Twenty-four years may seem like a long time, yet to me it is as if it were yesterday.
On June 26, 1992, I received a phone call. The caller told me that my two friends, my two very best friends, had been murdered the day before, June 25, 1992. The murderers were two members of the terrorist organization Hamas.
Beno Moshe and Amikam Salzman were partners and they operated a packing plant in the Gaza Strip, a very short distance from the Nahal Oz crossing. They packed red, yellow, orange and green peppers, and they packed freshly harvested corn. The two murderers entered the plant with the pretense of asking whether they could bring onions for packing. Both carried burlap sacks. When Beno and Ami told them that the plant was for peppers and corn, the murderers pulled long butcher knives from the burlap sacks, and there, in front of the workers, murdered both of them.
With blood on their hands, the murderers smeared slogans on the cinder block walls and left.
I think about Beno and Ami every day. I suppose it is partly survivor’s guilt, because you see, I believe that if I had been there, I would have been able to save them. Both Beno and Ami had their handguns locked in their cars.
Prior to leaving Israel a year earlier, I had been a “regular” at that packing plant. I hauled freshly harvested corn in huge roll-on/roll-off containers. Working with an Israeli innovation called RAMSAH (lift, and drive), I would pick up the 30-cubic-meter containers from cornfields as far away as Yotvata and the Golan Heights, from fields that bordered Syria.
Beno and Ami had devised a line that allowed for the containers to be rolled onto a hydraulic platform that would empty the corn slowly onto conveyor belts. Workers, all of them Palestinians from nearby villages in the Gaza strip, would sort the corn, leaving some with the green leaves, others stripped of leaves and cut onto Styrofoam trays, shrink wrapped and packaged for the supermarkets.
The leaves, cuttings and any other organic waste was hauled back to a dairy farm and used to feed the cows. The packaged corn was put on palettes and brought to the various supermarkets, from Ashkelon to Tel Aviv.
When I began bringing truck and trailer loads of corn to the packing plant I was no stranger to the Gaza Strip. My IDF reserve unit had the duty of patrolling first all of the northern Sinai, and then, with the Egypt/Israel Peace Treaty and the subsequent withdrawal from the Sinai, my unit patrolled the Gaza Strip. Regularly. Intimately. I was very familiar with Gaza.
And so whenever I would enter the Gaza Strip to bring freshly harvested corn to the packing plant, I carried my AK-47 slung over my shoulder, and my 9mm Beretta stuck inside my pants in the small of my back.
This went on for years. Beno and Ami often told me that it was not necessary to carry arms openly. They told me how well they got along with all of the workers. They were both fluent in Arabic. All of their conversations with the Palestinian workers were in fluent Arabic.
When the first Intifada broke out in December of 1987, I was on my way back from the packing plant, headed towards the Erez crossing. One of the CB radios in the cab of my truck was on a military channel. The Erez crossing was temporarily shut down and I found myself looking for a convenient widening of the road to turn the truck and trailer around and head out of the Gaza Strip via the Nahal Oz crossing. Driving in the Gaza Strip was never the same after that.
Encouraged by the Intifada, some of the younger workers hired by Beno and Ami began to show outward signs of hostility. A young worker drew his thumb across his neck, as if slitting a throat, mouthing Hamas. My friends said that these were nothing more than teen fantasies, and continued working and ignoring these provocations.
I got to know Beno and Ami outside of work. They would invite some of us kibbutzniks who were involved in the corn packing operation to socialize with them. We went to good restaurants. I would sit with Beno and his wife Ora early Saturday mornings, when they visited the kibbutz restaurant for coffee and cake. I got to know his sons, Gil, Dror and Amir, especially Amir, the youngest of the three.
Beno Moshe and Amikam Salzman were my best friends. This Saturday will mark 24 years since their murder. Their murderers, apprehended, tried and convicted, were exchanged in one of several prisoner exchanges carried out between Israel and Hamas.
I am still in touch with Ora. Besides wishing each other well for Jewish holidays, I call her every year on June 25th. When I am in Ashkelon, I go to the cemetery to say Kaddish at Beno’s grave.
I am also in touch with Amir. He is my attorney and my friend. I call him, like I call his mother, to wish him and his family and his brothers well. I call him on Jewish holidays, and I call him every year, as I will call him this Saturday, on June 25th.
I live with terrible survivor’s guilt, because, you see, I believe that if I had been there, I would have been able to save them.
May their memory be blessed.