Israeli Mother Condemns Lebanese War

The ongoing war situation in Israel has propelled some women into active protest. One such woman is Raya Harnick, a program editor for Kol Israel Radio, and a peace activist. A widow (her husband, musician Meir Harnick, was killed in a road accident 11 years ago), she lost a son last June in Lebanon. Major Guni (Giora) Harnick was commander of the Golani Patrol and was in charge of the capture of Beaufort Castle in the Lebanon war. Shortly after he fell. Raya Harnick was interviewed by Beruria’h Avidan-Barir of La Isha magazine.

In the interview, Hanrick excoriates the government for launching an “unnecessary war” and blames herself for the “nationalistic” education she gave her son which encouraged him to choose the Army as his career.

Harnick does not protest the war as a feminist, but as a bereaved mother. Her feelings of self-pain prompt certain feminist questions, however: are they to be seen as the response of a traditional mother who takes on responsibility—and guilt—for her children’s lives? Or are they a kind of rebellion against the powerlessness Israeli women feel, saying, in effect, “I did have the power to do something differently but did not use it correctly”? Or are both reasons intertwined?

When the interview appeared in the June 14, 1982 issue of La. Isha, it touched off a storm of reactions, both supportive and critical. Hamick’s articulation of her own emotions revealed the complex circuitry of feelings of many Israeli women—guilt, anger, pain, love of the country and fear for its future, a questioning of its values and their own as well. We reprint a short excerpt of the interview, in a translation by Leonard Levy, with the kind permission of La Isha.

[Q: What was Guni like?]
A: Intelligent, but not an intellectual. He played the trumpet and the piano. He and his friends in high school were wonderful kids who… participated in various youth movements and activities, and worked with disadvantaged youngsters.

Q: Did he take part, as a child, in games of war?
A: All the children in the neighborhood played soldier; he assigned ranks to all of them…From a very young age, Guni wanted to be a moshavnik [farmer] or a soldier. Meir did not view Guni’s military ambitions sympathetically.

Q: And you?
A: I admit I became disillusioned by my national-chauvinist dream much too late. Today, chauvinism is a dirty word. Therefore, instead of chauvinism, let us say “national-Zionist-heroic education.” Yes, I gave my children a nationalistic education.

We all did. I remember taking Guni for a walk in a stroller when he was two-and-a-half years old. I stopped on Keren Hayesod Street, in sight of the wall around the Old City [then occupied by Jordan], pointed toward the Old City and said to my infant son: “You must understand that that belongs to us!”

I remember how, on the eve of the Six-Day War, Nasser shrieked threats on the radio. Roni, our second child, was then a boy in kindergarten. He said to me: “Mommy, if there is a war, I will leave the country!” My own son say a thing like that?! I blew up in front of him like a firecracker. I told him about the War of Liberation, about the period of establishment of the State, about the Galut [Exile], about the period before establishment of the State, and I told him that, in the Exile, he could expect to be called obscenities, such as “kike”…

When people asked Noa where her father was, she would say that he had been killed on the road. This reply never seemed to impress anyone. Noa, a little girl with a child’s courage would ask: “Mommy, why couldn’t Daddy have been killed in a war?”

The shock that most of the population absorbed after the Yom Kippur War, I felt after the Six-Day War. At the Western Wall I asked myself: “Is this wall worth the price of the death of even one young paratrooper, to say nothing of the hundreds who actually fell?” However, there was no sense in arguing with Guni. It was already too late.

Q: Do you feel that, had you given your son a less nationalistic upbringing, he might be alive today?
A: Perhaps, just perhaps, had I brought Guni up differently, he would now be a moshavnik or would be involved in the sciences. Guni is dead, and I feel guilty for his death because of the nationalistic upbringing that I gave him from the time he was a baby. His blood is on my hands!

Q: Are you a pacifist?
A: No! If Guni had to battle for his home, with his back to the wall, I would not expect him to simply stand there, raise his hands in surrender, and be taken prisoner. But to fight for Beaufort Castle? This [the Lebanon war] has been an unnecessary war…the result of cynical political deliberation. Guni felt exactly as I do about it being an unnecessary war.

Q: When Meir was killed, were you also wracked by feelings of guilt?
A: No. And here is where the political aspect comes in. Even if a drunken driver had struck my husband, it would not have been premeditated murder. However, my son was murdered because of an unnecessary war. Within a year or so, the terrorists will infiltrate into the same places they were expelled from, and with the same weaponry. But those [soldiers] who were killed will not return—ever!

Q: Is the State of Israel supposed to remain passive in the face of terrorist attacks?
A: How many Katyusha rockets would have to fall on Israel, over the course of years, in order for the number of dead to equal those killed during several days of battle?

After the Yom Kippur War, I put together a program about mothers bereaved from 1948 on. I wanted to demonstrate that, after all, life goes on and the parents still led active lives. But what it actually demonstrated was the diametric opposite: Bereavement had robbed many parents’ lives of meaning,

I will never create a program like that again. I simply cannot. I cannot be dispassionately objective regarding Guni’s not having children of his own, or about my own personal tragedy, or about Israel’s national tragedy.

Every ten years, we spill the blood of our very best youth.

We cut down the cream of every generation.

This nation is committing suicide.