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The PLO killed my cousin

BY ELINOR J. BRECHER ebrecher@herald.com

This column was originally published on March 15, 1978, in The Courier-Journal, Louisville, Ky., where Elinor Brecher was a staff writer.

The Herald reprints it following the death of Yasser Arafat, who then headed the terrorist Palestine Liberation Organization.

Brecher’s cousin, Gail Rubin, was the first victim of what became known as the March 11 Coastal Road Massacre. She was photographing wading birds at Kibbutz Ma’agan Michael when she was shot in the head by PLO terrorists.

Later that day, they hijacked a bus and blew it up in Tel Aviv, killing 36 and wounding 82 Israelis. Nine terrorists died and two were captured.

After Gail’s death, her parents, Estelle and Jonathan Rubin of New York, published Psalmist With a Camera: Photographs of a Biblical Safari, the project she had been working on, documenting the plants and animals mentioned in the Bible, when she was murdered.

In her memory, they also established a center for photography at Ma’agan Michael.

A female terrorist named Dalal Mughrabi led the March 11 attack and became a hero among Palestinians, who named schools and summer camps after the terrorist.

On the 25th anniversary of the incident, the Palestinian Authority newspaper wrote that Mughrabi “shall remain one of the symbols of the Palestinian national struggle.”

We always wondered when Gail would come home.

The times have been rare in recent years when the whole scattered family could assemble. Each time it did, Gail’s possible return was discussed.

Whether it was a reunion for Passover, for an important anniversary or birthday, we always talked about how we wished she were there.

Death has been systematic and unrelenting in its decimation of the family. Most of the grandmas and grandpas are gone. Only the laughter and ebullience of the young can fill the melancholy gaps left by those deaths, say the ones in the middle generation.

Gail Rubin, my cousin, was one of the young ones — and now she, too, is gone, the first victim of the Palestinian terrorist massacre in Israel on Saturday.

She had been an editor at a major New York publishing house, but she was restless. There seemed to be something missing in her life.

As many American Jews did, Gail went to Israel on vacation and never left. Zionism and politics had nothing to do with her move there in 1969. She fell in love with the irrepressible people who, with ceaseless labor, were turning a sandy scrap of desert into fertile farmland.

She picked up a camera for the first time in Israel, and there must have been sorcery at work. Gail and the camera quickly learned to perform amazing feats together.

She captured the merry grins of sun-browned kids on the cobbled streets of Israel’s ancient cities. Her color close-ups of tree bark rival the most spectacular abstract paintings.

She made tender portraits of relaxed young Israeli soldiers. And she found them also as they lay wounded and dying in the Yom Kippur War.

Gail blossomed in Israel. The big-city girl lived simply, in a spare apartment in Hertzlia Pituah, on the Mediterranean.

Last summer, she looked as fresh and as earthy as the clean sands we strolled together. She certainly didn’t look anywhere near her 39 years.

We talked about her current project — trying to photograph the elusive leopards of the Sinai. And we talked about her future hope: to chronicle on film the vanishing Bedouin culture.

We walked along the beach watching her two dogs — her ”children” — dash in and out of the water. It was a family joke that Gail would never come home because her adored ”children” wouldn’t be able to adjust to a New York apartment.

Her parents, despite knowing how much she loved Israel, ached for their only child’s return.

Her visits seemed to last longer every time. When her dazzling color photographs of Israeli wildlife went on exhibit at the Jewish Museum in New York last spring, she stayed for several months.

Just last week, her parents were saying she might return for an extended visit in June. It couldn’t be soon enough for them.

But Gail is coming home tomorrow, too soon for all of us.

Gail was walking by the sea near Tel Aviv on Saturday. She had planned to photograph wild birds at a nearby kibbutz.

She was alone when terrorists landed on the beach to begin their murderous drive toward Tel Aviv.

One report said that they asked her for directions shortly after they landed their boats on the shore. She gave them the information, and they shot her.

Another report said they asked her nothing. They just fired.

A plane provided by the Israeli government is bringing her body home.

Gail will lie in a New York cemetery next to an especially favored aunt. When her parents discussed it, they thought Gail would have wanted to be buried in Israel, where she had found such peace.

But we all wanted Gail to come home again.

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