Photos and Text by Lydia Aisenberg
With the emphasis on the relationship between the members of the kibbutz and their Arab neighbors until 1948, students of the Intensive Arabic Semester visited Kibbutz Mishmar HaEmek. Founded 88 years ago Mishmar HaEmek (Guardian of the Valley in Hebrew) is one of the flagship kibbutzim of the Hashomer Hatzair movement. The then pioneers and their first-born became neighbors to four Arab villages sharing the lower slopes of the Menashe Hills as they drop down in to the Jezreel Valley.
An in-house museum created in what was once a guard post on the perimeter of the kibbutz depicts the bitter fighting between the kibbutz member and the invading Arab army under Iraqi leader Kauji who intended taking over the kibbutz and moving on to Haifa. “The relationship between the founder members and their children with the local Arab population was good – obviously it had its ups and downs but for the better part it was a good one,” kibbutz born museum curator Dafna Govrin told the students.
The pioneers were not farmers and learned a great deal from the local Arabs and they in return learned about more advanced methods of agriculture in return. “There are many records and photographs here in the kibbutz archives from all of those years prior to the War of Independence and they show Arab and Jewish children playing together, the Arab children attending sporting activities with the kibbutz children and so on,” she said. Many of the kibbutz children, now in their eighties, speak fluent Arabic because of the close proximity of the kibbutz to the villages and one of the founders, who was one of the signatories of Israel’s Declaration of Independence – Mordecai Bentov – became a Minister of Housing and Infrastructure and he encouraged the learning of Arabic by the kibbutzniks in order to strengthen the relationship with their Arab neighbors.
After the War of Independence the local Arab population was gone – told to leave by Kauji with a promise they would return after the battle was won. Most of them became refugees in Jenin and others went to the near by village (then) of Umm al-Fahm where they have remained until this day. The two storey building is divided in to the kibbutz up until 1948 – upper level – and the battle of 1948 on the lower level where a ‘slick’ – a place of concealment for weapons banned by the British Mandate – can also be seen.
MICHA LINN is one of the first born of Kibbutz Mishmar HaEmek. He speaks fluent Arabic and speaking with the IAS students, declared his love for the language and much of the Arabic culture. “I grew up playing with the local Arab children and made some very good friends. They ended up after 1948 in Jenin and following the 1967 war I went with a few others from Mishmar HaEmek to Jenin to look for them,” reminisced Micha. When he, his cousin Elisha and another of their contemporaries found their friends in the refugee camp in Jenin there was great excitement explained Micha. They stayed for 3 days in the home of one of the friends, visited others but although they were welcomed they felt great hatred from the others in the camp. “We stayed with a good friend and although we realized how those around them felt about us we knew that our friends would protect us, and they did.”
During the War of Independence Micha was shot in the stomach whilst serving as a soldier, his cousin Elisha was shot in the face standing next to the outer fence around his kibbutz. “War is war,” he says when describing those events. “We were brought up in Hashomer Hatzair and that meant trying in every way possible to get on with, nurture a good relationship with, our Arab neighbors and learning the Arabic language was encouraged. In those years the Arabs in this area didn’t speak Hebrew, Arabic was our only way of communicating really. “I still believe in the Hashomer Hatzair ideology but am sorry to say that my owns sons don’t feel that same way – all of them served in the army through difficult periods of our history – and my grandsons feel very strongly about the Arabs and in a none-too positive way,” he adds bitterly.
For many years Micha was a farmer, plowing, sowing seeds and reaping wheat, cotton and more – and when he retired turned his hand to the making of mandrake liqueur. Today he is making liqueurs from many different fruits but the mandrake is the most popular. The Arabic speaking fighting farmer and serious amateur archaeologist, harmonica player and seasoned storyteller, is also participating in scientific research about the medicinal qualities of the mandrake being carried out by an American institute.
Winding up with a tasting session of each of the bottles on Micha’s table, the IAS students bade farewell to Micha before heading back to their base – Kibbutz Barkai – with a small bottle of the real McCoy (Mandrake liqueur) each.
And another IAS study day hits the ground … or the bottle one could say!
Photos and Text by Lydia Aisenberg
When the present Intensive Arabic Semester group of students began their program they undertook an introductory tour of the Wadi Ara, Dotan Valley and Amir mountain range areas. With only a short time left to visit Barta’a village, they were promised a lengthier visit to the fascinating village at a later date.
A promise is a promise – so a second visit arranged recently during which time the students had the opportunity to walk over the dividing line between West and East Barta’a, to engage in conversation with local Palestinian businessmen and teachers from the Palestinian Ministry of Education girl’s high school in East Barta’a which falls under the Palestinian Authority. Born in Tulkarm, Mahmoud runs a small shop selling kitchenware in East Barta’a. His business premises are a hop, skip and jump from the ditch that was the pre-1967 border between the State of Israel and the then Jordanian controlled West Bank, and today the dividing line between the State of Israel and the Palestinian Authority enclave of East Barta’a stuck between the security fence a kilometer and a half behind them and the no-go (for most Palestinian residents) West Barta’a situated in the State of Israel.
Mahmoud, a former teacher who spent 30 years teaching the Arabic language in Saudia Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, speaks very good English and is more than happy to chat to the IAS students. Taking them across the street to stand in the shade of an empty shop, Mahmoud begins by telling the students that although he was born in Tulkarm these days he has two homes, one in that Palestinian autonomous town (an Area A), and another in East Barta’a (Area B).
The gentleman also has two wives, each with a number of children and he plies between the two West Bank households, both coming under the Palestinian Authority but one autonomous and the other, East Barta’a, a post-Oslo designated Area B coming under the Palestinians for infrastructure and so forth but with Israel having the last say on security.
