Gone but never forgotten

Moshav Shavei Tzion's eternal tribute to fallen heroes.

slabs 88 298 (photo credit: Lydia Aisenberg)
slabs 88 298
(photo credit: Lydia Aisenberg)
Weighing thee tons apiece, 12 enormous slabs of sandstone lean against each other with the blue sea and sky of Israel's northern coastline as a backdrop. From afar, the dozen roughly hewn slabs appear to be leftover pieces from a set of Mother Nature's dominoes, but a smaller, wider slab set slightly apart explains their purpose.Standing bolt upright with its back to the strong sea winds, this slab carries the names of 12 young Navy commandos who lost their lives during an ill-fated mission on Lebanese soil during the night of September 5, l997. The naval commando unit was on its way to carry out an operation when it was confronted by terrorists north of the Lebanese port of Tyre. Commander Yosef Korakin, 32, Lieutenant Commander Dr. Yitzhak Ben-Tov, 28, Lieutenant Dagash Maher, 26, and the other commandos aged 20 to 22 had walked into a well-laid ambush. They were felled by powerful explosive devices and a hail of live fire, sustaining heavy casualties. A search-and-rescue operation was immediately launched. The dead and wounded were evacuated home - just a short journey down the coastline. Among those who fell in the line of duty that fateful night was Lieutenant Ram Levinas who was borna and raised in the coastal moshav of Shavei Zion and is buried in its cemetery - in the shadow of the Rosh Hanikra mountain range and border between Israel and Lebanon where he and his fellow commanders were cut down. It is here, on the rocky stretch of beach at Shavei Zion in the north-western corner of the country, that the memorial to Ram and his comrades-in-arms has been erected. The slabs face Lebanon where the young men of the sea lost their lives. The memorial was created by Israeli artist Bernie Fink, who also created a most moving piece of memorial art at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem. In his memorial to Jewish soldiers, the South African-born artist and member of Kibbutz Yizre'el lined up six giant boulders in such a way that their inner edges form a Star of David. Shooting through the center of the Magen David is a long-pointed sword. Fink, who made aliya in l962, was approached by the families of the fallen commandos and asked to construct a memorial made from stone. Not finding anything of sufficient length in Israel for what he envisaged, Fink imported the Shavei Zion sandstone slabs from Malta. "The commandos' mission became chaotic and this is what I tried to create - like dominoes falling on each other," explained the artist. Unseen from the shore lies another memorial to the dozen young men of the sea. A Shatil naval vessel - a French rocket-carrying boat - was purposely sunk offshore opposite Shavei Zion. Twelve seats had been welded onto the top deck, each carrying the name of one of the twelve casualties of war. The sunken vessel has become a regular visiting spot for scuba divers who frequent the area in large numbers. In a daring raid on France's Cherbourg harbor on Christmas Eve, 1968, Israeli commandos disguised as French naval officers boarded three Shatil vessels in port. The boats had been ordered - and paid for - by the Israel Navy, but put under embargo by the French authorities. However, specially trained Israelis secretly boarded the ships in the French harbor and successfully sailed them home. In the small private cemetery of Shavei Zion, Lieutenant Ram Levinas, who was 22, lies in a military grave alongside his close childhood friend and fellow navy man, Danny Azeri who died in a shipboard accident some nine months after Ram was killed in Lebanon. The young navy men's graves are just a few meters away from another line of military graves. Here are buried, side by side, seven of the nine Israeli underground fighters who perished during the May 1947 Acre prison break. A sign at the entrance to the cemetery reads: "On May 4, 1947, fighters of the underground Irgun (Irgun Zvai Leumi, National Military Organization) broke through the walls of Acre prison fortress to free their comrades. During the battle, nine fighters were killed. Only Shavei Tzion of all local villages agreed to bury them in its cemetery. Here in the hallowed ground before you are the graves of seven of the honored dead who fell during the Acre fortress break-in." The military graves of young men who fought and perished for their country lie in close proximity to each other, although they died 50 years apart.