Out and About People, Places Past & Present Kibbutz Mishmar HaEmek, Salem Checkpoint, Umm al-Fahm Mei Ami, Katzir and Barta’a Village
Photos and Text by Lydia Aisenberg
A visit to Kibbutz Mishmar HaEmek on a very warm day in February was the first portion of a seminar for the Intensive Arabic Semester students dealing with the relationship between the founder members of the kibbutz and the surrounding Arab Muslim villages and the Wadi Ara area in general.
Elisha Linn (84) one of the first born to the founders of Mishmar HaEmek spoke with the students about the Jewish kibbutzniks rocky relationship with their Arab neighbors – of as children how he and his generation interacted with the children from the Arab villages and about the emphasis at that time on learning Arabic not only to be able to communicate with the neighbors but to also learn about their culture.
“There was an understanding that we were going to have to get on together and great efforts were made by my parents and the other founder members who believed in co-existence between Arabs and Jews,” said Elisha.
“We had sport lessons together a few times a week,” reminisced the octogenarian. “There was a big metal bar hanging on a rope and whoever was responsible for the lessons would bang on the bar with a smaller one and the Arab kids would hear it and come to the kibbutz.”
The same system was used if and when necessary to call the members from their work places during a security situation. The distance between the kibbutz and closest village was a matter of a minute or two walk he explained and pointed to a nearby hill from where the students were sitting on the patio of kibbutz member and Givat Haviva staff member, Lydia Aisenberg.
“There, that little hill was where some of them lived. Between them and us a small wadi and of course a fence around the kibbutz,” said Elisha who speaks fluent Arabic and for many years worked with Arab laborers in construction sites around the Polish founded Hashomer Hatzair kibbutz.
The relationship had its ups and downs and he touched on the events of 1929 and 1936 when many Jews were killed by Arabs during the British Mandate period. Elisha, who possesses an incredible memory, detailed incidents involving the kibbutz and told the students of the day he was shot in 1948 by a local Palestinian after having been called to the perimeter fence by one of his Arab friends.
Badly wounded having been shot in the face, Elisha was transferred from the kibbutz to hospital in Afula by a roundabout route as was impossible to go any other way. Put on a stretcher with wooden handles, Elisha recalls that the stretcher was too long to be able to fit into the vehicle and so kibbutz folk sawed off the handles but the vehicle still traveled with the door ajar!
“When we got to Kibbutz Sarid across the valley, the vehicle having to push aside big rocks put on the road by the Arabs, I was transferred to a waiting ambulance. In those days we were using either field telephones or Morse code to contact each other and a message was got back to my kibbutz that I was on my way!”
The students accompanied Elisha and Dafna Govrin, kibbutz born daughter of parents who came to pre-State Israel from Eastern Europe, to the in-house museum of Mishmar HaEmek of which Dafna is one of the co-founders.
The museum, on two floors of a small building that was an guard post during the War of Independence, is divided into artifacts of the kibbutz of yore on the top floor – and also contains a model of the kibbutz as it was in the early 1930s – and on the ground floor an exhibition of photographs and artifacts telling the story of the battle against a large Arab army in the mountains surrounding Mishmar HaEmek and in which the kibbutz suffered heavy losses as well as a model of the kibbutz as it was at that time.
“We decided to make the museum so that our children and grandchildren would be able to continue to learn about the beginnings of the kibbutz, the relationship during periods that were sometimes good and sometimes not so between our grandparents, parents and the Arab neighbors and as much as we could exhibit from the photographs of that time so that they would learn of our past, the struggle for survival and everything that was fought for and why,” Dafna told the students.
Leaving the museum, Dafna and Elisha, the students expressed how interesting it had been to hear Elisha recap on his younger days and felt the importance of the museum for the education of not only kibbutz children but also for students like themselves.
After lunch in the kibbutz dining-room as guests of the kibbutz which is still very much a cooperative unlike many kibbutzim that have privatized over the last few decades, the students visited Mishmar HaEmek’s Holocaust memorial, the first memorial in the country in memory of over a million children who perished in the Shoah. Completed in 1947 the memorial bears the scars of the War of Independence, bullet holes in the figure of a mother protecting her child and other areas of the impressive memorial.
The kibbutz decided not to repair the damage done by those bullet holes as they also represent the continued struggle for survival of the Jewish people,” the students were told by Lydia, their guide for the day and member of the kibbutz since the 1960sThe last port of call for the students in the kibbutz was the local cemetery where they visited the graves of Conan and Yael Allingham.
A strong connection between the British Army officer and his Israeli wife, the sister of the former President of Israel Ezer Weizman, Mishmar HaEmek and Haviva Reik – after whom Givat Haviva is named – was explained to the group who will shortly on another day outing will be visiting the British born daughter of the Allingham’s who nowadays lives in Tel Aviv and from whom they will hear more about her family in Israel and the connection to the kibbutz and the training of Haviva Reik and Hannah Senesh in the forest of Mishmar HaEmek.
Five minutes down the road from the kibbutz and over the other side of the Megiddo junction, the security fence built in 2003, crosses over what was once the main road to the nowadays autonomous Palestinian city of Jenin. An army base, small checkpoint known as the Salem checkpoint named after the neighboring Israeli Arab Muslim village of the same name, sits on the Green Line.
Taking a short walk around the back of the base and toward the Jezreel Valley floor, the IAS students were able to stand on a hilltop overlooking a large portion of the Valley, the town of Afula, Nazareth on a mountain range in the near distance, Mt. Tabor and the Gilboa range of mountains. At the same time they could look across the rooftops of a Palestinian village (Zabuba) to Jenin in the nearby distance. Palestinian taxis moving around the village, the call to prayer from one of the village mosques echoes around the hills and a loudspeaker being used by a fruit vendor as he drove between the buildings all clearly heard.
The course of the security fence coming down the Gilboa mountains, across the Jezreel Valley between the moshavim of the Tanakhim and Palestinian villages on the right hand side of what was once the road to Jenin from Megiddo, all clearly seen from above as well as the security fence passing twenty meters from the spot where the students and guide Lydia Aisenberg were standing. The path of the fence continuing up the Amir mountain range to Umm al-Fahm also all clearly visible on such a clear February sunny day after a few days of rain.
From Salem the journey continued to Umm al-Fahm, an overview of the city and on the other side of the security fence passing around the outskirts, the Palestinian village of Anin and superb view of the Jezreel Valley from the Amir mountain range.
Continuing on to the village of Barta’a the IAS students met with local businessman Allam Abu Abead, a Palestinian from Jenin who runs a perfume and textile shop in the divided village of Barta’a.
The students had previously visited Barta’a but as there had not been enough time to engage in conversation with the locals the opportunity arose to rectify that fact and the time spent with Allam – was invaluable for the students to realize just how complex the situation is – and how much had been seen, heard, learned, experienced that very long but special day, which finished with an incredible downpour of much needed rain.
At the Barta’a checkpoint students met with Hitham Kabha who told of how he had left the village of East Barta’a some years before and joined members of the clan now settled in Sydney, Australia where he had a wife and two children. Working temporarily as a taxi driver in the area, Hitham Kabha said he was planning to take another wife from one of the Palestinian villages in the area! The students are seen on the left chatting with donkey riding elderly Palestinian Mahmood Yehiya from the Dotan Valley through the open door of the bus.
Pictured left are the students with with Allam Abu Abead in his Barta’a perfume and textile business.