Tuesday, September 14, 2010

1956-57 Sinai war, leaving the kibbutz, and job hunting

1956-57. Sinai war, leaving the kibbutz and job hunting in Israel.
As recounted previously while in the Israeli army we had set up ambushes to try and stop the Fedayeen from crossing from Egypt into Israel to carry out terrorist attacks. In 1956 alone, about 250 Israeli’s had been killed due to this activity. Not only was there terrorist activity, but also Egypt under Nasser had blocked both the Suez Canal and the outlet to the Red Sea from the Israeli port of Eilat through the straits of Tiran. In the summer of 1956 he had nationalized the Suez Canal and had threatened shipping of other countries. Both the British and French previously had run the canal, and Britain had a large number of investments in Egypt. In order to build the Aswan Dam, Nasser had turned to the Russians after European powers had turned down his request for assistance. All of these events triggered a short war in October of 1956 known later as the Sinai or Suez war. Israel’s aim was to stop the fedayeen , destroy the Egyptian army, and open the port of Eilat on the Red sea. The French and British wanted to retake control of the Suez Canal .
As soon as the war started we were on alert, since having just been “ demobbed” we expected to be the first to be called up. However it took a day or so before this happened. We were ordered to muster in Haifa, and then were to be transported to a camp in the South of Israel. Haifa to my surprise was full of French sailors, with their red pom-poms, being carried in trucks, and giving the V- sign. This was unexpected, and of course we asked ourselves what did this mean? France and Britain entered this war a few days later ostensibly to protect the Suez Canal from damage, but really to control the area. I will discuss the ramifications of this later on. We ( he public) were completely unaware of any collusion between Israel and the French and particularly British, who only a few years previously had been enemies of the Jewish State.
We were sent as a group to Sarafand, an ex-British army camp, not far from Tel Aviv. By the time we got there, the war was half over, and I think there must have been a shortage of equipment, since we were told to wait for rifles, machine guns etc and instead of seeing action we sat and played bridge. I remember being very bored. The news was all up beat about victories in the Sinai, and of course Israeli troops reached the Suez Canal, with the French and British attacking Egypt from the other side of Suez.
Unfortunately the US (President Eisenhower) was not in agreement with the aims of the UK and France and through the UN ordered a stop to the war. There was fear that the Russians might intervene on the side of Egypt, as well as the feeling that the US could not condemn the ongoing Russian invasion of Hungary and at the same time support the “ imperial” powers. This of course bolstered Nasser, and instead of a defeat he would claim victory. This was an enormous mistake on the part of the US and had repercussions for a long time (and probably still does to this day). However Israel did prove that it had the power to defeat once again a major Arab power, occupy the Sinai and for some time prevent incursions of the fedayeen. Airpower and the use of parachutists was the major Israeli strategy. Israel demanded the opening of the straits of Tiran and the Suez Canal to Israeli shipping. Although there was unceasing pressure from the US to withdraw from the Sinai, and even threats of sanctions against Israel, it was not until Egypt agreed to open the straits that Israel withdrew from the Sinai. To a large extent, Eisenhower and his foreign secretary Dulles prevented Israel from enjoying the fruit of victory and if it was not for internal public pressure the US would have sided completely with Egypt.
Some of our group did see action. At least three members were parachuted into the Mitla Pass, the site of a major battle in the Sinai. These were Van Emden, Mike Leaf, and Phil Shearskey. Mike was seriously wounded but made a complete recovery. He today is a very well known artist with an international reputation with a studio in Safed. Van has remained a good friend, lives in Haifa, and for many years worked for ZIM the Israeli shipping company. Phil unfortunately died of cancer rather young.
