Nahik Marek - Gili Eliyahu - 14112011
Nahik Marek, who discovered that the helmet was missing. Photo by Gili Eliyahu
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The stories of Dan Kinnarti and Gur Meirov, two young men who were raised on Kvutzat Kinneret and died in the War of Independence, are seen as representative of the finest values of the early Zionist movement, many of whose leaders are buried in the same cemetery - sacrifice, friendship and a compulsion to defend the homeland.

But when Nahik Marek, the 73-year-old man who tends the graves at the Kinneret Cemetery, made his rounds Sunday, he discovered that one of the metal helmets placed on Kinnarti's and Meirov's graves in 1948 had disappeared.

"It's a despicable act," Marek said. "Just a few months ago, the prime minister, [Benjamin] Netanyahu, visited here and declared that this is a national heritage site - but I suggest we examine what this heritage means to people today."

The cemetery is one of nearly 40 heritage sites in the north alone.

"Before we talk about whether or not to attack Iran, let's examine what's going on here," Marek continued. "For me, this incident represents how we have been cut off from our past, from the heritage, from the values. That is the true threat facing us."

The Labor Zionist leaders buried in Kinneret Cemetery include Ber Borochov, Moses Hess, Berl Katznelson and Nahman Sirkin. Two of the artists most closely associated with Israel's early days - songwriter Naomi Shemer and Rachel Bluwstein, known in Hebrew simply as "Rachel the poet" - are also buried there.

The cemetery draws thousands of Israelis a year, including a group of schoolchildren who visited the site recently and were asked to tell their teacher what disease killed Rachel (tuberculosis ). In the background, the song "Kinneret," written by Rachel and set to music by Shemer, was playing.

The stories of Kinnarti and Meirov are in many ways the story of the generation that came of age with the state.

They were born in Kvutzat Kinneret to parents who moved there around 1920. Born in 1930, Kinnarti was a classmate of Shemer's. Meirov - the son of Shaul Meirov (who later changed his last name to Avigur ), who is considered the person who laid the foundations for today's intelligence forces - was a year behind them.

Kinnarti is said to have excelled in his studies, and played in the Kvutzat Kinneret string orchestra. He was also a swimmer and one of the area's first basketball players. Meirov was said to be handsome, healthy and strong, enthusiastic and mischievous, and thirsty for knowledge.

But their childhoods were cut short. At 16, Kinnarti was arrested by British soldiers. At 17, he fought in several battles, returning to work in the cowshed in between. When Syria invaded after the establishment of the state, he fought in several tough battles, including the Battle of Tzemach, where he was wounded. Kvutzat Kinneret member Yaakov Melamed, who was 20 at the time, recalled Sunday that Meirov and another friend from Kinneret "decided they weren't leaving Dan wounded, and they managed to evacuate him to the clinic on Kinneret."

Kinnarti was transferred to a Tiberias hospital in critical condition and died there 10 days later, on May 27, 1948, at the age of 18.

"Dan's death was a painful blow for Meirov," recalled Melamed. "Vengeance burned in him."

Melamed and Meirov fled Kinneret to head for more combat, leaving behind a note that read: "To headquarters, hello! I'm sorry that I have to write a note rather than speak directly. We've decided to leave. It wasn't easy to decide to make an escape. We have always been opposed to this and we hope there won't be many who follow this path, but we felt that we have to go, and we're sorry. Had we had any hope of settling the matter by direct negotiations, we would have done that. We are prepared to bear the ramifications of our going. You have the power to impose on us any punishment you want - and rightly so. But remember that we didn't run away from the front lines, but the opposite! We hope to see you after the war. And once again we ask for your forgiveness!!! Your sons, Gur and Yaakov."

Meirov and Melamed joined a commando unit whose task was to operate behind enemy lines.

"Every night, we would go out on an operation," Melamed recalled. "And during the day, we would be called to the Sejera outposts, which people thought might fall."

On the morning of July 12, Meirov arrived at the western outpost at Sejera, in the Lower Galilee, to fight the Arab Liberation Army, while also fighting a fever of 40 degrees Celsius. A sniper shot Meirov in the head. He died at 17.

At the cemetery that was desecrated on Sunday, a cement block joins the graves of Kinnarti and Meirov. On it is engraved part of a verse from the Book of Samuel: "The lovely and the pleasant in their lives, even in their death they were not divided."