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Valley of Blood and Tears

The Memorial of the Kibbutzim on the Menashe Hills.     Photos & text: Lydia Aisenberg

Almost two and a half thousand Israeli soldiers died in the devastating Yom Kippur War, eleven of whom were from the Jezre'el Valley community of Kibbutz Beit Hashita alone and many others also from communities in the same Lower Galilee valley.

Uri Arbel was a member of a veteran Jezre'el Valley kibbutz and a reservist in the IDF who dropped everything when called and was killed in Sinai. He was listed as missing for weeks before his body was found and returned to Israel for burial.

Uri was an extremely charismatic man who was general secretary of the kibbutz when the war broke out. He was a people person and absolutely adored children. The kibbutz kinder also loved him, following him around everywhere gleefully, a sort of Pied Piper of Hamlin character.

Before taking up the position of general secretary, a post usually undertaken for three years, Uri was a cowboy and spent most of his day riding a horse around the mountains where the kibbutz beef herd wandered or repairing broken fences out on the range.

He appeared in a film entitled Rami and the Porcupine, based on a popular children's book published around the film's storyline and full of black and white photos enhancing the text. All the children and adults who appeared in both book and film were from his kibbutz community. Most of the children are nowadays grandparents or are buried in the kibbutz cemetery in the forest above the kibbutz and where much of the film was taken.

A son was born to Uri and his wife around the same time as that of the writer's first born child. Both boys were together in the baby house and in the toddlers group. My son's father, a tank commander, returned from Sinai and the crossing of the Suez Canal.

But tragically, Uri did not and his son Itamar became an orphan before his third birthday.

The Jezre'el Valley, nowadays one of the most fertile regions in Israel, is testament to the strength and determination of the early 1900s pioneers who drained mosquito ridden swamps, toiled sodden soil, built successful agricultural and other communities, planted hundreds of thousands of trees and so much more.

The valley is also testament to the heavy price they paid in defending those communities against Arab attackers before and during the 1948 War of Independence and subsequent decades as their children and children's children served, and continue to serve, in the Israel Defense Forces.

Almost every Jezre'el Valley community founded either before or after 1948, sadly have in-house memorials to those in their own community who died serving the country. Jezre'el Valley folk are chest-bursting proud of their extensive, beautiful valley surrounded by the Menashe, Carmel, Gilboa, Moreh and Amir mountain ranges that almost seal the rim of the extensive valley – the Jezre'el Valley known by Israelis as "HaEmek," in other words "The Valley," not just any valley.

At Beit Hashita in the eastern portion of the valley, a number of memorials, some created from metal tank tracks and other pieces of broken, twisted military equipment, with a poem or quote embedded in a rock, are omnipresent and testament to the loss of so many of their fathers, sons, brothers, husbands who died in 1973.

On the scores of walking trails and vantage points in the hills around Beit Hashita and neighboring moshavim and kibbutzim are many a favored picnic spot with glorious views for Israelis out and about with their families, but many a shaded area with picnic tables, benches and water fountains, are dedicated in the names of some of the sons and daughters of the eastern portion of 'HaEmek' communities who died either serving in the Israel Armed Forces or casualties of terror attacks - since before and after the foundation of the State of Israel.

One memorial perched atop the Menashe Hills across the valley floor from Beit Hashita and overlooking the whole valley is dedicated to the thousands of members of kibbutzim from all over the country who became casualties of the Arab-Israel conflict. A large number of them were from Jezre'el Valley agricultural communities and the valley towns of Yokneam, Tivon, Migdal HaEmek and Afula. 

A tank tread memorial to a fallen soldier near Kibbutz Beit Hashita in the Jezreel Valley

At the impressive Menashe Hills kibbutz memorial on the cusp of the valley, the names of each of the fallen are engraved on large stone walls placed alongside a huge concrete watchtower overlooking the valley below. From this site, on a clear winter's day, it is possible to see the Golan Heights and snow-capped Mt. Hermon and into the West Bank to the Palestinian Authority town of Jenin – areas where some of those remembered in stone and in the hearts of their loved ones, lost their lives.

One of the most powerful of the far too many memorials to be found in the valley is situated in the central square of the 1927-founded Kfar Yehoshua, named after Yehoshua Hankin who, on behalf of the Jewish people and working for the Yishuv, purchased huge tracks of land in the Jezreel Valley.

Standing very tall and proud alongside the original water tower of the moshav, sculpted from a gigantic piece of white rock, the memorial sits on a raised platform of paving stones, surrounded by an abundance of greenery, the work of the highly revered Israeli sculptress Batia Lishansky.

The memorial depicts four armed men and one woman, half bent over, heads thrust forward and so close together they seem almost to be one.

A strong message of "together we stand, divided we fall" emanates from this gripping memorial – a message that seems to be being ignored by so many Israelis in present times as Israeli society becomes more and more divided.

 

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Friday, 17 September 2021

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