Keeping guni's memory alive

The artistic venture started out seven years ago, the idea being to create animation films about victims of Israel’s wars and of acts of hostility committed here.

Giora (Guni) Harnik and his mother, Raya (photo credit: HARNIK FAMILY)
Giora (Guni) Harnik and his mother, Raya
(photo credit: HARNIK FAMILY)
How can one revive the memory of someone who is no longer with us in physical form, in a suitably respectful, evocative and emotive manner? Thus moots the Beit Avi Chai blurb about the forthcoming Remembrance Day for Fallen Soldiers and Victims of Terrorism event, which takes place at the Jerusalem institution on Tuesday, at 9:30 p.m.
The “A Face. The Day. A Memorial” artistic venture, now overseen by Yotvat Feiereisen-Weil, started out seven years ago, the idea being to create animation films about victims of Israel’s wars and of acts of hostility committed here. To that end a bunch of young animators were recruited, and they met up with members of families who lost a loved one, either on the battlefield or as the result of a terrorist attack.
This year’s event includes five such films dedicated to the memory of Gail Rubin, Giora (Guni) Harnik, Yitzhak and Malachi Rosenfeld, Naava and David Applebaum, and Daniel Pomerantz. The untimely deaths took place across a wide temporal stretch, and as the result of different incidents which have, sadly, been a constant feature of this country’s existence.
Rubin, for example, was murdered by terrorists in 1978.
American-born Rubin, 39, was a professional photographer.
She was at the Ma’agan Michael Nature Reserve not far from the coast north of Zichron Ya’acov, taking pictures for a project about flora and fauna mentioned in the Bible, when Palestinian terrorists landed at a nearby beach. She was the first victim of what became known as the Coastal Road massacre, with the terrorists subsequently hijacking a bus on the highway, killing 38 civilians and wounding 71 more. The memory of her life and work will be referenced in Gail, by Maayan Zuriel and Isca Mayo.
David Applebaum is probably the best known of the victims commemorated at this year’s event. Applebaum hailed from Detroit. He was a physician and rabbi, and served as chief of the emergency room and trauma services of Jerusalem’s Shaare Zedek Medical Center. He also founded the Terem emergency medical services organization. In 2003 he was at Café Hillel on Emek Refaim Street with his daughter Naava, who was due to get married the following day, when a suicide bomber carried out a terrorist attack there. Sivan Kidron’s film about the father and daughter is appropriately called Chessed (Loving Kindness).
Making a film about loved ones who were killed in battle, or as a result of some other form of needless violence, is a delicate matter. How do you go about encapsulating a whole life in just a few minutes, and in animated form? There are no documentary images to slot neatly into the plot. It is down to the artist to capture not only the physical likeness of the victim, but also to convey the person’s spirit and, hopefully, to produce a storyline that resonates well and empathetically with the victim’s family members.
Raya Harnik has been doing her level best to keep the memory of her son Guni alive and uppermost in the public consciousness for over 30 years. Now 84 years old, she is well versed in that area. “I worked for the Voice of Israel for 25 years,” she notes. “I made a lot of documentary radio programs.”
That makes Harnik well equipped to cast a practiced critical eye on Guni, which was created by students of the fine arts department of the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design, under the guiding hand and eye of Sarah Jane Hatooka. Any death on the battlefield is a tragedy, but Guni’s appears to be doubly so, as it could have and, by right, should have been avoided.
Guni was a month short of his 26th birthday when he fell in the Battle of the Beaufort, in 1982, at the very beginning of what was then called Operation Peace for Galilee, and is now known as the First Lebanon War. The Beaufort Castle in Southern Lebanon was considered to be of strategic importance, as of the Upper Galilee. However, as the war unfolded, the IDF General Staff issued a command to keep the Beaufort attack in abeyance, as the Israeli army was taking a more westerly route northward into the heart of Lebanon. Sadly, the instruction failed to reach the troops on the ground, and the ancient fortress was duly attacked. Guni was killed, as were five other IDF soldiers, in the militarily successful operation.
It sounds absurd to say that Guni shouldn’t have been there – no one should have to engage in violence, no matter what the circumstances – but Guni, who was a combat unit commander, was due to be back in civvy street when the war broke out.
“He should have been released on the day he was killed,” explains Raya. “He was planning to travel around America, and he’d registered for university. He wanted to take a degree in agriculture.”
Guni had already begun moving on from his army career – he had already served for seven years – when an incident thousands of kilometers away lit the touch paper of what was to quickly develop into full-scale war in the Middle East.
