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Four Mothers ;War means never having to say you're sorry: ' Don't blame us for Lebanon withdrawal - blame Zionism' and just 'change the diskette'

July 30, 2006

Last update - 16:09 28/07/2006

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.

Orna Shimoni

"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 [1967] 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 [1973], 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 [1982], 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."

Bruria Sharon

"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.

"I don't know what sets a person afire. But I was suddenly on fire. I was hysterical. Overwrought. I felt I was on borrowed time. That if I did not turn the world upside down, my child would die. I wrote a letter to [prime minister Benjamin] Netanyahu saying that if my son were killed he would not be to blame, I would be to blame, because I did not do enough to make sure my son would not die. I let the chief of staff decide about him. I let the defense minister decide about him. I abandoned him to them.

"In the War of Independence and also in the Six-Day War, and even in the Yom Kippur War, a bereaved mother was a heroine. The whole nation looked up to her. The big change that occurred is that I know today that if I am bereaved, then only I am bereaved. That's it. The loss is mine. This is a natural process. A society that is fighting for its establishment needs myths. Needs Bar Kochba. It doesn't matter that he destroyed the Jewish people and brought rivers of blood. But he did not bend his head. He upheld his pride. That is why Zionism adopted him. Because we truly needed heroes. And then, within that context, the death of a son had meaning.

"But today we are a normal society. Even if it is not normal to be a normal society in this place. And because we are a normal society, the death no longer has meaning. And then we are not ready to follow the leader and the state blindly. We don't go to death because Ben-Gurion said so.

"I remember sitting with Orna across the road from the President's Residence in 1999. An older man, someone familiar, came by and asked if there was anything he could bring us. Pizza, we said. He brought us pizza and sat with us, and explained systematically the pointlessness of our being in Lebanon. He explained that we were being frightened for no reason. That Hezbollah was not the PLO. They are a Lebanese movement. They have Lebanese goals. They are fighting for their liberation and will not pursue us if we withdraw. They will become a political party.

"And when we got back home, I saw that Orna was in shock. She did not utter a sound. Because suddenly, because of Reuven Merhav [the elderly man, a former member of the intelligence community and Foreign Ministry director general], she understood that Eyal had been killed for nothing. Eyal was killed for no point or purpose. Because meaning is important. Viktor Frankl wrote that. And when a nation is fighting for liberation, those who are killed are the stones of a building. But not today. Today there is no more meaning, because the wars have no consensus.

"Four Mothers did not get the IDF out of Lebanon alone. We just led a process of change that took place in Israeli society. And I am not ready to accept that our getting the IDF out of Lebanon led to the intifada. I'm not willing to accept what you say, that the disengagement now brought on Nasrallah's attack. We live in a region awash with blood. It was awash with blood before us and it will be awash with blood after us.

"So I believe in Rabin's approach. That we have to understand that every six or seven years, there will be fighting. Because in this region it's impossible to talk about peace. The maximum is conflict management. So it's not that a unilateral approach brings war. Here, we are always either before or after a war. Unilateral acts are needed so that we can fight the war from within a recognized border. Like now. Look at the strength it gives us to fight a war from within a recognized border. So don't tell me that we defeated the IDF. Don't tell me that we destroyed the ethos of combat. That we transformed Israel into a spider-web society. That's cheap talkback stuff. Nasrallah's bombast. It is true that we were wrong in thinking that Nasrallah would not pursue us into Galilee. We were wrong in our evaluation of what would happen.

"But still, leaving Lebanon brought six years of quiet. That's a done deed. No one can argue with that. Six years is the lives of 150 young men. It's the blossoming and prosperity of Galilee. And even now, being out of Lebanon makes it possible for us to mount this strong response. When we were in Lebanon we could not respond like this, because then we were occupiers, whereas now we are just. Today we are fighting for our home from within the international border."

Zohara Antebi

"We were in Peru when Yehonatan was born. I remember bringing my little fledgling to some big party in the Jewish community, and people there said, What a cute baby for the army. So I left the party and took Yehonatan with me and took him home. I wasn't willing to think that this infant softness would be handed over to the army. Would be sacrified for the state.

