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Helicopter Tragedy Memorial

Text & photos: By Lydia Aisenberg

A visit to the memorial honoring 73 Israeli soldiers and aircrew who perished when two IDF helicopters collided close to the Lebanese border in 1997 proved a deeply emotional, heart-breaking but also heart-lifting experience.

Although there are a number of memorials dedicated to individual casualties in their home towns or communities throughout Israel, the 2008 officially-inaugurated site near Kibbutz Dafna is the main memorial to all those who died in the earth-shattering accident that sent shock waves throughout Israel.

The memorial site is dedicated to the Jewish, Muslim, Bedouin and Druze IDF soldiers and aircrew who died in the crash. Although the cause for the creation of the memorial is deeply upsetting, the site, which is created by a team of landscape architects in conjunction with Israeli sculptor Danny Caravan, is an almost magical mix of the region's sheer natural beauty together with the aesthetically artistic, tasteful and totally alluring creations of the designers.

The memorial complex is situated close to the cemetery of Kibbutz Dafna where one of the helicopters disintegrated.The expansive site contains improvised memorials initially created by family and friends of the fallen, the names of their dear ones written in black letters on large stones scattered on the ground under a copse of trees and bushes.

A few meters away, hanging from the lower branches of the trees and obviously created a while later, are flat-faced white stones, each inscribed in the same hand with a name.The white stones gleam in the sunshine as they shimmy to and fro, hanging by wire from the branches and stroked by a gentle breeze.Here and there, a few metal yahrzeit lanterns hanging alongside some of the stones give off a slight pinging sound as they also connect with the stones.

A few small plastic blue and white Israeli flags protrude from branches here and there whilst a number of photographs of those who perished, some with handwritten text, lovingly placed in plastic sleeves, peek between leaves.

Close by, a gigantic roughly-hewn white reddish rock, perched on a slab of black basalt, also contains the 73 names together with text explaining the background to the fateful flight of the two helicopters intent on transporting the troops and a heavy load of munitions to two different points in nearby South Lebanon.

A wide path, paved in the same type of white stone slabs with grass verges on either side, has a narrow channel of gently flowing water passing through the center.The water is coming from up ahead, from a pool situated in a large open area containing 73 huge rocks, not sculpted but in their natural form yet as one approaches each seems to almost take on a bow-headed, crouching human form.At the foot of some of the boulders, colorful anemones gently nod in the breeze atop their long, graceful stems, adding a dash of color against the white-reddish rock and neatly mowed lawn around.

The rocks are arranged in clusters around the large circular pool of water, some of the rock formations and the deep blue sky reflected on the pool's surface. Two circles of dark bricks placed around under the rim of the pool contain the names of the 73 fallen IDF personnel, one of whom - Sgt. Gidon Posner - was a former pupil of the JFS* whose parents lived in London.The Posners had made aliyah and Gidon was born in Israel.However, when he was six years old the family moved back to England and consequently Gidon was serving in the IDF as a lone soldier. 

A large group of visitors to the site slowly walk around between the almost human-like rock forms, absorbing the enormity of the disaster whilst at the same time in total awe of the beauty, serenity of the incredibly moving memorial to those young soldiers whose lives were so tragically curtailed over Kibbutz Dafna and the nearby community of She'ar Yashuv.

Whilst deep in thought, puffy white clouds slowly moving across the very blue sky above are reflected in the water of the pool below at one's feet.The small clouds passing gently over the water from on high seem to be caressing each and every one of the young Israelis named under the watery surface, who will stay forever young - but never forgotten.

*JFS is a Jewish mixed comprehensive school in Kenton, north-west London, England. At one time it was the largest Jewish school in the world, with more than 4,000 pupils. 



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