of Independence 1948
Crossing the Line
we commemorated the fallen Mahal volunteers. The ceremony took place
at the Mahal monument at a small forest near Shar Hagai. They
all came from around the globe to fight for the newly founded State
of Israel. Many of them came from the States, Canada, England, South
Africa and many other countries and paid with their lives
so we may have a Jewish state after two thousand years of wandering.
One of the volunteers, originally from England, by now almost
eighty years old, told me how difficult it was for him to shoot
at the attacking Arabs for the very first time. That reminded me
of something I wrote in my diary a long time ago, but it was not
included in my final manuscript. I called it ‘Crossing the Line’,
and it has to do with our deeply ingrained Jewish values.
all my blessings,
Yom Ha'atzmaut 2004
of Independence 1948
Crossing the Line
When after a
long deliberation I finally decided to write my autobiography based
on my war time diary, there was no doubt in my mind where to begin
my story. My choice of time was the War of Independence in Israel.
The place: A windswept hill in the upper Gallilee.
During the years of the Holocaust, as a young boy, I encountered
harrowing experiences, emotional upheavals and endless crisis's,
where each one of them could have cost me my life.
Yet none of these experiences could compare with the emotional turmoil
I experienced on that hill in the Gallilee.
I was faced with a moral dilemma that went against all my instincts
instilled in me for endless generations of Jewish teachings: ‘ Thou
Shalt Not Kill ‘.
When I volunteered to fight in Israel’s War of Independence, I didn’t
have the faintest idea that that instinct will surface at the most
critical moment, when I had to make a split second decision whether
to kill or be killed.
During the years of the Holocaust I had seen so much death
in a million forms that I never gave it a second thought whether
I, the constant victim, will be able to become a killer. Somehow
I took it for granted that when the time came, I would kill the
enemy without a second thought.
But that was not to be. As I lay among the rocks aiming the German
machine gun at the Arab youths running towards me, it happened.
I couldn’t squeeze the trigger. Something totally unexpected sprang
forth within my being and took control of my trigger finger. I felt
a shattering emotional loathing to kill these human beings running
towards me. I simply couldn’t do it. Yet I knew that unless I squeezed
the trigger within a few seconds the youths with their fixed bayonets
were going to spear me.
Luckily, my instincts of self preservation went into action. It
felt as if I were undertaking the impossible task of lifting a house
with my bare hands.
My whole body was physically shaking in a tremendous effort to overcome
the sudden inhibition.
The effort was too much. I must have blanked out for a second, because
I have no recollection when I started to squeeze the trigger. I
became aware of my actions when I found myself screaming on top
of my voice and the machine gun rattling in my hands like some beast
with a life of its own.
I never was
the same after that event. Whereas before, I was the victim and
so were endless generations of my forefathers in Europe, I suddenly
crossed the lines and became a killer myself. Of course, the circumstances
were entirely different, and logically I had to do what I did, but
I still distinctly remember that tremendous emotional catharsis
I experienced when I crossed that line.
In the years ahead I could feel full emotional empathy with what
our prime minister Golda Meyer said at the time to the Arabs:
"I can forgive you many things, but there is one thing I can’t forgive
you: ‘That you forced our boys to become killers.’"
April 26, 2004