"Eighteen years later, Yehonatan was drafted into a pilots training course. I remember that I sat with him in a cafe and did not stop crying. Usually I don't cry. But I sat across from him and wept and asked him to forgive me for having made him an Israeli. Because it is not right. Not right. You raise a child and then someone wrenches him away from you. Someone comes and demands that you place that youthful sweetness at the state's disposal. And you have some umbilical reaction that tells you no. No. It is not right for the State of Israel to make use of this innocence for its purposes.

"Maybe that was why I reacted so powerfully to the helicopters disaster. There is something so fantastic about youth. In the sweetness and readiness of young men. And suddenly they fall out of the sky. All those youths dropping from the sky. The womb felt that it was not fair. Not right. I looked at their pictures in the paper and I read the brief account of their lives and I felt that I bore responsibility. It was impossible. Enough. Something had to be done.

"After that it moved from the womb to the head. But the start was the womb. The womb said what a waste. What pain. As the poem says, 'Dewdrops of Hebrew youth fall.' You want to hug them, all of them. You are wild after this innocence that is mobilized into the army without asking questions. And you ask whether the state deserves sacrifice like this. And suddenly, even though you are not their mother, you feel like their mother. You are a lioness mother. And, like a lioness mother, you want to protect them from death. You ask who is this Minotaur to whom the best of our sons are sent year after year.

"And then strength emerges. Strength that cannot be stopped. Because mothers are the only thing in the world that can defeat an army. The mothers of the Vietnam War created the tide against that war and the mothers of the Lebanon War created the tide against the Israeli presence in Lebanon. Because males have their consciousness burned at age 18 and they become obedient. But a mother has the strength to stand by the cradle and tell the infant, You were not born for war.

"Therefore we, the mothers, breached the necessity of sending youths every year to nourish the Minotaur. And we did so because only feminine speech can breach the military speech. But even the feminine speech worked only when there was a great deal of blood. When all that young blood spilled out of the sky. Because we are a very military society. A society whose head is khaki. What is decisive here is blood. And only when the cup of blood ran over were questions about Lebanon asked.

"Like all wars, this war, too is accursed. But this is an existential war at levels we do not yet understand. I think that it is approaching the War of Independence in terms of importance. It will determine whether Iran will control the Arab world. It will determine whether we will be able to survive against extreme Islam. And I hope that everything will be done not to use youth and innocence in this war as cheap raw material. But I heard the terrible booms of the Hezbollah shelling as they abducted the two soldiers on the border. And I understood immediately how terrible it is. And I understood that this is a war of no choice. And when there is no choice, there is no choice. No matter how heavy the heart. No matter how awful the burden.

"Therefore what appalls me now is the radical left. To me it sounds as jihadist as the jihadist right. I believe that the Jewish people survived only because of its ability to ask questions. To ask the most trenchant questions. When I saw the demonstration of the left, it saddened me. Because the jihadist left is talking to us as though we were warmongers. It is behaving like an autoimmune disease that attacks its own body. My stomach has been churning all during these days. I knew the fighters from Egoz [a commando unit] who fell. They adopted the students of the Democratic School of Upper Galilee, where I am the principal. I see their faces constantly. Their laughter. The way they played basketball with the children. You say we weakened the IDF? You say we removed the IDF from Lebanon but broke its spirit? Maybe so. Maybe we weakened the determination of the gung-ho. But I still believe that the army should be the project of the state and not that the state should be the project of the army.

"I have no doubt about the necessity for this state. I am in Israel, because only in Israel will my child not be turned into soap. I am in Israel because I remember our attempt to assimilate into others for 2,000 years. And it is totally clear to me that all the French bleeding hearts and all the German bleeding hearts and all the Dutch bleeding hearts will not want us in their countries. This is the only place. And this place has to be fought for. We have to understand the complexity. Shulamit Aloni does not understand the complexity. She's like a poster. And what is like a poster slips out of reality.

"But at the same time, I do not want Israel to be Sparta. I do not want to offer up our children as sacrifices. Unless there is no choice. And I blame ourselves as well for leaving the Shaba Farms and the three prisoners like a thorn in our side. And I don't like the bombing of Beirut. I don't like the term 'pulverizing.' What is being pulverized? And I say we have to fight for this place from within the border. Because only then will we be just and good and right and victorious in the end. Only from within adjusted 1967 borders will we win.

