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!