- Nov 22, 2003
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This war is different
By Ari Shavit
Four Mothers was probably the most influential protest movement in the history of Israel. It was founded immediately after the 'disaster of the helicopters' - the collision of two Air Force helicopters carrying soldiers to Lebanon in February 1997, leaving 74 soldiers dead. The movement never amounted to more than a few dozen women (and several men). However, within three years it swept the country and fomented a shift of consciousness that led, ultimately, to Israel's unilateral withdrawal from Lebanon in May 2000.
About two weeks after the outbreak of the second Lebanon War, as Katyusha rockets continued to fall across Galilee, and Israel Defense Forces brigades were immersed in slow and bloody fighting in Bint Jbail, three Four Mothers members met for a lengthy morning conversation in a shaded apartment in Kibbutz Ashdot Yaakov Ihud. Zohara Antebi, from Kibbutz Geva, a resident of Kahal and principal of a school in Upper Galilee, was in Four Mothers almost from the start. Bruria Sharon, from Ashdot Yaakov Ihud, joined the movement a few weeks after its creation. Orna Shimoni, also from Ashdot Yaakov Ihud, joined the struggle about half a year later, after losing a son in Lebanon.
Did Nasrallah's offensive cause the mothers who vanquished the military establishment to engage in soul-searching? Are those who counted the dead of the IDF's presence in Lebanon now counting the dead of the renewed entry into Lebanon and feeling some sort of responsibility? Do they support the antiwar struggle that is developing tardily in Tel Aviv? Do they have any oppressive doubts now about their burning faith in unilateral action?
Four Mothers broke up in fairly ugly fashion in the summer of 2000. The movement's founder and chairperson, Rachel Ben-Dor, packed her bags and left the country. So that the three mothers who met for a tempestuous and contradiction-ridden conversation in Bruria Sharon's kitchen did not speak in the name of any protest movement that existed or now exists. They spoke in their own name. Their Israeli anguish at the outbreak of another war. Again Galilee in blood and fire.
"I heard [the playwright] Joshua Sobol say on the radio that he feels how in this war one layer after another is being peeled from him. That is exactly how I feel, too. I see how in every war, another layer is peeled off. As a girl I remember the Sinai campaign [of 1956]. I remember that we hitchhiked to see the expanses of Sinai. Nitzana, El Arish. And then we gave back Sinai. And in the Six-Day War  I already had children of my own. The fears start when you have children. My husband, Uzi, was in Dotan Valley, a company commander in the Armored Corps in the Dotan Valley. The fear that he would die on me. The fear that someone would die on me. It's an -incomprehensible fear.
"In the Yom Kippur War , I was already the kibbutz secretary. On the kibbutz ,the secretary is the one who breaks the news. And I couldn't do it. We had five who fell in Ashdot Yaakov. One of them was a friend of mine. A friend of my youth. Yoel. When the announcement comes, it is impossible to describe it. I am standing outside the room and I can't do it. That darkness. To this day I can't shake it off. The darkness of Yom Kippur. A no-way-out darkness. Of death. Loss of the Third Temple. Not in quotation marks, not as a metaphor. For me, 2,700 killed is the loss of the third national home.
"Yalik was born immediately afterward. In '75. We call him Eyal, which recalls Yoel. But he knows nothing about that. He is an after-the-war child. A child of love. Of hope. But the layer of fear had already peeled off. I already had the feeling of no way out. I understood that they want us in the sea. No matter what we do, they want us in the sea.
"And when the Lebanon War breaks out , that feeling erupts again. The feeling that we are bringing perdition and there is no way out for our home. And I have five children at home. And two sons-in-law who are also army officers. And Yalik grew up with the war. With the arguments at home. And slowly I understand that the emperor has no clothes. That the army is being blown up in Lebanon for no reason. To protect itself, it is being blown up. Here is a Safari truck and 12 children come back wrapped in the national flag. And there is no protection of the north. No protection of the north. And I feel that if I do not get the army out of Lebanon, everyone will die.
"And then, in February 1997, the helicopters disaster. And I cry. For two weeks I can't stop crying. I call Eyal, who was then an officer at Training Base 1, and he asks me, Why are you crying, Mom? For what are you crying? I'm alive. Listen to me, I'm alive. But then he arrives in the middle of the funeral of Avner, who was a good friend of his. He is so beautiful in uniform. A beautiful officer in uniform. And he, too, does not stop crying. It is impossible to make him stop. And suddenly I understand that expression that was in the papers then, the weeping officers.
"And the next day, when I see an announcement in the dining room about mothers organizing against the war, I am the first to sign. And what a tongue-lashing I get from Yalik. Mom, do you know what Four Mothers is, he says to me. Do you have any idea what they are doing to the IDF's motivation? You just don't get it, Mom, he tells me. If we leave Lebanon, there is no Northern Road. No defense of the north. Hezbollah will enter the infants house in Misgav. Hezbollah will shell Kiryat Shmona. Hezbollah will sweep across the north.