A number of Palestinian flags fly above the businesses but there are more yellow Brazilian flags – left over from the World Cup – than that of their own black, red, white and green blowing in the breeze. There are still a number of Turkish flags to be seen, quickly hoisted in to place during the recent Gaza flotilla controversy. Mahmoud says that he left teaching Arabic in Saudia Arabia and the United Arab Emirates because he tired of living so far from his birthplace and family.
“I am Palestinian and want to live as a free man in a Palestinian state,” Mahmoud states emphatically when answering a question of whether he would rather be living over the other side of the ditch on the Israeli side or continue living on the east, Palestinian, side of the divide.
“Over there,” he says pointing to the houses close by that are on the Israeli side, “life is hectic, expensive and not for me. I prefer the way things are over here, it’s less of a pressure pot.” Mahmoud shows the students his papers. His identity card is contained in a bright orange plastic cover – straight away identifying him as a Palestinian resident of the West Bank and not from over the other side of the ditch. His wife was born in Barta’a and lived there all her life and by marrying in to the extended Kabaha family, Mahmoud gained the right to also become resident there and be able to conduct his business close to the Green Line and the Israeli clientele who come bargain hunting over the line.
He also has another piece of paper, that which allows him to pass through the checkpoint behind East Barta’a and continue on his way to Tulkarm. He is not allowed over the Green Line to Israel. When asked about peace between Israel and the Palestinians, Mahmoud is emphatic that most Palestinians share his views on that subject. “Enough is enough, we need to get down to finding peaceful solutions, enough with the violence and suffering – we want to live peacefully in our own state,” he says. When asked by one of the students what percentage of Palestinians felt the same way, he said the majority.
Saying farewell to Mahmoud the students make their way to the distinctive yellow domed mosque of East Barta’a, neighbor to the local high school for girls. The large wrought iron gate is open, teachers are having a meeting. Permission to enter and to chat with the teachers is given by Ghada, an English teacher whom the writer has known for many years. During the conversation with five or six teachers – all ladies as after all it is a Muslim school for girls – the students learn that some of the teachers haven’t received salaries from the Palestinian Ministry of Education for anywhere between one to two years. “Why don’t you go on strike,” asks one of the IAS students. The ladies burst out laughing. “Who do you think would care,” asks one of them spreading her arms, the palms of her hands turned upwards.
An interesting visit and hopefully not the last for the IAS students participating in a unique program, living in a very fascinating and in many ways unique region of Israel – Wadi Ara - with the Palestinian Authority just down the road and around the corner.
Photos and Text by Lydia Aisenberg
During the Ramadan holiday educator Samiya Mahamid invited the third term of the MASA-Givat Haviva Intensive Arabic Semester students to visit her home in the Wadi Ara village of Mu’awiya. Perched on high, situated in the middle of the extensive plateau atop the Menashe Hills, Mu’awiya is a sprawling village very much out of sight and mind of those traveling the main Wadi Ara highway below.
Turning off Route 65 at Ein Ibrahim and passing through that village, the road continues in a series of twists and turns until reaching Mu’awiya. Views of the villages, the Amir mountain range and city of Umm al-Fahm en-route to Mu’awiya interchange as the bus bobs along and when eventually reaching Samiya’s palatial Menashe Hills villa, the coastline visible in the near distance. Although it is Ramadan and the adults of the household fasting, the table is laden with food for the students.
When one of them points out that it is more than a little uncomfortable to eat and drink in front of someone who is fasting, Samiya laughs and with a wide sweeping two handed gesture invites the IAS students to tuck in. Born in Mu’awiya and married to a fellow villager, Samiya’s house is surrounded with the equally spacious abodes of her husband’s parents, his brothers and their families. A large courtyard is all that separates Samiya from her in-laws. Although she would like a little more privacy she does mention that her children play in the courtyard with their cousins and are always under the watchful eye of family.
Like all other villages in the area there is little to do in Mu’awiya village and so children and youth when not at school spend a great deal of time hanging out in each others homes. The Mahamid clan is one of the main extended families to be found in the region, the majority resident in the nearby city of Umm al-Fahm.
Samiya discusses the holy month of Ramadan, the tradition of receiving guests, the relationship between her village and that of the city of Umm al-Fahm, a stronghold of the Islamic Movement’s northern branch and radical leader Sheikh Raed Salah.“I have a great deal of respect for Sheikh Salah as a religious leader but not so with regard some of his political activities,” she tells the students, some of whom aware that Sheikh Salah was aboard the Gaza flotilla ship ‘Marmara’ where 9 Turkish activists died.
“We are Palestinians in Israel and I believe we should do what we can in a peaceful way to achieve equality with the Jewish population in this country,” said Samiya who also explained that some of local Arabs did not see being involved in projects embracing encounters between Jewish and Arab youth (such as at Givat Haviva) as positive.
“There are those who think that if you work among Jewish Israelis then you are going against your own, but on the other hand there are those who support this kind of work, each one has to decide for themselves,” she says. Although an extremely hot day and no air-conditioning unit in the Mahamid household, a strong breeze wafts through the open living room windows. The room is huge with a number of couches, armchairs and coffee tables and the artwork on the walls of an Islamic theme including an enormous dark blue and gold lettered wall hanging with portions of the Koran almost fills a wall opposite the main entrance to the home.
Samiya’s two young sons play in another room but shyly peek out every now and then. The older boy gets a little adventurous, approaches the seated students and within minutes is throwing ‘high fives’ with them. An educator with two university degrees notched up to her credit, Samiya Mahamid looks forward to continuing to work in her field and has also taken upon herself organizing community work for the IAS students and finding adoptive families for them in Kfar Kara.