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Tom Kita'in

(The following article appeared in Newsletter # 48.)

The last issue of our newsletter carried a photograph of Fr. Bruno Hussar, the Founder of NS/WAS, whose passing we were still mourning. This time, sadly, we print a photograph of First Sgt. Tom Kita'in who, together with 72 other young men serving in the Israel Defence Force, met his death in the tragic helicopter accident on February 4, 1997. Tom died almost exactly one year after Fr. Bruno, inevitably linking one to the other: Fr. Bruno, who had envisioned NS/WAS as a community dedicated to peace, and Tom, who died here as a soldier.

As our hearts went out to his grieving family we remembered Tom as someone special. Every son is special to every family, but Tom we shared; he was part of us all, a part of this community. How then could he be taken from us, how be involved in a war which was so at odds with his nature, against people with whose kin he had all his life been learning to live in peace? Schooled in our primary school in values of trust, respect and understanding, Tom was a good and decent human being. Yet such are the realities of our society that he, like almost all Jewish Israeli men, was drafted into the army. There he served his country with loyalty and integrity, though acutely aware of the possible contradiction between this and his beliefs. After his first six months of army service, he was interviewed in NS/WAS' French language newsletter, Lettre de la Colline. He says there, 'I must serve my country, but I detest war. I do not want to shoot'  I feel that my life will be affected very strongly if I know that I have killed someone... All this creates in me a dilemma.' Later, in the video film produced by NS/WAS, he explains that people like himself, who believe in peace between Jews and Arabs, can have an important influence on the other soldiers. Tom was not shy about stating his opinions, and was not a person who would bow to popular opinion without questioning it. So, when we look at the circumstances of his death, we cannot say that he was drawn into war and army service simply because that is what every young Jewish Israeli must do. He had thought about and examined his options, and in the army had adopted positions of responsibility and challenge. For these reasons, and with tragic results, he found himself on the military helicopter on his way to active duty in Southern Lebanon.

Tom was the oldest son of NS/WAS. Daniella and Boaz Kita'in came to the village when he was 9 years old. He and his brother, Jonathan, entered the primary school and Amit, a younger brother, joined the kindergarten. By the time they had been accepted as full members of the community a baby sister, Orit, completed the family. Tom was the adored big brother. Now he lies in our cemetery, overlooking the beautiful valley, side by side with Fr. Bruno, whose consuming vision was that all peoples should live together in peace, with Pinchas Aron, who was the ever young-in-heart educator and oracle, and with Jerry Mark who came to visit his son and his grandchildren and stayed to rest in peace among us. Tom was too young to join such company, but he is well served by their presence and by the significance that they lie there together continuing in death the ideals by which they lived.

As we cried and mourned with the Kita'in family our thoughts had to turn too to all those other families who were crying and mourning on that day, and had cried and mourned for their dead on so many other days over so many years throughout this whole region and, indeed, throughout the world. How little it helps to ask why, why, why' As people who long for peace we must go beyond this question and help create a world where it will no longer be necessary to ask it.

Daniella Kitain speaking at a ceremony for the opening of a memorial corner at Tom's high school ('Tzafit') in June 1997

Our Tom was killed more than four months ago. More than four months ago we entered unwillingly into a special status - painful, also as if somewhat dignified and compelling - 'a bereaved family' (*).

I cannot address this audience 'on behalf of the families.' I can hardly even speak for one family - Tom's family - and I speak mainly for myself.

All my life I feared, and am still afraid, that something might happen to one of my children. This is the deepest fear of every parent; a fear that in our aching country is so real for families with boys in the army - children for us, but soldiers, fighters, heroes, for the State. And maybe 'cannon-fodder'?

When Tom was enlisted I was able to put this thought aside. The peace process - the long and painful process leading to dialogue with our neighbours - had begun. This meant a different, more humane, kind of confrontation at the negotiation table: What do we want? What do they want? How will we reach a compromise, which will clearly be painful to both sides, but maybe worth the price?

This year, for the first time in my life, I attended a military memorial service. All the usual words that we hear every year could be heard there - 'sacrifice,' 'devotion,' 'willingness to give the most precious, life itself.' I sat there and I knew that these words do not represent me. Do they represent Tom?

There was not even one word of comfort, one ray of hope for a different future. Just the opposite. Everything around symbolized continuity - the memorial statue with its empty walls, ready to receive new names of children who are still alive; empty drawers for memorial books that will still be written; a clear knowledge that all will repeat itself - in the field of combat, in military accidents and maybe in the next war, which does not look so far away because in the meantime the peace process is no longer proceeding.

Sometimes a dear family member dies and passes away from us. Sometimes somebody is killed in an accident or dies following a disease. These things unfortunately happen and the pain is always so great. And sometimes, maybe always, added to the great pain is a sour feeling of missed opportunity.

For me this sour feeling is connected to the fact that I, who always believed in the way of peace, could not save my eldest son from an accident of war. Because this is how I see the helicopter crash - an accident that happened during a war and because of a war we entered into fifteen years ago and from which we have still not succeeded to get out.

It is hard to agree and to accept, but Tom is no longer with us and will not come back to us. All I have left is to try to continue, with the little energy that remains to me, upon the way I believe in, and to speak the truth that is in my heart one more time.

Wars are the work of the human race, of our hands, and only our hands have the power to stop them. It could be that in order to make peace we need greater courage than it takes to continue in the violent but familiar path of war. I have no clear way to propose. I cannot say exactly what should be done. But for Tom's memory and for the children who are still studying here, I know we must choose a different path, and see to it that the empty walls in the military memorials will not be filled with more names.

Maybe beyond just making a declaration, I am looking for support, encouragement and comfort from people who have more energy than I. People who will not only offer comfort to a 'bereaved family', but who will see the challenge, take it up, and try to make a change.

For the opportunity to speak here today, for the memorial corner we are opening here together - I would like to thank the people of Tzafit high school, who continue to educate generations of children who grow up here and become young men and women.

If I could have a wish, I would ask that Tom and Tomer will be the last names in this memorial corner. Unfortunately, I find it hard to believe it will be so. But at least, may this corner be a place to which you, the pupils of Tzafit, will come not only during memorial services, but also in moments of thoughtfulness and indecision. Do try to take responsibility for your lives, your well-being, your loves, and choose a way that will bring joy to you and to the ones who love you.

Tom spent six precious years of his life here. This was his second home. Here is where he built deep friendships. Tomer, his close friend, was killed together with him in the same crash. I see Tom's friends today, kids who graduated from this school, and I deeply admire the simple way in which they share our pain, share their pain with us, and give us their heart tears as a token of love. I admire and I ache that this is what happened to us, that this is what happened to them.

 

(*) In Israel this term is specifically applied to families who have lost a loved one in army service.

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