MY SIX DAY WAR IN ISRAEL
When I was 20, I went to Israel at the start of the 1967 (Six-day”) war, in spite of my father’s advice, as a volunteer to defend it against the Arab “invasion”. My naiveté was astounding. We were assigned to a Moshav, a privatized Kibbutz. That same day we were transported to the fields to work pulling weeds from the cotton plants. I found out that we had replaced the Arab labor force, which had fled in fear. I found out that the jews employed the Arabs (local “Israeli arabs”) as migrant workers. I recognized this from my early experiences in the American South, where gangs of blacks would chop cotton in the fields for pennies a day, while the fat pasty white farmer sat on lawn chairs and watched. It was just like home!
Here it was again, another plantation. And, in the Jewish homeland, which was established by socialists! Arabs, in fact DID ALL THE WORK around the Moshav, without any of them living nearby or participating in any of the Moshav activities nor even being paid a fair wage! They worked from dawn till dusk, working the fields, hauling garbage, even cleaning the Jews’ houses. The Moshav Jews were the white slave masters to their acquired labor pool of desperate workers, forced into sub human bondage.
When I brought this up i was transferred to the chicken farm, where I cleaned up shit and collected dead and dying birds from what I must say was one of the worst and most unsanitary places I have ever worked. The contrast was remarkable. The Jewish settlers all lived in relative splendor, with american style ranch houses, modern appliances, elaborate playgrounds and a large community center, where they celebrated their Zionist racism and paranoid nationalism every day, dancing and singing in the courtyard. The Arabs were the Black slaves.
I fled this Jewish apartheid. I went back to the main highway and joined the advancing Israeli troops as they moved on Jerusalem. I had credentials as a photographer for the Geneva Tribune (my father was the editor) I flashed my badge. I just kept walking East until there were no more soldiers.
I actually unknowingly advanced ahead of the army through “enemy lines” to find that old city of “Arab” Jerusalem was deserted, empty. All the Arabs had fled or had locked themselves up in their compounds. I walked though narrow alleyways, lost in a labyrinth. Everything was quiet. Out of nowhere an older Arab man rushed at me and grabbed my hand, speaking to me rapidly in Arabic. In my head I heard him say “We don’t want any trouble”. I was dressed in Khaki shorts, army jacket and western-style boots — maybe he wanted to surrender to the first soldier he saw. I begged him to let up and tried to shake his hand in friendship.
“Relax, relax”, I said, helplessly, “it’s OK, I’m a journalist” as I pointed to the camera. I took his picture and of two young girls peering out of the shadow of the doorway to his house. He didn’t understand, he was terrified. He bowed and scraped. I almost ran away, hating to be the source of such dread for him and his family. I suddenly knew everything. This was NOT a war of national survival for the Jews. It was an invasion, pure and simple, a land grab; it was Jewish imperialism. I’m not stupid.
I spent the whole day wandering around, taking pictures, seeing almost no one, when finally the Israeli troops advanced up the shallow grade where i was sitting, waiting, watching an ant war in the dirt. I heard no shots fired, just the sound of motorized army vehicles grinding gears as they maneuvered into the Arab Quarter. They passed me by as if I was invisible.
I caught a ride to Tel Aviv. The city was rejoicing, a giant street party, with returning soldiers, giddy girls, the entire populace in the streets celebrating the great victory. I could feel no joy, I was stricken by the unevenness of it all. I came to Israeli thinking THEY were the underdogs! THEY were the socialists! I came to defend Israel against terrorism and invasion.
The next day at a cafe I was sitting with a group of demobbed soldiers and some “sabras”, the israeli term for native born jews. Sabra is a cactus, and is supposed to describe toughness and resiliency. They, both the men and women, were quite beautiful to behold, young, confident, sun-drenched and fresh from victory. I began to question whether they had lost sight of the meaning of the war in their excitement to fight it. Everyone became very edgy when I brought up the objectives of the war, like it was a military secret. The war was actually a pre-emptive strike against a mostly terrified civilian population to seize and annex land. It was pure imperialism, pure jingoism, pure chauvinism, pure bullshit.
One of the soldiers launched himself over the table and began punching me. I punched back. As we rolled around amid smashed glass and overturned tables, other patrons dragged us apart. The soldier cursed at me in Hebrew.
I left the next day. Now I think of “Sabra” to mean “fascist”.