Abie and Fatmeh in Tarshiha
TARSHIHA, Israel (CNN) -- The encounter was free of ceremony and
sentimentality, as two victims of the first Israeli-Palestinian war
confronted one another 47 years later.
Fatmeh Hawari has been paralyzed from the waist down ever since Abie
Nathan, then one of Israel's few pilots, bombed her Galilee village,
Tarshiha, as Jews fought to establish a state of their own in Palestine.
Nathan brought her a motorized wheelchair and some extra furnishings to
make her life a little more comfortable. At first, Hawari felt intense
suspicion. Was it an attempt to make up for the loss of the use of her
legs? She had to know. If so, she would reject the offer. If it were simply
a gift from a fellow human being, she would accept gratefully.
"It was not to pay back," said Nathan, now an Israeli peace campaigner. "A
lot of Jews and a lot of Arabs were killed in that 1948 war. And we're
trying now to heal the wounds, to give some hope that peace will come in
They're both 68 years old. On that day of destiny in November 1948, Nathan,
in his DC-3, bombed her village.
"I still live today what happened then. They dragged me out of the ruins.
Eleven members of my family were killed," Hawari recalled.
Many villagers fled and became refugees. Nathan, a popular Israeli
personality, has for 30 years been an inveterate peace campaigner.
"I saw them going to Lebanon. I saw how we helped them pack and leave the
country in 1948. I didn't come to pay a debt because I can never pay the
debt if I lived 100 years to make up for the damage. You cannot pay a debt
for the suffering of people in war," said Nathan.
He learned of Fatmeh's condition only recently. Before meeting, he steeled
himself for the rare face-to-face confrontation between a bomber pilot and
"I said I must go and try to help her, not to solve her problem. I can't.
Maybe I can help," said Nathan.
Returning from a tentative test drive in the wheelchair, what did Hawari
think of Nathan now? "I didn't know him. I was angry. I was sure he was a
monster. Now I see he has a good heart," said Hawari.
The revival of a confrontational past evokes different views among Fatmeh's
"I don't accept what he's doing," said a villager. "He's just trying to
save his conscience with that wheelchair."
One woman was bitter. Nathan should never have come, she said. Where was he
before, could he make Fatmeh walk again? On the surface, the village is a
new place. But most want to bury past hatreds. "That's a good thing what he
has done. I think he's trying to atone what he did during the war," said
Three quarters of a million Palestinians are Israeli citizens. But it's
only since leaders of the two peoples formally declared themselves bent on
a peaceful future that people in the village renamed their little central
square "Peace Square."
But as this painful encounter illustrates, Jews and Arabs in this land are
only just beginning to live in real coexistence with each other.