People watch Israeli Air Force planes fly over the Mediterranean Sea from a Tel Aviv beach, during an aerial show as part of celebrations for Israel's Independence Day, marking the 66th anniversary of the creation of the state.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The date of the beginning of the War of Independence may seem academic to most people, and beset with differing definitions to others, but for myself and my wife the first shots of that war are etched into our memories.
We had arrived at the British Mandated Territory of Palestine in May, 1947, as students of the Hebrew University, which was one of the few ways in which Jews could enter legally. However, even my status as a student on the American GI Bill was not enough for the British authorities – I had to prove that I would not become a public charge, which required proof of a considerable amount of money (which I did not have), or a guarantee by an accepted source.
I wrote to a friend from Young Judaea who lived in Chattanooga, Tennessee, who had a friend who had gone to Palestine and was now married to the first mayor of Herzliya (Shin Zion Levine), and I soon had a letter beginning, “Dear Nephew David,” assuring me that they would guarantee all my needs. (Her son later became my commander in the Hagana).
The British let me in. However, I had no intention of studying, and we went right to Kibbutz Ginegar, in the Emek, where members of our group (Plugat Aliya) were training to establish our own kibbutz.
After a few months we realized that we could not fit in without knowing the language, so we took leave to study Hebrew at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.
On November 29, Frieda and I went back to Ginegar to visit our friends. While there, we learned that the UN (still referred to as the UNO in those days) would be voting on the proposed partition of Palestine between Arab and Jewish states on that night (due to the time difference between Lake Success and Israel).
All the members of the kibbutz, plus visitors, gathered in the moadon (clubroom) to listen to our portable radio (the only one in the kibbutz). Those who knew English stood next to the radio and translated for those who didn’t, who in turn repeated the vote for those too far away to hear it, and they repeated it to those outside who were jammed against the windows.
We waited while the highest legislative and judicial body in the world – consisting of almost all the nations – came to a decision.
Many of the listeners took notes, or tallied the votes. When the voting ended, most of them did not believe their own results, and only when the final tally was announced – over two-thirds in favor – did pandemonium erupt. People hugged one another, bottles of wine were brought out, bonfires were lit, “Hatikva” was sung and everyone danced. The Americans present danced the hora as they had learned it in the States – faster and faster until some people had to drop out. The kibbutz members put their arms on each other’s shoulders and stood for moment, savoring the occasion, and then, slowly, with deep meaning, began to dance. They practically hugged each other. When their feet tapped the ground one could almost hear the thought, “Our land.” It was a very moving experience.
The youngsters danced wildly, some showing off by jumping over the fire.
We were up with excitement all night, and at five o’clock in the morning stepped over some of the sleeping people on the lawn, including some couples, and mounted the truck that was to deliver milk to Jerusalem. The milk was in large metal canisters on the back of a flat-bed truck. On top of the milk cans was a sheet of canvas, and we sat on top of the canvas, being jostled and pummeled by the milk-cans with each movement of the truck.
We drove along the coast road (of those days) and in about two hours reached the turn to the shortcut to Jerusalem at the beginning of Petah Tikva (this is the road that passes today’s Israel Aircraft Industries and the entrance to the airport). This road obviated the necessity to drive through Tel Aviv to get to the Jerusalem road, making the journey much shorter.
As we got into the turn, a man armed with a rifle stepped into the middle of the road and stopped the truck. He and the driver exchanged a few words, and then the driver turned back and headed toward Tel Aviv. At the first stop we got down and asked him why he had not taken the shortcut.
“Arabs have been firing at traffic on that road all morning,” he said.
Those shots were, for us, the reasons for the beginnings of Israel’s attempt to enforce the decision of the United Nations – an attempt which has now continued for 67 years – with no help from the UN itself.
The author is an emeritus professor at the Paul Baerwald School of Social Work and Social Welfare at The Hebrew University.