“Guni had his demob party on the day [ambassador to the UK Shlomo] Argov was attacked,” Harnik notes.
Argov was shot by three or four Palestinians in London, as he was leaving the Dorchester Hotel. The assassination attempt led to the order for the IDF to move into Lebanon.
The ambassador later expressed sorrow that the attack on him had provoked the war. In a statement he dictated to a friend, and which was subsequently passed on to the Haaretz newspaper, Argov said: “If those who planned the war had also foreseen the scope of the adventure, they would have spared the lives of hundreds of our best sons.... They brought no salvation.... Israel should go to war only when there is no alternative. Our soldiers should never go to war unless it is vital for survival. We are tired of wars. The nation wants peace.”
Guni was not supposed to be involved in the military campaign.
“Guni’s friends were mobilized, but he wasn’t,” says Harnik.
“He had already been assigned, as a reserve soldier, somewhere else.” But Guni felt he needed to contribute, together with his brothers in arms. “He immediately went back to the commando unit, and he went up to the Beaufort together with them.”
Guni’s mother says that many of her son’s generation were fired by ideological zeal. “He got that at home, at school and in the Scouts. That generation grew up on myth and legend, on Zionism and tales of pioneering feats.”
Harnik says that, at least in that respect, Guni’s wish to playa part in the war was nothing out of the ordinary. “That generation, they were all great believers in Zionism. My other children are the same.” Guni was the oldest of four children.
Like the relatives and close friends of the other victims of violence whose stories will be told in animated form next week, Harnik will be in the audience at Beit Avi Chai, despite having certain misgivings about the way her son is portrayed in Guni. A few years after her son’s death Harnik published a children’s book called simply Guni, in which she relates some of her son’s childhood and later activities and escapades. The short film feeds off the book, to an extent, even though Harnik feels the filmmakers may have gone a little far with some of the elements of his life.
But she understands the constraints of the whole artistic venture.
“You can’t make it accurate with only five minutes of film. I might have taken a different motif [instead of the dog that stars in the film],” she notes.
That said, Harnik is happy that the film was made, and that Beit Avi Chai is hosting the screening.
“Anything that keeps Guni’s memory alive is good, as far as I am concerned,” she states. “I won’t be here for much longer, because of my age. Ever since I learned that Guni had been killed, it has been important to me to preserve him in the collective memory. I did a lot of things, which my children were not always enthusiastic about, which were a little bit more ostentatious. But I did it because I felt that, like there are all sorts of soldiers who fell in battle whom no one knows or remembers, I didn’t want Guni to become just another statistic, one of the 650 or whatever who fell in the Six Day War, or the Yom Kippur War or whatever.”
Harnik’s ongoing commemorative efforts have, it seems, borne fruit. In addition to the current Beit Avi Chai project, many Israelis over the age of, say, 50 recognize the name Guni Harnik.
Raya recently experienced some of the proof of the pudding herself.
“I went to Hadassah hospital for some tests and I took a taxi back home,” she recalls. “The driver asked if I minded if he took another passenger, a Hadassah employee, and dropped him off on the way. I said that was fine. When the man got in the car, after a few minutes, he introduced himself and asked me my name. And the driver said: ‘What? You don’t recognize her? This is Guni Harnik’s mother.’ The passenger said: ‘I thought so. Guni, the commando unit commander, from the Battle of the Beaufort.’ I felt I’d succeeded in keeping Guni’s memory alive.”
Thirty-six years on, Harnik manages to maintain her commemorative work, although she says it gets tougher, in an emotional sense, with each passing year. “I think that is the case for all us, all the members of all families.
It was easier when we more active. I had three children to care for, a full-time job, I married my children off and I was politically active.”
She has more time on her hands now, more time for reflection.
“I have more time to think about painful memories,” she says. “And I don’t particularly like state memorial ceremonies.
I went to the Mount Herzl Remembrance Day ceremony shortly after the war, but I didn’t enjoy it. There were so many people, and the speeches are the same every year, no matter who’s giving the speech. I decided I wouldn’t attend the state event again. That doesn’t move me.”
Harnik is moved by the gatherings she holds each year for Guni’s old friends from the Scouts.
“I get a hall from the management here,” says Harnik, who lives in a sheltered housing residence in Beit Hakerem.
“I arrange light refreshments, and we have a nice, cozy get-together.”
This year, however, the logistics of the Beit Avi Chai screenings have put a spanner in the sequential works.
“I have asked for 30 tickets, for Guni’s friends from the Scouts, so they can come to the screening,” says Harnik.
“At least we can be together.”
Entry to the screening event is free, but requires prior registration at: