, very scary. ... We were almost evacuated. The Syrians, they were right here."

"In '82, it was exciting, I was a teenager," she says. "Teenagers are excited about this -- you know, it is action."

She recalls standing on rooftops to watch soldiers on the move and, since the kibbutz had no telephones, helping to pass messages.

Today, she watches a new generation of teens behaving the same way. But "when you are a mother, it is completely different. I am not more scared, I am more concerned. I am scared about them," she says, pointing to her children.

"I said that, when Barach was born, when he's 18, he won't go to the army. Now, I am not so sure."

"His grandchildren will go to the army," Dina, 64, replies sadly.

As a mother of three in 1973, Dina was "scared to death. Now I have no fear." Well, not exactly: She worries about her grandchildren, hoping they're in a shelter when the Katyushas strike.

"I try not to interfere, which is very hard for me," she says, laughing.

Several rockets have hit Kfar Blum, but Barach -- the third generation of his family to live around war -- insists he is not afraid because none has landed on his house.

'Something in our blood'

A mile away, at Ne'ot Mordechai kibbutz, Shimon and Mira Alexander spend a final few hours with their son, Ranaan -- one of thousands of reservists mobilized for this conflict -- before he heads to his unit along the Israeli-Lebanese border.

Shimon, 59, has lived all his life in this kibbutz of 550 people. He married Mira, his childhood sweetheart, here. His mother came from Germany in 1939 at "the right minute -- otherwise she would have (been) sent like her brother and her father into concentration camps."

"At the beginning, the Lebanese were like friends," he says. Syria regularly shelled the area from the Golan Heights, but the border with Lebanon "was so quiet." From his balcony, he points over a creek feeding into the Jordan River, past persimmon trees, watermelon and cantaloupe fields, to the hills of Lebanon.

Shimon remembers family dates in the context of conflict: his marriage a few months before the 1967 war; his son's birth after Egyptian President Anwar Sadat's 1979 breakthrough trip to Jerusalem to call for peace with Israel.

Mira, 57, the principal of the kibbutzim regional school, grew up here, too, spending a lot of time in shelters.

"From childhood, I remember being raised with bombs all over," she says. "It is something that belongs to the region, to the area -- the fighting, the bombs, the shelters."

Despite decades of danger, "I still prefer to live here. I think it is something that is in our blood, it is a pity to say."

'My kids will have to fight'

Ranaan, 28, doesn't want to fight.

"It's almost impossible to be left-wing here in Israel," he says. "I consider myself way left."

He spent three years as a soldier in southern Lebanon before Israel withdrew in 2000, and once felt that occupation a mistake.

"I thought we could protect the border from our border," he says. "Apparently, I was wrong.

"It is just impossible to live a normal life in Israel, if you get bombed every minute and if your soldiers get kidnapped for doing nothing -- they were just protecting our border. My grandparents always told me they believed that we would never join the army. I am telling you that my kids, I am sure, will have to fight."

In Kfar Blum, Daniella Porat Penso also considers herself to be moderate-to-left, particularly about finding a peaceful solution with the Palestinians. She feels sorrow for the suffering of Lebanese in this war -- but not for Hezbollah, which she calls "fanatical."

Her opinion is shared by many on Israel's political left today. Even three founders of the "Four Mothers" movement, which rallied Israeli opinion against the occupation of southern Lebanon in the 1990s, have voiced support for battling Hezbollah.

"The threat is not just on Ne'ot Mordachai," says Shimon Alexander. "The threat is tomorrow in Netanya and the day after, Tel Aviv. Although we are against it, this is a real step that Israel must take to protect our future.

"We are not talking about protecting the border (but) our future life as civilians."

Subscribe today! Click here for our subscription offers.


Show commenting policy