MEMORIAL DAY 2015 PART VII, AMATZIA BEN HAIM ז”ל 

When Amatzia’s father passed away, many years ago, the general consensus on the kibbutz was that everyone was very jealous.  Amatzia’s father had passed away peacefully, in his recliner, falling asleep during his favorite television program. There was another great fortune that befell Amatzia’s father, because he did not live to see his son murdered by a terrorist.

Amatzia came and went in uniform often. A small duffel bag over his shoulder, a sidearm, but always a uniform that was not different from any other work uniform of the IDF, without any insignia, without any markings. You see, Amatzia came from the same family as former Prime Minister Ehud Barak. He came from the same mold as Yoni Netanyahu and Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu.

As a civilian, Amatzia worked as an engineer in the fledgling electronics factory of the kibbutz. The final product was a computer controlled irrigation and liquid fertilization system sold to farmers who owned greenhouses, small plots of land, who grew tomatoes, peppers, strawberries, and flowers.

Amatzia would go to these farms, install the systems, and often go back to maintain them or to troubleshoot them if needed.  Some of these farms were in the Gaza Strip, prior to the Israeli evacuation of all farms and settlements in Gaza.

It was on one of these trips that Amatzia was helping one such farmer in the Gaza strip, focused entirely on an irrigation line that may have been clogged, or a computer lead that may have malfunctioned. He did not pay attention to the young teen working nearby with a hoe, weeding the furrows. It was to be Amatzia’s last day on earth, as the teen brought the hoe down on Amatzia’s head, killing him instantly, widowing Amatzia’s wife, and orphaning his children. The teen, wishing to become a member of Hamas, was told to “kill a Jew” as the required initiation into the murderous terrorist organization.

As news of Amatzia’s death spread, there was a tangible wave of shock that electrified the entire population of the kibbutz. It was impossible to fathom, that a man such as Amatzia, a legend, could be murdered in such a terrible way.

I knew Amatzia. I knew Daliah his widow, and I knew his children. I think often of him.

MEMORIAL DAY 2015 PART VIII, BENO MOSHE AND AMI SALTZMAN ז”ל 

Where can I begin to tell the story of how I got to know Beno and Ami?  They were completely fluent in Arabic, comfortable in their work environment, the Gaza Strip. For years they had run a packing operation for an Israeli named Karni, who owned a packing warehouse just inside the Nahal Oz crossing, on the Gaza Strip side of the border.

They would become partners, buying the warehouse and the conveyors and the packing equipment from the owner. Somehow, perhaps word of mouth, the kibbutz management found them to be more suitable than anyone else for the kibbutz’s latest venture, the packaging and marketing of Sombrero Corn.

So it was that I, as the operator of the transportation branch of the kibbutz, the tractor trailer driver, met them with the first truck and trailer load of freshly harvested sweet corn. Beno and Ami developed a system allowing for the containers that were filled with corn to be rolled onto a hydraulic lift, the contents of sweet corn slowly moving onto conveyors to be sorted by many Palestinian workers from the nearby villages in the Gaza Strip.

The green leaves would be collected, to be brought back to the kibbutz dairy as food for the cows. Some sweet corn was left in a few green leaves, checked for blight, and then packaged in boxes and palletized for the markets of Ashkelon, Ashdod and Tel Aviv.

Some sweet corn was stripped completely of green leaves, the ends were cut and the corn was put onto small trays and covered in shrink wrap, brought to market ready to be cooked or eaten, just like that.

I would bring truckloads of pallets, packaging materials and of course, many loads of freshly harvested sweet corn. Soon the kibbutz could not supply enough corn for an ever-increasing demand for Sombrero Corn.  Sweet corn fields were contracted from the very south of Israel from farms near Eilat, to the very north, from farms on the Syrian border, in the Golan Heights.

Trucking in and out of the Gaza Strip I would be armed. I carried a nine millimeter Beretta in my waistband. And, I had an AK-47, a Kalashnikov, always at the ready. Returning from the warehouse on December 6, 1987, I heard a great deal of chatter on the security CB I had in the cab of my truck. It was to be the beginning of the first Intifada, the Palestinian uprising, and the burning of tires and the throwing of rocks had begun.

Going into and coming out of the Gaza Strip became a challenge, and often the long way around through Rafiah was the fastest way out.  I would enter the warehouse from the Erez crossing, and if that was problematic, it would be either Nahal Oz or Rafiah.

There were days when I was surrounded by Palestinian vehicles, all trying to get back into the Gaza Strip after working in Israel, or trying to leave the Gaza Strip to avoid a closure and thus lose a day of work in Israel.  Beno and Ami kept the Karni packing house operation going all the time.  The Palestinian workers could ride their bicycles to work, and some would walk to work.

Sometimes, if there was nothing else to haul, I would remain in the warehouse and I would have the most wonderful conversations with Beno and with Ami. There was always a carafe filled with Turkish Coffee, and often some pastry or other. Sometimes a worker would bring homemade food, and we would sit, and talk and eat, and talk.

Beno and Ami would invite some of us, those on the kibbutz directly involved in the Sombrero Corn operation, to a night out, to a fine restaurant in Tel Aviv or Ashdod.  Sometimes, early Saturday morning, Beno would stop in at the kibbutz restaurant with his wife, to enjoy a coffee with her.  I sat with them, enjoying their company, going over the plans for the next week with Beno, talking about his long distance runs with his friends, or some other topic of interest.

Beno and Ami always made sure that their workers were paid fairly.  If one of them needed an advance for a home repair or a home improvement, the money was there.  It made no difference that they were Palestinian Arabs, and that Beno and Ami were Israeli Jews.

I left Israel to begin my life in the US.  It was 24 years ago.

On June 25th 1992 I received a phone call from my ex-wife in Israel.  It was and it still is the worst phone call of my life.  On the morning of June 25th, 1992, two Palestinian men in the guise of merchants entered the packing house area and began a conversation with Beno and Ami.  From what I later learned, they carried burlap sacks, asking if the operation could work for the packaging of onions.  When Beno and Ami told these men that the plant was for packaging corn only, the men pulled large knives from the sacks and murdered both of my friends.  Both of my friends had handguns, but had locked them in their cars.  The workers who witnessed the murder of my two friends stood by and did nothing.  The murderers left their calling card on the walls of the plant, with the blood of my two friends.  They were Hamas terrorists, later exchanged for Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.

There is not a day that goes by that I don’t think this thought:  What if I had only been there.  I always carried my Beretta, loaded, round in the chamber.  I always carried my AK-47, locked and loaded.  Could I have made a difference?  Could I have possibly saved them?  I am wracked with survivor’s guilt.

I am in touch with Beno’s widow to this day. One of Beno’s three wonderful sons is our attorney in Israel. We remain friends. The owner of the spice store that Beno used to frequent in Ashkelon has become, over the many years, my friend. I call Gavriel from time to time, asking if he and his family are doing well.

And, when I am in Ashkelon, I go to visit my friend’s grave, to say a Kaddish.