Thursday, November 27, 2008

Night of the Gliders

I hope to write a post about our tiyyul/trip yesterday to South Mount Hebron in the West Bank with tour guides from שוברים שתיקה/Shovrim Shtika/Breaking the Silence. At the moment though, I am remembering what I was doing 21 years ago tonight. How do I know what I was doing 21 years ago tonight? Well, it was the night before Thanksgiving and my American Class classmates and I had made as many preparations as possible to give ourselves a Thanksgiving feast. Cranberry sauce was impossible to find, but we did order a turkey and it was waiting the nearby town of Kiryat Shmona for us to pick up on Thanksgiving morning. But, in a way, Thanksgiving morning never came that year.

Instead, that Wednesday night there was a series of events which has come to be known in Israeli history as the Night of the Gliders. Two members of the PFLP-GC, a PLO splinter group, flew into Israel on motorized hang gliders. One landed accidentally in a heavily armed area and was caught and killed almost immediately. The second managed, before he was killed, to kill six Israeli soldiers and wound eight others. Kfar Blum, the kibbutz I lived on, was close enough to the action that we moved into an "on alert" mode. Writing this now I realize that I don't even have language for what this mode was or what the procedures were. Folks on kibbutz seemed to have a sense of this as the kind of event they were trained to deal with, but, as a fourteen-year-old, I don't think I really absorbed any kind of big picture.

I was in the shower with a head full of conditioner when my roommate, Esther, came in to tell me that something was happening and we all had to gather downstairs. I do remember having one of those odd moments of wondering whether I should rinse my hair out first or just get out of the shower as is. I rinsed. When I went downstairs to the lawn by our buildings, I realized that the רמקול/ram kol/PA system was blaring but that I did not know what it was saying. One of our מטפלות/metaplot/house-mothers/care-givers was giving us instructions. She told us to walk directly to the apartments of our respective adopted families and stay there. It was later explained to us that if there was rocket fire or other bombs falling we would have gone to the bomb shelters, but that when individual terrorists are wandering around with guns and hand grenades, and you don't know if they have all been accounted for, it's better not to be gathered all in one place.

I remember walking on the quiet deserted paths and being afraid that one of the men on guard duty would find me and not know who I was. When I got to the Arzi's apartment, one hint of the night's strangeness was that the door to the apartment was locked. Amira (my adopted mother) let me in and told me that Doron (my adopted father) had already left to join the kibbutz's own defense efforts. The boys (now in their twenties but then three and one) were still fast asleep and unaware of any goings-on.

Amira said we should move to the room farthest from the door so we went into their bedroom and turned off the lights. I remember feeling scared and nervous, but also reassured by Amira's apparent calm. I also remember finding it oddly humorous that this incident allowed me my only chance that year to sleep on their waterbed. And after talking for a while (with me asking lots of questions) we did sleep. Maydan and Omri slept through the night as well only to awaken frightened in the morning by the PA system.

Although both terrorists had been killed in the night, all the communities in the area were closed off and essentially shut down the next day just to make sure there was no one else wandering around unaccounted for. It would have been a regular school day for us, Thanksgiving or no, but because of the attack, the school was shut down. Partly this was because it was a regional school and with all the communities sealed, none of the students from surrounding kibbutzim could get there. We were also under the continued order not to have lots of people all gathered in one place. Instead we each went to our respective work places (where we normally worked every Tuesday), which meant that I spent the day with the 3-year-olds in the פעוטון/pa'oton/daycare. It also meant that our turkey spent the day in Kiryat Shmona. I don't think many of us felt like we were still in the Thanksgiving spirit.

I left the country more or less for the intervening decades and it is only in doing a little bit of research for this blog post that I learned how impactful the night's events were. In addition to the obvious impact on the dead and wounded, the Night of the Gliders is seen by some as being the event that "kicked off" the First Intifada. It was also seen as signaling an unreadiness on the part of the IDF. Additionally, the deaths of a number of the soldiers were blamed in large part on the fact that the sentry guarding their base panicked and fled when the terrorist fired on him. However, many people felt this was unfair and the incident and subsequent court martials led to an increased awareness of the dangerous tendency to shift blame solely to the lowest ranking soldier involved.


Eliana said...

I heard part of this story from you before, Minna, but it is still amazing to read and think of what passes as emergency "routine" in some communities, what we are subjected to in the course of our lives. How surreal life in Israel can be (and lately I think, all over the world). And mostly, how doubly disturbing it must be to someone who wasn't immediately born into this crazy state of being. I wasn't up north that night, and I didn't remember it was this time of the year, but I remember that night so well, and the panic that ensued. It is weird in the context of the events in Mumbai - which gives me much of the same feelings...
somewhat disjointed - but I also wanted to wish you a Happy Thanksgiving... I doub't there is anything you can't get in Israel nowadays... well except cranberry sauce and a thanksgiving spirit??

Minna said...

Thanks, Eliana!
We had a turkey dinner at the Kleins. Tamar even made pumpkin pie! (but there were no cranberries)