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Middle East Kevin Dispatch

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Tomb of the Well-Known Soldier Part I -
The Birth of a Nation

January 26, 2000

Map
Max managed to maintain control of his jeep despite it being overburdened with the weight of excess soldiers from other fallen transports. He had to squint to protect his eyes from an exploding mine that had destroyed a vehicle just ahead of him. Despite the smoke and dust growing thicker around him, only two things remained clear: his mission and the thought of his wife, now pregnant with his first child.

Ten years earlier, when Max (born Maximilian Bresler) tragically became the man of the house at 16 years-old, his mother decided that Germany no longer held any positive future for a Jewish widow and her two children, the younger of which, whose name was Miriam, was only four years-old. Like others who saw the handwriting on the wall, she left Nazi Germany behind and headed for Palestine. During the next few years the three found a new home among the pioneering community of Kibbutz Ginosar.

Click image for larger view
A soldier dies and the country loses a son
Caption
Almost immediately Max's feet sunk deep into the land, even more so than the other kibbutzniks he worked with, many of whom had already lived on Ginosar for several years. He loved to work outdoors and was good with his hands. This was especially true during the secretive evening walks he would take around the kibbutz perimeter with Rachel, an attractive reddish-haired girl his age who arrived from Poland only one year earlier. For many years after neither one would ever know life without the other or life apart from Kibbutz Ginosar for that matter.

Max's sister Miriam, on the other hand, felt trapped by her surroundings. She had inherited her mother's passion for reading books at a young age. All of the fantastic stories she read of far away lands and people had the tendency to make the kibbutz bubble she felt surrounding her shrink with every dog-eared page. Nevertheless, the kibbutz was the only place she and her family could now call home with each passing week in Eretz Yisrael.

By the fall of 1947, Max made public and permanent his commitment to Rachel when he proposed marriage. Their wedding was celebrated along with the announcement of the United Nations Partition Plan, practically a counter-proposal offering them the opportunity to build their life together in the half of Palestine that was to become a Jewish state. They eagerly adopted the jubilation off of the Jewish streets and into their own home at Ginosar. Rachel conceived a child, one of the first they were certain, that would not be born under the British Mandate. During pregnancy the baby was given the name Ya'acov, after Max's father, who had been murdered by Nazi thugs while returning home from work in Munich late one night. Max's sole hope was that he would survive the approaching War of Independence long enough to see the birth of Ya'acov.

Vocabulary:

perimeter - edge
jubilation - expression of great joy; glee
comrades - fellow soldiers
Zionist - having to do with the international movement for the establishment of a Jewish national or religious community in Palestine and later for the support of modern Israel
casualties - people who are injured, lost, or destroyed, often during war
armistice -suspension of hostilities by agreement between the opponents; a truce
icon - an object of devotion, an idol; also an emblem or symbol
invincible - incapable of being conquered

Now as for his mission, his faith in his battalion commander and comrades fighting along side him was enough to make even God but an envious outside observer to the war sweeping across this Promised Land. Every crashing mortar and flesh-penetrating bullet simultaneously impacted on Max, pounding the Zionist will deeper and deeper into his heart. As a Haganah member during WWII, he had already fought on the land against French troops stationed in the north by the Vichy Government, who collaborated with the Nazis. Now, for the first time, he felt he was fighting for the land. Had he been able to drive his jeep any faster Max would have single-handedly liberated every village and hill from the Arabs and personally driven the dead and wounded home to their families. Given the power to plan each war week, he would have fought the Lebanese on Sunday, the Syrians, Jordanians, Iraqis, and Egyptians Monday through Thursday and still made it back safely by Friday evening for the Sabbath.

War does not determine who is right - only who is left.-Bertrand Russell

The fighting dragged on for almost a year and only after thousands of casualties on all sides, in the winter of 1949, was an armistice agreement signed between the new State of Israel and her neighbors. The war which saw the birth of a nation also gave Ya'acov to Max and Rachel. The early 1950s saw the influx of thousands of immigrants to Israel. They were Jews coming from Europe and Arab countries in the Middle East and one by one they began to fill the homes and villages of the Palestinian Arabs, now refugees that had been forced to flee the war. Homes were quickly built to accommodate the newcomers and the character of the state became increasingly Jewish. For Kibbutz Ginosar the newest addition to the population was Max and Rachel's second child Yael.