"So today I go back to [Prof. Yeshayahu] Leibowitz. I believe that only within the 1967 borders will we be able to survive. To live within our borders is to live within the boundary of justice. If we are not within that boundary, we will not be [just]. But with the cannons now roaring and the Katyushas falling, I remember that the question today in Lebanon is not the question that once was. This war is different. We did not initiate it, we did not foment it.

"Therefore there is no point now in talking about blame. Four Mothers is not to blame, but neither is the government or the army. Who is to blame? Zionism is to blame. The fact that we returned to this land to be Jews here and to establish a democratic Jewish state here.

"So if you are saying now that I was wrong when I believed that it would be possible to ensure far fewer casualties and far more quiet after leaving Lebanon, you're right. I was wrong. I'm afraid of those who are incapable of saying 'I was wrong' in the first person. I lived on the border, in Malkiya, and I saw the small tobacco plots of the farmers in southern Lebanon, and I believed that prosperity on both sides of the border would ensure quiet. That Nasrallah would aspire for his people to have a good life. In that I was wrong. I was definitely wrong.

"And if you argue that in a certain sense our questions weakened the IDF, that is also true. In certain points a democratic society has weaknesses. And it's true that today Israeli society is not capable of handling soldiers who are killed, because of all those years when soldiers were sent to be killed for an unjust cause. That's why, in the first week, the IDF tried to do battle from planes, because they knew we weren't capable of coping with soldiers who were killed.

"And in a certain sense, we, Four Mothers, have a part in this. It's also because of our struggle that we are all Lebanon-burned. We all have a Lebanon scar. Both the army and the soldiers. Because our society really is less and less willing to absorb [losses]. The exposure of weeping soldiers and of soldiers as sons to mothers weakened the country's staying power. It cast the soldier as not being just a war machine. Because this country really is less mobilized. Not everything is army. And leaving Lebanon then was not a military move. It was a civilian move. It was meant to enable us to be Athens, not Sparta. And precisely because of that there is now no choice. Now we have to change the diskette. This time we are fighting for our home. This time we are fighting so that we will have lives here."


More than 100 political demonstrations across the country against the operations in Lebanon have been held since the violence began on July 12, but they have barely received any media attention, organizers of the events complained on Monday.

On Monday alone, small demonstrations were held in Jerusalem, Herzliya and the Megiddo Junction, attracting virtually no attention.

Regular protests have been held in Haifa, but they were canceled on Monday due to Sunday's rocket attacks in the city.

A large demonstration is being planned for Haifa on Thursday that will follow up on other large rallies held recently on Saturday nights in Tel Aviv. The latest rally, this past Saturday night, attracted 3,000 protesters but received only seven sentences in Ha'aretz and no coverage at all in the other three major Israeli dailies.

"Criticism of the war has been contained and curtailed," complained former Meretz MK Naomi Chazan, who addressed the rally and called for an immediate cease-fire. "In a democratic country, when there is a war, alternative voices are heard, but it hasn't been happening now. Especially when things in Lebanon are so unclear, it is needed more than ever. [The lack of coverage] has been very upsetting."

One of the reasons the events have not been covered is that they have not attracted support from mainstream organizations on the Left like Peace Now and the Meretz Party.

Instead they have been organized by groups further to the left like Gush Shalom, Women Against Violence and the Hadash Party.

The only Jewish MK who has addressed the rallies is Hadash's Dov Henin. But several former MKs have spoken, including former Labor MK Yael Dayan, who was reportedly silenced when she called for Hizbullah to stop firing at Israelis.

Chazan said the operations in Lebanon had created immense confusion for all Israelis, especially those on the Left. She predicted that the number of people attending the demonstrations would continue growing and that criticism would grow after a cease-fire.

Abir Kopty, a spokeswoman for Women Against Violence and one of the organizers of the rallies, said she believed that the attacks in Haifa would only convince more people to protest the operations in Lebanon.

"We have to continue to express our position, especially after the attacks," Kopty said. "The attacks will only give us more energy to demonstrate."

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