The boy's name was Eyal. He was 2 1/2 years old and one night two years ago the terrorists slipped across the nearby Lebanese border, went into the house where Eyal and the other children of the kibbutz slept, and took them hostage. The next day, the army moved in and when the brief fighting was over little Eyal was dead. The other children said the terrorists killed him. They said he cried too much.
This is the place for which Israel said it fought the war--the northern Galilee. This is the place where just last year a mother of four stepped outside the children's house for a breath of fresh air and was killed on the spot by a Katusha rocket fired from Lebanon.
This the place where the threat of rockets was always present, where settlers packed their bags and slipped away to the safety of the south, where people would not come despite a bracing climate and high hills renowned for their beauty since the time of the Bible. It was in the name of this place that Israel launched Operation Peace in the Galilee, but somehow took the army quickly and brutally to the gates of Beirut.
Now the children's house has been refurbished and there is no reminder of that awful night. The kibbutz itself is expanding and no one fears anymore that a yearning for a breath of fresh air can bring instant death. The bomb shelters for the children are still ready, but they're almost a relic of a bygone era now. The front is much further to the north than it used to be. Now it is the children of Beirut who must sleep in shelters.
Two days after the terrorist attack took the life of Eyal, I was here with my wife and my son. We spent the night nearby, lying in bed listening to an exchange of artillery between the PLO and the forces of Israel's surrogate in Lebanon, Maj. Saah Haddad. The Israelis had gone into Lebanon that night to punish the PLO and I was glad of it. My feelings had nothing to do with political views or with wishing harm to the PLO. It had to do with my family. Another night, when we were no longer here, I would consider the politics of the situation.
It is hard to say if coming to a place like this gives you perspective or takes it away entirely. It is the same in Beirut or, for me, as time spent with the PLO in their camps two years ago. The easy way out is to damn both sides or, if you are so inclined, to fall back on raw emotion the way both the Begin government and the PLO do. With the PLO it is the vaunted return to Palestine and with Begin it is 2000 years' persecution of Jews culminating in the Holocaust and, if you want, the death of little Eyal. The emotions clog the brain and all thinking stops.
But even here in the Galilee there is some consternation at the scope of the operation in Lebanon. It is hard to link events in Beirut with the security fence just up the road. In all Israel, in fact, there is much second-guessing going on. The newspapers reflect the doubt some people have in the wisdom, if not the morality, of the invasion of Lebanon, and conversations with people reflect the same concern. Like the large family it is, Israel will brook no criticism from outsiders, but inside the family there appears to be anguish.
Here in the northern Galilee, emotions tug two ways. Ora Miv, a mother of three, has her qualms about the Lebanon invasion. On the one hand, she's glad the PLO has been pushed far away. The dividends of the operation come when she takes her turn watching the children. "I feel very good at night when I'm in the baby house," she says. On the other hand, the fighting is now around Beirut. Her son and other sons of this kibbutz are in the army, and while the threat to her now seems almost theoretical, the threat to them is not. The risk may not be worth the benefit.
Her doubts come out in her voice. When she speaks of clearing the border, the voice is firm, sure. But when it comes to what's happening around Beirut, her voice drops, she becomes tentative and she searches for the English words that express doubt, reluctance: "I am not convinced because I am afraid."
On this day, the kibbutz is strangely quiet. Families that normally would be sitting on the lawns, playing with their children, are not. Behind the doors of the apartments, no one is home. The children's house is totally empty--the toys neatly placed on shelves, coloring books in their place. This is the place where little Eyal died, but things have changed radically since then. On this day, the members of the kibbutz are touring southern Lebanon.