As is necessary for women in Israeli society, Max's sister Miriam began her service at the age of 18. At first she was thrilled to get off the kibbutz where she resented her lack of privacy. She saw the army as a chance to get out of earshot from her niece and nephew, who despite their charm, never stopped screaming and blocked her ability to ever read a book in peace. But about two days into basic training Miriam quickly realized that the word "private" no longer applied to her time, space, or body but was merely how they addressed her along with all of the other girls who fell under the command of a "sergeant." Unlike her brother Max, she hated the army and hated her commander even more. She found her comrades to be boring and her relationships with them always shallow. As if skimming a publisher's blurb on a book jacket, she judged other girls in her platoon upon first glance and made no attempts to open up. Miriam worked as a secretary and when she wasn't overburdened by reading and writing stuff she had no interest in, she was busy making coffee for her commander. But after almost two full years of sticking it out, she turned in her uniform and laid this chapter of her life to rest.

By 1956 Max found himself called up for duty, this time for an operation in the South. The objectives were to neutralize the armed Egyptian threat in the Sinai, end terrorism originating in the Gaza Strip, and to capture Sharm el-Sheik on the southern tip of the Desert. The last was designed to break the Egyptian Blockade in the Gulf of Aqaba at the Straits of Tiran, which had restricted shipping in and out of Israel. One of Max's commanders from the '48 War was a powerful figure named Moshe Dayan. This soon to be military icon, sporting a black eye patch over his left eye, was now Chief of Staff of the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF). Max had great faith in Dayan and his strategy although he was unaccustomed to fighting so far from his home and his family. Regardless, he fought without reservation in the Sinai Campaign because it somehow, he believed, would serve to defend the existence of the new country and he was always proud to do his part.

It is good to die for this country (Eretz Yisrael).-Josef Trumpeldor

Miriam finally left Ginosar for Tel Aviv shortly after seeing her brother back home safely. She worked at a publishing house and studied English privately with a tutor in the evenings. During a power failure in her apartment one night she knocked on the door of her next-door neighbor hoping to borrow a candle to read by. The man who came to the door spoke very little Hebrew and almost no English at all. He was a new immigrant from Iraq named Menashe Cohen. Upon seeing his attractive face Miriam's fingers trembled and she dropped her book onto the floor. From that night on Miriam devoted less time to English and more time to learning Arabic with her neighbor-turned-teacher. Two years later the landlord gave the two of them a most appropriate wedding gift: permission to knock out the wall adjoining their two apartments.

Relations between Israel and the Arab states remained cold well into the 1960's. When Max celebrated his son Ya'acov's bar mitzvah it was perhaps the first time that he truly felt sad about not being able to take his family to see the Old City in Jerusalem. The Old City, one of the holiest of places in Judaism, was now under Jordanian control in the divided city. Close to Ginosar in the Galilee, bombs and shells of Syrian infiltrators constantly threatened border settlements and kibbutzim.

In May of 1967, a nationwide panic began to develop when Israel noticed a buildup of Egyptian forces in the Sinai. The UN Emergency Force overseeing the Gulf of Aqaba was expelled by Egypt's President Gamal Abd-el-Nasser. The Egyptians were again seen as a threat to Israeli shipping through the Straits of Tiran. Israel rushed to respond adequately with its own military. The country's small size demanded the mobilization of all reserve forces, which predictably, brought the economy to a halt. Once again Max was called into duty, but this time along the Syrian Front where Israel anticipated much action. Young Ya'acov had already been drafted and Rachel found herself without men in the house, alone with her teenage daughter Yael. From that point on war seemed unavoidable.

On the morning of June 5, 1967 Israel launched a preemptive attack using its airforce to knock out the bulk of the Egyptian Airforce before it ever left the ground. Air attacks by Syria and Jordan soon followed but Israel's air power neutralized the threat that same day. Meanwhile Ya'acov's unit was sent into action against Jordanian ground troops that were shelling the Jewish areas in Jerusalem. After defeating the Jordanian forces, Ya'acov entered Jerusalem's Jewish Quarter along with the other men in his group. He phoned to his mother and sister at Ginosar asking that they pass on a message to Dad, "Jerusalem is ours. I've finally prayed at the Wailing Wall!"

Meanwhile Max was preparing his mechanized infantry battalion, poised to engage the Syrians in the north. On June 9th, Israeli forces were ordered by Defense Minister Moshe Dayan to take the Golan Heights and Max found himself again charging into battle.

With both Max and Ya'acov returning unharmed to Ginosar the war was a family success. But it was an even greater success for the entire nation of Israel and the Israel Defense Forces. By the end of the Six-Day War Israel had succeeded in capturing the Golan from Syria, the Old City, Arab East Jerusalem and the West Bank from Jordan, the Gaza Strip and the entire Sinai Peninsula from Egypt. For the first time the IDF felt invincible and the whole country rejoiced! Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza fell under control of the IDF. Thousands more fled to other Arab states as refugees.

Kevin

p.s. - Please e-mail me at ...kevinmaes@bigfoot.com
 



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