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Israel at 75; A Soldier Tribute

Yitzhak Rabin & Yitzhak Kotler, 1967

As Israel is observing its solemn Memorial Day, and then will be celebrating 75 years of independence; as the kibbutz where I was born had just celebrated 100 years after its establishment, its Aliyah on the ground and conquering the land; and as this political blog (minor as it is in comparison) is celebrating 15 years of existence; I was deliberating long and hard how to commemorate it all, and what to write in tribute. I wanted, for once, to avoid criticism and stick to the positive. Politics are down on a day like this, remembrance is up.

Then it hit me. I realized that nothing would be more appropriate, more significant than to remember a soldier who’d died (one of many) defending the state of Israel. He was my best buddy in the army, and died in a battle behind enemy lines more than 53 years ago. Back then, upon his death, I wrote a piece in his memory that came out in a memorial book dedicated to him and his life; very common in Israel back then when honoring falling soldiers, especially from kibbutzim. At the time I was only 22 and wrote what I wrote straight from the heart. It wasn’t meant for posterity, or aimed at any literary merit. But here it is, without any grammatical corrections or stylistic fine-tuning, translated from Hebrew by me.

The Straightforward Sabra

Yitzhak Kotler, aka Iky

His image—the image of the barefooted sabra, who looks you straight in the eye, quick and agile, knows everything, free of doubts, who doesn’t stop to think, but thinks while running, in khaki shorts and blue shirt; the image of the sabra who always takes the initiative into his own hands; the sabra of the side satchel, the topographic map and the tembel hat; the sabra who plows the land length and width but never sows; the sabra who never stops because he knows he was born too old, 2000 years old; the sabra with the red army boots, with the lieutenant’s ranks on his shoulders, always charging forward, always ahead; the sabra of no problems—everything is going to be all right; the sabra who falls righteous.

His self-confidence and endless energy prevent me from writing about him in the past tense: since he lived always in the present, but with plans lined up for the future. And though his body is no longer with us, it doesn’t mean his spirit and soul are absent. We will never again see his smiling face, but his strong will, his belief that actions always speak stronger than words, will always be with us. He was not a scholar and didn’t leave books behind for prosperity; he was a man of action, of doing tangible things. In that sense—he still is.

He didn’t have many time gaps to fill with deep thoughts. He concluded one deed and already knew what the next one would be. Maybe I won’t remember him along the way, maybe he will be forgotten in the living of the day-to-day—the way others are forgotten, and the way we’ll all be forgotten—but at the hours of doing things, of building something real and worthwhile, we’ll know that that was Yitzhak Kotler’s—known to all his friends as Iky—that was his wish too; that he planned for it and believed in it. When we’ll travel abroad and see the world; when we’ll bear children; when we’ll build a new kibbutz; move the water lines in the cotton fields, play basketball and dance Israeli dances—we’ll remember him.

We’ll remember him when we’ll be out hiking on the slopes of the Galilee mountains, and see the cactus bushes with their prickly orange sabra fruits, as first and foremost an Israeli youth; in his life and in his death. We’ll remember him as the image of the real sabra, running to work in the field of his kibbutz; eager to guide and lead younger kids in the inner city; gladly joining the army, yearning to fulfill his duty. We’ll be remembered Iky as the sabra who grew from the soil of the land, only to return to it too soon; before even producing fruits. The sabra who was destined to die in his twenties.

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The Inmates R Running the Asylum & Starting a War


How come, you may ask. Well… let me tell you: It is taking place as I write this in a very important, well-established institution in a country with a history going back to the beginning of time as we know it, and as we learn about it. The inmates who took control of this asylum—I’ll refer to them from now on as Camp A, a definition needed for the sake of explanation—decided that they don’t like some other inmates who are currently also institutionalized there, we’ll call them Camp B. They don’t like them for various reasons, mainly because they don’t like their skin-tone color, their religion, or their history of arrival at the asylum in the first place. Furthermore, Camp A insists that they were the first to be institutionalized in that asylum, so they have all the rights to govern it as they please.

For a while prior, things were relatively all right between these two camps, and were moving forward in the right direction due to leaders with progressive, forward-thinking ideas on how to manage the asylum. But then a group of zealots within Camp A decided to rebel against these leaders, since they didn’t like the way they were leading the institution, especially so because they felt themselves superior to the inmates of Camp B, insisting very fervently that their God is the only one there is. Unfortunately, other inmates in Camp A didn’t take that group seriously, and even used to ridicule them. As a result, they were able to act unimpededly. Their first act was ‘brilliant,’ and took the other people in their camp entirely by surprise. What they did was, they sent one of their most extreme, insane believers to infiltrate the sane people in their peace group gathering and, as they sang about peace and tranquility, he was able to shoot and kill their leader.

The sane inmates of Camp A were so traumatized by this assassination, were so heartbroken and upset that—you can’t blame them, really, or can you?—they were too numb and therefore unable to react properly to the threat that the extremists among them posed to the entire institution. To be fair to the sane people, one must admit, even admire to a degree their wish to concentrate on their work, families, education, and even high-tech endeavors for the benefit and prosperity of the whole asylum. Some of them were released or escaped the asylum altogether. At the same time, though, the zealots took control and put in charge a new leader for Camp A. They were so successful because they chose a leader who on the face of it was actually one of the sane people, in terms of his background and education. He had charisma in abundance and gave good speeches, so they chose him to replace the murdered leader.

Consequently, the insane inmates continued to multiply—it was part of their modus operandi, which they called Mitzva from ancient times—and they continued to take more and more control of the asylum’s day-to-day operations, and deprive the citizens of Camp B of more and more of their rights and property. While they were doing all that, the sane people in their camp were mostly apathetic, or simply continued with their daily lives. Of course, because they made more money in the asylum various professions and businesses they were supporting and financing the insane people of their camp, who continue to just study and preach about their God, and prepare for war. They knew that war was coming because that was their raison d’etre—i.e. to deprive and throw out all the inmates of Camp B who didn’t believe in their God Almighty, and to prevent others from realizing what in fact they were doing. Indeed, the sane people in their camp didn’t realize that a war was coming and therefore were unprepared for it when it arrived.

But now it has arrived. And while within Camp A the insane people are not that many in numbers more than the sane people, because of their understanding of ‘realpolitik’ and their preparation for war, they are able to institute new laws which basically mandate that everything that their leader and his ministers choose to do, it automatically becomes the law of the land. I mean the asylum, of course. Needless to say, the sane people don’t like it, not at all, and try hard to rebel against it but it’s too late. Too much power is secured now in the hands of the insane inmates, and they can subdue, imprison—even kill, when they see fit—or expel from the asylum all those sensible people in Camp A who are rebelling against them.

So now, with all the power in their hands, they’re instituting an autocratic regime, their leader is becoming a dictator, and they’re capturing easily every aspect of the asylum lives. With the place under their control, with their God being declared the only one, they turn their attention to their real enemy: Camp B. Ruthlessly, savagely, they’re either killing or expelling most of the people from Camp B. Those who remain are enslaved, and become servants of the ruling class of Camp A. For a short while, it seems, all is going well with these insane inmates controlling and running the asylum. But then one day…

I woke up.

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