Anyhow, I returned to the kibbutz after a few days, to Mimi waiting expectantly. It was shortly after this and after a visit to Kiryat Bialik and Mimi’s mother that we decided to both leave the kibbutz, and get married. Mimi had decided that she did not want to bring up children in the kibbutz and she had encountered some unpleasantness from one of the “ old Timers” about working for along period in the kitchen. However we really had not thought through our future, since I had no trade, apart from shepherding sheep and driving a tractor, and also no education, not even a high school certificate. What was I going to do, and how was I going to earn a living.? We must have moved out of the kibbutz and to Kiryat Bialik in November of 1956. At the same time there was a general exodus from the kibbutz, with Mike and Thilda and their baby Anat leaving the same day, on the same truck, followed a few days later by Una and Van, Lottie and Barry and my co-worker in the “sheep” pens, Les Collins. All of them moved to one of the suburbs of Haifa. I think it was like an infection that spread through the kibbutz, and led to the disintegration of the garin (group) and everything that we had dreamed and worked towards for the last 10 years of our lives.
I think this disintegration was a result of general dissatisfaction with kibbutz life, the reality, as opposed to the dream. We found out that people, no matter how idealistic, were human, and had human foibles. There was jealousy and nastiness, there were those who were more ambitious than others, and those who wanted to “lord” it over others. Some did not like the idea of someone else (whom they did not like or appreciate or really looked down upon) bringing up their children. The problem of having children sleeping together in children’s home at a very young age and not at home did not appeal to others. There were also economic considerations, the resentment that some members had more money than others from parents or other sources (reparations from Germany). These were not shared with the group. The girls in the group objected to working all day in the kitchen, washing up, or in the “ machsan” sewing and ironing clothes. As an economic unit the kibbutz was quite successful, although subsidized by the labor government of the time. However the overall economy was capitalistic, so that the kibbutz competed in the free market with other business. The culture that we had experienced in Hachshara, the intellectual discussions, the listening to music together was absent. Work tired us out.
I have often wondered what it would have been like to have remained on the kibbutz. Today, when I visit Amiad , I find that many of those who did remain do not appear to be very happy with their lot. They sacrificed a lot and have little to show for it. Agriculture is no longer the mainstay of the kibbutz. There is a factory and workers are paid salaries based on their position in the factory. Many of these come from outside the kibbutz. The kibbutz has undergone huge changes with privatization, private ownership of houses and other property, allocation of resources, pensions to older people, car ownership by private individuals. In fact everything is in flux. However even without these changes brought about by generation three of the kibbutz, life was disappointing for many. In many cases the children of the first generation (the founders) have left for the city or even for the USA or other countries. For those who stayed on I think there is a sense of betrayal and bitterness. Tommy B., my childhood friend from Glasgow is one of the few who seems happy. His children except for one have stayed in the kibbutz, He has grandchildren who remained, and for most of his life he has been an academic doing research in his own lab on limnology of the Sea of Galilee. This has offered him the opportunity to travel and work elsewhere. He even has a new species of algae called after him. Others of the group who remained are now teachers, or retired teachers, from junior colleges in the Upper Galilee. Most took classes as the kibbutz became wealthier and finished their education in middle age. In the end most of my group had managerial or teaching positions within the kibbutz or even outside, so that life changed, mostly for the women, but very slowly. I think the biggest blow, was seeing ones children leave, since sacrifices had been made for future generations. In fact the extended family has become the dominant unit within the kibbutz rather than the individual. This is seen in the communal dining room, which is now only used on Friday evenings or on holidays, where each family may occupy an extended table. To have your children leave the kibbutz is in a way a failure.

