Feelings Mixed for Israeli Mothers as Sons Go to War
Ilene R. Prusher writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor
With the Hizbullah-Israel war grinding toward a violent second month, most mothers with a son in the Israeli army would feel conflicted.
But Shlomit Kanotopsky has four. A mother of six, her four oldest children are boys in active duty or reservists who have been called up. One is in Lebanon - she hasn't heard from him in more than a week. Two are stationed near the border. Yet another is posted on a base in a position that she hopes will keep him away from the front lines.
"I want them to feel I'm there for them, that I'm not all stressed," she says, recalling her last phone call with one son. "I wanted to be strong, to hold it in, but ... I cried lot," she says, sitting in a cafe in this seaside town near Haifa, just beyond reach, thus far, of most of Hizbullah's rockets.
Mothers hold an important place in Israel's political fabric. When Israel pulled out of south Lebanon in 2000 after an 18-year occupation, it was the antiwar movement "The Four Mothers" that spearheaded the public campaign to withdraw. The group was started by four mothers after a 1997 helicopter crash that killed 73 soldiers on their way to serve in what Israel had dubbed its "security zone." Many women - both mothers who had lost sons and those who wanted to help bring the boys home safely - played an key role in rallying opinion in favor of a unilateral pullout.
Once Israel moved back to the international border, they argued, Hizbullah would have no pretext for attacks. And if the Iranian- backed Lebanese militia did attack, the theory went, Israel would respond with bruising force.
At the time, Mrs. Kanotopsky said in a radio interview that she was quite happy; two of her sons had been serving in combat positions. One of them was angry with her. Indeed, across the political spectrum, there never was clear consensus on the pullout; some here feared that it would display weakness and bolster Hizbullah.
Farewell to sons
Now, however, the famously divisive streams of Israeli public opinion have converged. The debate focuses not on whether Israel should be at war with Hizbullah, but how to wage it better. The founders of "The Four Mothers" have come out in support of the effort. And Kanotopsky, sad as it makes her for both Israelis and Lebanese, says she is sending off her sons with a full heart, feeling that there is no other choice.
"I don't want us going into Lebanon, but I don't want to let them destroy our lives like this," she says, describing a morning commute that includes a scan of the horizon for rockets. "It's a crazy reality we're living in, and I think it's important to be strong and defend our state."
By profession, a key focus of Kanotopsky's job is helping people cope: She's a psychologist specializing in children, and spends most days working at a hospital in rocket-rattled Safed, tending to civilians and soldiers suffering from shock and other signs of trauma. Even after 23 years of experience in a country that has known more than its share of conflict, she says, "This war has been more difficult for me, as a mother, than any time in my life. It has really changed my motherhood."
"I feel this total loss of control over being able to protect my children. It's kind of an unending worry," says Kanotopsky, who wears her hair draped in brightly striped scarf that signals a religious but modern lifestyle, and chunky jewelry that hints at an artsiness.
She's very proud of her sons, but adds that she and her husband, who immigrated from New York when he was 17, never encouraged them to sign up for combat positions.
But Israeli society did. The draft process starts in high school, and many teenage boys consider signing up for a challenging combat unit to be the ultimate expression of manhood and patriotism. …