Ro’i Rothberg, a member of Kibbutz Nahal Oz is killed while patrolling the Kibbutz’s fields near the Israeli border with Gaza. Rothberg, serving as the Kibbutz’s security officer, goes out on horseback to investigate the sighting of a group of Arabs harvesting the Kibbutz’s crops. This is a frequent occurrence as noted in Rothberg’s logbook which documents incidents of Arabs harvesting the Kibbutz crops, stealing equipment and firing on Kibbutz members. Just a few days before his death, Ro’i had “caught four infiltrators in our fields, beat them up and drove them across the ditch.” (Morris, Benny, “Beyond the Gates of Gaza,” in Jerusalem Post, June 30, 1989, p. A11.)
As he approaches the infiltrators, they disappear across the border and, in a planned ambush, a group of armed men takes their place. Ro’i is shot, and his body is dragged across the border into Gaza. His body is returned to Israel, mutilated that afternoon by the Israel-Egypt Mixed Armistice Commission. The murder comes during a period of heightened activity along the Israel-Gaza border with Gaza, which at the time is under Egyptian control, a frequent hotbed for launching attacks against Israel.
The enduring legacy of Rothberg’s murder is the eulogy delivered at his funeral the following day by the Chief of Staff Moshe Dayan. Amidst growing skirmishes in the area, Dayan visited Nahal Oz a few days before Ro’i is killed for a tour of the kibbutz and the security situation. Ro’i is his guide and makes a strong impression on Dayan and his Bureau Chief, Lt. Colonel Mordechai Bar-On. The eulogy is broadcast nationally on the radio. Dayan becomes one of the first Israeli leaders to address the roots of Palestinian anger towards Israel, while reminding the nation that they must remain vigilant towards the real threats surrounding them.
The complete eulogy:
“Yesterday at dawn Roi was murdered. The calm of the spring’s morning marred his vision and he did not notice those who were lurking along the furrow’s line and were set to ambush him.
Let us not cast all blames on the murderers. Why should we argue against their deep loathing towards us? They have been dwelling for eight years in refugee camps in Gaza, watching us transforming their lands and the lands of their forefathers into ours.
We should not seek to blame the Arabs in Gaza for the spilled blood of Ro’i; but from ourselves. How we shut our eyes and failed to face our destiny; the cruel fate of our generation?
Have we forgotten that this group of youngsters who dwell in Nahal Oz carry the heavy weight of the Gates of Gaza on their shoulders?
Across the furrow of the borderline, a tide of hatred and a desire for revenge awaits the day in which a sense of calm will dull our preparedness; a day when we will be tempted to fail to recognize the intentions of the messengers of wicked hypocrisy that are expecting us to lay down our arms.
The silent screams of Ro’i’s blood and torn body are directed at us; and seek our vows, a thousandfold, that our blood will not be spilled in vain. And yesterday, once again, we were tempted, listened and trusted.
We shall self-examine ourselves today. We are a generation of settlers, who without a helmet and the barrel of the canon, cannot plant a tree, or build our homes.
We should face and observe the loathing that inflames and is swelling the hearts of hundreds of thousands of Arabs who surround us. We should not avert our eyes and relax our alertness, because we might be weakened. This is the destiny of our generation. This is choice of our lives – to be always prepared, armed, strong and determined – otherwise our sword will be stricken from our hand and we shall lose our lives.
Ro’i – the youth who left Tel-Aviv to build his home at the Gates of Gaza and construct a wall for us all – was blinded by the shining light of his heart and failed to notice the flash of the slaughtering sword. His desire for peace deafened his ears and he could not hear the lurking murder’s sound.
His shoulders succumbed to the weight of the Gates of Gaza.”
The photo shows Moshe Dayan delivering the eulogy for Rothberg in April 1956. Photo Source: Moshe Fuchs for Bamahane/Courtesy of IDF archives