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CLARIN

In Israel, Argentine Jews Explain Why They Stay

They moved to Israel from Argentina, or are the descendants of those who did. Despite the insecurity and fading hopes of peace, Argentine Israelis refuse to pack their bags in despair.

An Israeli officer shows the inside of a tunnel discovered last year near Kibbutz Ein Hashlosha
An Israeli officer shows the inside of a tunnel discovered last year near Kibbutz Ein Hashlosha
Facundo Landívar

EIN HASHLOSHA — "I don't even expect peace anymore. The most I can hope for is for the fighting to quiet," says Danny Cohen. The 46-year-old Argentinian-born Jew nevertheless tries to stay calm and hopeful in an otherwise edgy existence on the Ein Hashlosha kibbutz, barely a kilometer from the border of Gaza.

Still, the numbers tell a story of fading hope: of the 300 people who original shared his family's dreams and vision on the kibbutz, only 60 remain.

Cohen is one of about 80,000 Argentines or their descendents who live permanently in Israel. They all share the the experience of living with the threat of missiles, the fear and the scars, hidden or visible, of a war that has made everyone its victims. "You want to know what war is?" he asks. "It's my 14- and 15-year-old sons asking as soon as they arrive somewhere, someone's house or a hotel, where the shelter is."

The shelters Cohen mentions are everywhere in Israel — in bars, universities, homes, or every 100, 300 or 50 meters, depending on how close you are to a fighting zone. The word has come to mean so much more than a bunker here. The shelter is the ultimate root that keeps you in place and stops you packing your bags to return to Buenos Aires, or anywhere better and safer than here.

"Go? Where? Sign me a paper that there is peace somewhere else, and I'll move there," Cohen says. "But this is my house. My sons grew up here. Why do I have to go? I can see it is difficult to understand, but it is the same everywhere. I also tell my brother who stayed in Buenos Aires to leave a country that's getting worse, where they kill you for nothing."

He says he does sometimes think of moving, that his sons have never been able to live in a peaceful place. "It is not just our home here, but our way of life," he says, pointing at the kibbutz. Young Latin Americans founded it in 1949, never thinking that its location would in time transform their little paradise into a daily hell.

"More than half the houses have been shelled, but nobody has been spared. We have all been harmed one way or another," Cohen says.

Loss and more loss

Three seconds are all it takes to end a life, like that of little Daniel Tregerman, the grandson of Argentines killed by a Hamas missile just a few meters from where we speak . The sirens went off, and his parents ran for their lives — two seconds — looked for the children, picked up the little girl — three — but Daniel could not take cover. Four years old, the shrapnel killed him fast.

In northern Israel, near Syria, another Argentine lives through the conflict another way, by saving lives. Dr. Oscar Embón arrived in Israel in 1973 at age 25. He married, had three children, and grandchildren, but he still has his Buenos Aires accent. He heads the Ziv Medical Center in Zefat, a few kilometers from the Syrian fighting. He's not giving up. "Our moral duty is to attend to any injured person, and we do it," he says. "We don't ask questions. We act."

He walks through a corridor and observes the injured lying on beds. "Human beings can be very cruel," he says quietly. He says that outside a room where a 12-year-old Syrian boy is recovering with broken bones. He somehow walked for a day from the border to the hospital. His brother who took him to the border stayed on the other side of Golan, from which come the intermittent sounds of bombardments.

[rebelmouse-image 27088278 alt="""" original_size="640x360" expand=1]Embón at a recent conference. Photo: Clarin

Call it absurd, but barely three steps away lies an Israeli soldier, recovering from gunshot wounds. Embón says many patients, presumably Arabs, "avoid saying they were treated here to avoid reprisals."

"Everyone arrives here with three definite traumas: the war, the wounds, and on top of that, being cured in an enemy country, the one they have been blaming all their lives for a good deal of their troubles. We work on these three traumas." He averts his eyes a little when speaking about seeing injured children. "Humans can be so very cruel," he repeats.

Back down south, Lieutnant-Colonel David Ram, born in the Argentine capital and a fan of the Argentine soccer team Boca, observes the line of Gaza buildings on the horizon. "It is tragic, but it's a war and we have to win it," he says. "We are going to win it because we are determined to, because it is just and because this country's future depends on it."

Looking stern and attentive, he explains that just meters away from where we speak, there is a Hamas tunnel that militants wanted to use to attack a kibbutz. "We are not waging war for the hell of it, or without considering the consequences or oblivious to what happens to civilians," Ram says. "If I didn't care about civilians, within 24 hours I would have my troops swimming in the sea off Gaza. But you know what? We are sick of constantly being accused of not respecting civilians or not measuring consequences. Please. We are the only army in the world that warns before atttacking, sends text messages and even flyers to say exactly where we are going to bomb, what we are going to do and at what time. And we're still the bad guys."

Ram, who's been a soldier for 22 years, says that he was a commander in the recent offensive in Gaza. He admits Israeli Defense Forces made "mistakes" then, but he insists Israel punished those causing accidental civilian deaths. "But there is no punishment for the Hamas guy who throws bombs onto a Jewish school," he says. "He gets a medal or becomes a hero. They love death. That is the kind of people we are fighting."

Finally, there is 21-year-old León Roslevky from Buenos Aires. He can't talk as he guards Israel's border with Syria along Golan. Still, he makes it clear where he's from, proudly nodding at the the sticker on his rifle — the Argentine flag.

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