Every year, on the eve of Memorial Day, we’d go visit the Bachrachs in their ground floor apartment on Spinoza Street. In later years, when the wife was widowed, we’d go see her in Feierberg Street, turning on the radio and listening to the official ceremony. Albina (Bianca) and Arthur Bachrach lost their only son Gideon, whom they called Pauli, during the conquest of the village of Tantura, in the 1948 War of Independence. Arthur was a charming ear, nose and throat doctor, with a strange medical instrument on his forehead, who liked having a cognac every now and then. Bianca was a general physician. They were childhood friends of my grandparents. My parents decided to name me after their son, and since then I’ve felt a need to visit them every Memorial Day.
Gideon peers out from his photo, a handsome fair-haired man. The Yizkor website says that he spoke five languages and wrote well. He was injured in his stomach and died two days later, and was buried in the Nahalat Yitzhak cemetery. On the ruins of Tantura there now stands a vacation village. When they read out the names of the fallen on Memorial Day, I wait until they reach Gideon Bachrach, then feel a shiver go through me.
We also felt shivers every year, when Mali Bronstein sang the sad war song “Dudu” in our schoolyard. Gideon and Dudu were our childhood heroes. We knew Dudu had a curly mop of hair, but we never considered that Daoud or Moussa, who faced him in battle, may also have had a curly mop of hair, perhaps laughter in their eyes as well, as that song goes. Nobody told us anything about them, except that we were fighting for a just cause. Perhaps we were told the truth, but it was partial and embarrassingly tendentious. That’s how it is when you have to consolidate a nation, establish a state and put together a narrative that is absolutely just.
My personal hero, Gideon Bachrach, fell in a battle which led to the expulsion of 1,500 people who never allowed to return to their lands and homes. According to historian Benny Morris in his book on the birth of the Palestinian refugee problem in 1947-1949, the [pre-state paramilitary organization] Haganah decided in advance to expel the inhabitants of Tantura. According to one contentious version there was a massacre there. That’s how one coastal village among many others was wiped out. Its residents’ world collapsed, with some of their descendants now living in the Tulkarm refugee camp. They are not allowed to visit the ruins of their village.
My childhood hero had a part in that. Perhaps there was no other choice, perhaps not. In any case, we weren’t told a thing about it. We only learned about the Nakba in our late adulthood, after decades of denial and concealment, indoctrination and lies. Who knew there was a nation here, not just “gangs”? Who even asked themselves who those ruins and few remaining houses on the roadside had belonged to, and where on earth were their inhabitants? Who had planted the prickly pear and palm trees, often the only remaining sign of a village destroyed?
We only sang “Dudu” and consoled Gideon’s grieving mother. Those were the right things to do then. But someone should have told us about Gideon’s victims and about Daoud who fought the Palmachnik Dudu. Someone should have told us about their just cause, alongside our own, about the bitter fate we had in store for them and imposed on them.
It’s not just about historical truth or about the root of our existence in a land upon which another people lived. We were never told what happened on the beach of Tantura the way it really happened, since there was something to conceal there.
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What happened there should have led Israel to an acknowledgement, to compensation and atonement, and that was the greatest threat of all. That’s why we never chose to do that. We never changed our attitudes to the inhabitants of this land, who were here long before the Bachrach family arrived, and we never, to this day, pondered our heavy guilt. Which is why, for most Israelis, it doesn’t exist.