Another Tack: The scorpions sting – again

What transpired on the way to Eilat last week is chillingly reminiscent of the bloodshed of March 17, 1954.

August 26, 2011 16:40
Left: Miri, Haim on hood of bus. Right:Furstenberg

Furstenberg Family 521. (photo credit: Courtesy: Furstenberg Family)


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Conventional wisdom contends that neither Gaza nor Cairo harbors much interest in fanning terrorist flames and disrupting the uneasy truce that has precariously prevailed since Operation Cast Lead. Egypt, an unsteady step away from uncontainable internal chaos, prodigiously presents Cairo’s caretaker military junta with other preoccupations. Simultaneously Hamas surely doesn’t relish another punishment of the magnitude inflicted upon it in 2008.

This makes ample sense – on our wavelength. Cerebral processes in the Arab realm, however, don’t necessarily conform to our rationale. They practically never do.Israelis shocked by last week’s roadside massacre outside Eilat and by the ensuing rocket barrages from Hamastan fall prey to excessively non-Levantine logical assumptions. They fail to understand that our concepts of levelheadedness don’t apply in neighboring latifundia.

Nobody has any business being the least bit taken aback. Porous borders that allow African economic migrants to infiltrate illegally, and drugs to be smuggled routinely, also invite enemy attacks. The Egyptians were never motivated to guard the frontier and are far less so now, as the repeated explosions on the gas pipeline to Israel attest.

Neither the Egyptians nor the Gazans have changed. They only occasionally resort to expedient chatter in the Western idiom, which suffices to make them sound trustworthy – as trustworthy as the scorpion in the fable attributed to old Aesop.

Said scorpion had to traverse a wide and swift stream. There was no way for him to negotiate the current, but then he spied a frog sunning itself on a lily pad near the other bank. “Yoo-hoo, Mr.Frog,” hallooed the scorpion across the water, “would you kindly ferry me on your back?”

The frog was nobody’s fool and reminded the scorpion that any contact with him was tantamount to courting death. But the scorpion was persuasive: “Am I likely to sting while riding on you in the middle of a deep river? I can’t swim and would drown. I’m not going to kill myself, am I?”

The skeptical frog, though, needed further security guarantees. “You might try something when I’m close to shore,” he noted.

“Ooh,” crooned the eager-to-please scorpion, “I’m hardly likely to reward goodwill with violence.”

Enticing visions of coexistence swayed Mr. Frog, who made his way to the scorpion, let his potential peace partner hop on and paddled obligingly back. The further he moved, the more complacent he grew about the well-behaved commuter, who obviously had existential reasons to exercise prudence.

All this time the scorpion eyed the frog’s soft, glistening hide. It drove him crazy. He itched to plunge his stinger into that pulsating flesh. Yet, knowing it’d kill him, too, he controlled himself with every residue of willpower at his disposal.

But the scorpion’s self-discipline proved lacking. In one fateful second it all got to be too much. The frog felt a sharp prick. Deadly toxin diffused and numbed his limbs. “You’re crazy,” he screamed with his remaining vitality, “now we’ll both die! Why did you do this?”

As they sank together, the scorpion, filled with triumphant glee, exclaimed: “I couldn’t help myself! It’s my nature. I can’t change who I am.”

NONE OF our neighbors can, reluctant pragmatism (in Hamas’s case) or an actual peace treaty (in Egypt’s case) notwithstanding. The premeditated murder of innocents is nothing new. In fact, it’s as horrifically habitual and as predictable as the scorpion’s unconquerable penchant to sting, the consequences be damned.

We’ve seen it all before, with eerie similarity and with identical coldbloodedness. Only the dates, names and incidental circumstances vary, but the critical core remains uncannily unchanged.

The August 18 ambush, the hail of bullets targeting all travelers on a given stretch of highway – even the shots to the heads of victims to verify their deaths – all these are tragically familiar. Already wounded en route to an Eilat vacation, Esther Levy of Holon had to play dead after the shooting and keep deadly still beside her husband Yosef’s body, lest the marauders discover her and squeeze the trigger yet again.

What just transpired on the way to Eilat is chillingly reminiscent of the bloodshed of March 17, 1954 – long before Israel’s 1967 victory and subsequent denunciations of so-called occupation.

Egged bus No. 1383 was winding its way up back to Tel Aviv from Eilat, where the passengers had taken part in Eilat’s fifth birthday celebrations. They marked the anniversary of the closing phase of the War of Independence, when the makeshift ink flag was hoisted over what would become the country’s southernmost point. The bus was decorated with a banner: “Egged’s salutations to the Negev pioneers.”

One of the two drivers along for the trip, Ephraim “Fiska” Furstenberg, had brought his wife Hannah and children Haim, nine, and Miri, five, with him. Baby Tzippi was left with relatives. Fiska dreamt of moving the family to Eilat and becoming the first Egged cooperative member to take up residence in the haunting wilderness of that outlying embryo township.

But different plans were hatched by the Fedayeen – the moniker adopted in those days by predecessors of today’s Fatah, Hamas and their assorted offshoots.

It means “self-sacrificers,” which calls to mind the Shahids (martyrs) and suicide bombers of the current vogue.

On the single old route to Eilat in those days, approximately 100 kilometers south of Beersheba, the scorpions struck. Twelve Fedayeen ambushed the bus, ironically at a spot called Ma’aleh Akrabim – Scorpions’ Pass. 

They first aimed at the duty driver, Kalman Esroni, who in his last seconds of life managed to prevent the vehicle from tumbling over the cliff. After spraying the bus with intense gunfire, they boarded it and finished off everyone there, or so they assumed. They proceeded to verify the 11 kills, mutilate the corpses and steal everything in sight. They tossed Hannah out of the bullet-riddled bus and hacked off her fingers, because they couldn’t otherwise remove her wedding band.

Unbeknownst to them, Haim and Miri remained alive behind the rear seat – Miri underneath the body of a soldier who threw himself over the child to shield her. Haim raised his head and asked: “Did they go?” But the sound of the boy’s voice betrayed him. The gunmen returned and took callous aim, directly at his head.

Miri, who remained hidden, was spared. Haim took over 32 years to die. He was left in an irreversible vegetative state and lingered on until September 4, 1986.

The attackers’ tracks led to the Jordanian border, but the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan/Israel Mixed Armistice Commission (HJK/IMAC) couldn’t bring itself even to lightly rap Jordan’s knuckles. No surprise here.

Meanwhile, equally unsurprisingly, inside Israel another surreal debate raged about whether to retaliate or, in the words of then-premier Moshe Sharett, “underscore the qualitative moral difference between us and our heartless enemies” (not that foreigners were much impressed – even before we were demonized as imperialist ogres).

Bottom line: The more things change, the more they stay the same. Scorpions sting. That’s what they do. That’s who they are.

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