"He is killed in September. In Reihan. It was only then that I started to become more active. How could I not have been active earlier, I asked myself. Where was I. If I had acted, maybe Eyal would still be here. The feeling that then existed among the public that the IDF was established to protect civilians, so it is natural for soldiers to be killed - drove me crazy. Because the IDF is the Israel Defense Forces but the soldiers are our children. And every child that fell, I had a kind of feeling that he was my child. That I had not protected him.
"That's a feeling that's with me all the time. It's part of my womanhood. To envelope, to protect. And when we were accused - Four Mothers - of operating from the womb, I said that we operate both from the head and from the womb. We studied the subject. We did a rational analysis. But we also worked from the womb. We knew that the outcry of the womb would get through. Because the womb is the place that gives life. And we were out to protect life. If we had not spoken out in the name of the mothers, we would have melted like marshmallows.
"Today, too, within this new war again, I do not think we were wrong. The exit from Lebanon was one of the boldest and most correct and most just actions done here in the last generation. The way it was done was also right. With no one killed and no one wounded. I do not accept the argument that this caused the intifada. I think we have no choice but to take our fate in our hands. We cannot sit and wait for the other side to mature.
"But from the moment the firing began two weeks ago, my stomach has been turning over. It's a feeling of being faint. Of no blood in the hands. Everything is cold. Because war is death. War is dead people. And children dying. I have a feeling that my children are dying. They are all my children, whom I do not succeed in protecting.
"This is an existential war. A war over our actual lives. For a long time I have had this feeling: What will happen if one day the IDF comes down with a virus? Nothing serious, the flu. But even with the flu and a temperature of 40 degrees Celsius and no strength, you can't do anything. So what will happen if the IDF gets the flu? If all our soldiers have a temperature of 40 degrees.
"Today I know what will happen: there will be a slaughter here. We will not be in the sea, because we will simply be slaughtered. Not one person from the nation of Israel will remain. If the IDF comes down with a virus, no one will defend us, including our friends in the United States. So I feel that despite the terrible pain, this war is just and necessary to protect our lives. And I think that even when we remove hundreds of thousands of people from their homes in Lebanon, that is not only right, it is also moral. Because I do not want them to be killed in our shelling. But we have to shell. And we have to fight. Because this time, it's not over the security zone [in southern Lebanon], this time it is over our lives.
"That's why it makes me so angry to see the extreme left now demonstrating and breaking the consensus. Because the left is me. Shulamit Aloni is me. And the extreme left says that even now, even after we withdrew to the last centimeter in Lebanon and even after we withdrew to the last centimeter in Gaza, we are to blame. And to say something like that, is to say that we are to blame because we live here and not in Uganda. And then the extreme left is actually saying that we are to blame until we are in the sea. Because they will not accept us in Uganda, you know. Or in the United States, or in France. So the extreme left is now giving me a certain feeling of hatred. Because then, too, no one cared what happened to the Jews. No one prevented slaughter. And today I'm undergoing an experience of slaughter. More than ever before, I know that if the IDF comes down with a virus, the next day the State of Israel will not exist."
"Today it's hard to understand this: during the War of Attrition [late 1960s, early 1970s], we were pregnant. We were pregnant the whole time. Either before pregnancy or after pregnancy. And this was at a time when Ashdot was shelled every day. For three years, Ashdot was shelled every day. There were direct hits. Members of the kibbutz hit landmines and were killed. An elderly woman was killed on the lawn. But no one left. No one went. It was a kind of autistic life. Every night we ran to the children's house to take the children down to the shelter. We see the children sleeping in the shelter for three years. And we go on making children. I myself gave birth to three children during the War of Attrition. I was absolutely autistic. I was a total idiot. What faith I then had in the establishment.
"The first intifada was some sort of blow. My eldest son joined the Sayeret [commando unit] and I remember him coming on his first leave and crying. The sights he saw. The people he had to remove from their homes in the middle of the night [in the territories]. And then I also started to demonstrate at road junctions. It is all because of us, I thought. All because we are so awful and horrible.
"The helicopters disaster sent me into shock. I cried for two weeks. And from that moment I breathed, ate, slept and talked only Lebanon. To get out of Lebanon. I remember an illustration in the paper of a mother pushing a baby carriage, except that instead of wheels the carriage had tank tracks. That grabbed me. Hit me. My youngest son, Ofer, my jewel, was then a new recruit in the commando unit of the Paratroops. At the end of his training course, I told him and his buddies that they were taking the oath to the IDF, that they were committed even to sacrifice themselves for the State of Israel, but that we parents have the responsibility to ask questions and not allow anyone to lead our children to death without asking questions.