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Dozens of relatives and friends of five Israelis killed trying to reach Petra, Jordan 54 years ago gathered yesterday at the Palmach Museum in Tel Aviv, where a memorial was dedicated to them.

In August 1952, five former Palmach members whose imagination had been stirred by tales of the "rose red city" made it about 15 kilometers past the Israeli border into Jordan, near Bir Madkur, when a Jordanian soldier shot and killed them.

The five, Eitan Mintz, Yaakov Kleifeld, Gila Ben-Akiva, Arik Magar and Miriam Monderer, were the first Israelis to be killed trying to see the legendary ruins of the Nabatean capital cut into Petra's cliffs. Another seven Israelis were killed in four more attempts.

In the hope of discouraging more adventurers from trying to fulfill the dangerous dream of seeing Petra, the establishment even prohibited radio stations from playing the popular Hebrew song Hasela Ha'adom ("the red rock").

Rivka Kremer, a member of the Palmach Museum's directorate, said yesterday that the commemoration of the five might be what is needed to put to rest the bitter, long-running debate over the journey to Petra. Nir Nitzan, 73, of Kfar Ma'as, and the brother of Eitan Mintz, said he went against the last will of his father Abraham in agreeing to the commemoration.

Anger at 'incitement'

For years the father refused to divulge information about Eitan, 23 at his death, because of his anger against those Nitzan said "incited" young people to try to reach the magnificent ruins.

"My father dragged another bereaved family into this opposition. Acquaintences, including tour guide Yigal Haskin, managed to persuade me to change my mind on this issue. I shared this with my family, and we decided it would be better to commemorate Eitan's memory. I do not regret it. This commemoration also has added value - it is the Palmach that decided to commemorate them," Nitzan said yesterday.

Rachel Savorai and Meir Har-Tzion were the first Israelis to cross the Israeli border, reach Petra and return alive. Savorai, 80, a member of Kibbutz Revivim in the Negev, was one of the initiators of the memorial. She and Har-Tzion made their trip to Petra about three months before the ill-fated attempt by the five.

According to Savorai, who continues to visit Petra, most recently a few months ago with her 20-year-old granddaughter, her trip with Har-Tzion did not affect the decision of the five.

"Even before we went, they were thinking about the trip. Until then, no one had been killed for crossing the Jordanian border. They would be interrogated and then returned to Israel. After the five were killed, a lot of talk started, and going to Petra was condemned. It should be said that they didn't go seeking adventure - they just wanted to hike. I am very glad the Palmach sees them as its own, and is commemorating them," Savorai said yesterday.