Soldier's death felt deeply in Israeli kibbutz

Many in community turn introspective as conflict's toll becomes more personal


KIBBUTZ MERKHAVYA, Israel -- Nitzam Grossman remembers from the comfort of his living room his Israeli army days in southern Lebanon during the early '90s, dismissed now with a small shrug. It didn't then seem like a war.

The last time his kibbutz buried one of its young men because of a combat death was in 1982, he recalled. It was during what Israelis may decide to rename the First Lebanon War. Twenty-four years later, the kibbutz has suffered another combat loss, its first in the Second Lebanon War, accompanied by a round of introspection and worry about whether the future will bring more insecurity than the present.

Sgt. Yonatan Hadassi, 21, who died in a clash with Hezbollah fighters in southern Lebanon, was a friend of Grossman's older son. They played together in a band, Hadassi on guitar. "As far as I knew him," Grossman says, "he wasn't the kind of man who was looking for war." The band, according to some of his neighbors and friends, was the only loud thing in his life.

"A quiet boy," Rena Yacobson, the kibbutz kindergarten teacher says, weeping. Her son was in the army the requisite three years; her daughter is in the army now, as are two nephews -- "little ones."

"We're raising children here," she says. "What happens to them? Why should this happen to them?"

All these things have happened since July 12, when Hezbollah fighters kidnapped two Israeli soldiers:

Thirty-three Israeli soldiers have died in combat, along with 19 Israeli civilians killed in Hezbollah rocket attacks. In Lebanon, at least 450 civilians have been killed. The Israeli army says it has killed more than 200 Hezbollah fighters there. Hezbollah has fired more than 1,500 rockets into Israel; the most powerful of them to date landed Friday near the kibbutz. Israel has bombed Tyre, the largest city in southern Lebanon, and has pounded numerous villages and towns. Hundreds of thousands of Lebanese have fled their homes and moved north or across the border into Syria to escape Israeli artillery, tanks and bombs. Hundreds of thousands of Israelis in northern Israel are living in underground shelters or have moved south to escape the Hezbollah rockets.

Yesterday brought no respite. More than 90 rockets landed in Israel, and Hezbollah's leader, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, threatened that the cities of central Israel would soon be targeted. Israel continued bombing Lebanon's south. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice returned to the region, but a cease-fire seemed no closer.

"It is all important to us," says Grossman, 51, his hair thick and graying. A well-traveled marketing manager, he has just returned from a business trip to Brazil. "Can I describe all this as a war, I don't know. It became a kind of war."

Most Israelis, as indicated by polls published here, believe that their army has taken the right actions. More than 80 percent say the offensive into southern Lebanon is "the correct step," according to a survey by the Dahaf Polling Institute published in the newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth. More than 70 percent believe the army should use even greater force; 65 percent express support for the army's call-up of tens of thousands more reservists -- a mobilization of their sons, husbands and fathers.

In the eyes of some of the country's early leaders, Israel was supposed to develop along the lines of a large, idealized kibbutz. Merkhavya, founded in 1911, could have been the model. The nation, the country's pioneers hoped, would thrive as a smoothly functioning collective, where people pooled their resources and shared the products of their labor. The group would be as important as the individual, a sense of community as important as sense of family.

Merkhavya stayed faithful to the model as long as it could afford. Children usually lived with other children rather than their parents. Residents ate in a communal dining hall. The able-bodied grew cotton and wheat in the fields, and the income was shared with those who educated the children, built the housing, worked in the kitchen or cared for the ill. Kibbutz members planted pine trees and palms and laid curving paths of tightly fitted stone. They built low, modest-sized houses first in stone then in stucco or concrete, creating a community akin to a Bauhaus farm town. Later the kibbutz opened a factory making plastic pipes.

By the 1980s, there were also crushing debts and a steady exodus of younger members.

And in 2000, like 150 other collective communities, Merkhavya privatized itself.

A privately run restaurant, where people pay for their meals, replaced the communal dining hall. Most people cook for themselves in housing they own. Education was privatized. The kibbutz raised money for the pensions of its older members by selling property for a housing development and by building a neighborhood on another part of its land. Many of the grown children of the kibbutz bought the houses and returned.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.