The first task after leaving the kibbutz was to find jobs for both of us. It was agreed that we would move into Mimi’s mother’s apartment in Kiryat Bialik. This was a small apartment with two bedrooms, a sitting room, and a small kitchen and sort of hallway. It was one of the apartments built very quickly to house new immigrants. It was in a three story structure with I believe 6 apartments per house. Mimi had designed the furniture, which was very modern, you might say Bauhaus style, , with contrasting colors of black and white wood. I slept in the living room on the couch before our wedding.
We had many plans for the future, all in Israel. We looked into the possibility of growing flowers for export ( a thriving business in Israel) on land left to the family by Mimi’s grandfather. This was land not far from Kiryat Bialik, bought by him in the 1930’s. Although zoned for agriculture, when we inquired about getting water to the area, we were told this was impossible for the foreseeable future. We were up against Israeli bureaucracy. So we quickly gave up this idea. This land is still in the family, still untouched, and being used by one of the nearby kibbutzim for growing grain. It should have been rezoned for building, but this has been pending for many years and nothing has happened.. Perhaps if we had settled down and thought it through we would have fought the bureaucracy and obtained permission to put in water, but it would have been a long fight, and we did not have the funds to hire a lawyer.
Mimi found a job without difficulty as a chemistry lab technician for Hemed ( the army research branch), and I went for interviews to agricultural schools for a position as an instructor in some field. I was offered a job at the agricultural high school in Nahalal to teach “ shepherding”.. This was a well-known agricultural school, but the position was only part time, and did not pay very much. Here one of my friends, Zvi Goffer intervened. Zvi had married one of our girls , Chava, while in the army and felt I could do better than this and suggested I turn the job down, find something else, and consider studying, which he was planning to do. Zvi had been our sergeant major in the army, was slightly older than I, and we both looked up to him. He was originally from Argentina, and after completing the army had looked into the possibilities of studying chemistry. Eventually he completed a BS and then a Ph.D., at London University and later afte, and worked as a chemical archaeologist at the Hebrew University. I thus declined the position at Nahalal continued job-hunting, and found a position in the office of the ministry of agriculture in Haifa. This was quite interesting work, to work along with a prospective Ph.D. candidate from the Hebrew University school of agriculture, Michael Taran, who was doing his Ph.D. on the effect of high temperature on poultry in the Jordan Valley, and also studying the incidence and genetics of leukemia in chickens. My job was to crunch numbers on coefficients of inbreeding, and to accompany him to the Jordan Valley ( Ashdod Yaacov, Kinnereth, Degania ) to obtain records of egg production and whether it was influenced by the heat of the Jordan Valley. It was a good job, and I enjoyed it, although I was once warned by a co-worker that I worked to hard !. The office was a small one on the third floor of a large building on “ rehov Atzmaut” ( Independence way ) or what had previously been called “rehov habankim” in the old section of Haifa. This was close to the port area and used to contain all the foreign banks of the mandate. It was very close to the old Arab area, which was partly destroyed and quite run down. I took a bus every day from the Tsrif in Kiryat Haim to downtown, a ride in these days of about 15 minutes. Today with traffic it would probably take longer. The Tsrif was the main bus terminal in Kiryat Haim and was a landmark known by everyone. It is no longer there but replaced with a real bus terminal and restaurants. I worked in the office with a Mrs Leiberman, who kept an eye on me in a nice way, and looked after me, and the head of the department was a decent guy, a Dr. Z. Ben Adam who later gave me some good advice and was instrumental in my being accepted by Cornell University. In these days I know very little about academic hierarchy, and interacted I suppose with everyone in an equal fashion. Mrs. Leiberman was a middle-aged woman, probably of German-Jewish origin, long hair tied back in a bun, and looked very strict. However she was very protective of me. In the office we talked a mixture of English and Hebrew, so that language was not a problem. When I started work I had not intenion of going to the States, and I was quite happy with the position.

We adjusted quite well to our life in Kiryat Bialik. We had two groups of friends, mine from the kibbutz, and Mimi’s high school friends, although at this time most were in the army. They were mostly Sabras and found it difficult to accept me , an immigrant from the UK into their midst. I likewise found them immature and childish, and this did become a source of friction between Mimi and myself. My Hebrew was not good and this made matters worse. With the passing of time, I have become more acceptable to this group of Mimi’s friends, and when we meet now I feel quite comfortable, despite my “ broken” Hebrew.

1 comment:

  1. Excellent stuff Milton. Please keep it coming!