Travel Diaries: 1970s Palestine. Episode 3

Friday October 15th 1976

Awoke at 06.45 to a beautiful day, and walked to the Kibbutz Office as part of an Enid Blyton style Famous Five adventure. It’s now 09.30 and I’m sitting outside the building by myself, hoping to get accepted to a different Kibbutz than my four companions. It’s already hotter than any summer day England’s ever had. I wonder what’s happening back there now?

As usual, I feel like the odd one out as I’ve never really understood my peers, and in my judgmental way find them pseudo and unnaturally brash. In honesty, none of us can really know what we’re doing, and it’s strange to me to pretend otherwise. As luck would have it, we’re all bound for the same place, a Kibbutz in the Gaza Strip, in the Negev desert. A car will take Nancy and me there later today, giving us time for the long and hot walk back to the hostel to schlepp our bags back here. The boys must take a later bus.

The road south is flanked by desert dunes, occasional outcrops of trees, and one or two Moshavs in the middle of this nowhere. It’s really hot in the car and I’ve learned my first Hebrew phrases to ask for cold (and hot) water. Arrived at Kibbutz Be’eri 13.40, to a guarded gateway with lots of barbed wire and a guarded look-out tower. A little intimidating, but we’re surrounded by non-jews who are not all willing to peacefully co-exist with those who have annexed their land. Tel Aviv is 90 minutes drive away, Jerusalem about 2.5 hours by bus, and the Gaza border is a 5km walk from here. I’ve learned that Shabat shuts everything down in the country, from 18.00 Friday (today) until Sunday morning, which will be our first day of work. Meanwhile, the communal diningroom serves a healthy buffet-style meal from 18.30–20.00 every evening.

I’m to share a little concrete hut -with a corrugated tin roof- with two others, but don’t mind a bit. The weekly Shabat offering, a large chocolate cake; biscuits; apples, is already on the centre table. Other volunteers have a hut to themselves, but the place is filling up fast as travellers stop to winter in warmth where they can find work. Sprawled on the grassy area that’s flanked by huts, I’m watching people play volleyball, and have already checked out the community theatre, the tennis courts and empty swimming pool, closed for the winter! There are about 100 of us in the Volunteer Ghetto, and I feel like I’m on a relaxing holiday. I wonder how long that fantasy lasts once the work day begins.

It was a late night. The evening was spent sitting around an outdoor fire, getting to know a few volunteers not interested in attending the traditional Shabat Disco Dance. There are eleven English volunteers, quite a few Dutch, some Aussies as well as Ulpan members from South American countries. I’ll have to make friends with some Kibbutzniks if I want to learn Hebrew, and there’s a programme for volunteers to sign up for temporary adoption by willing resident families. Let’s do it!

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Juanita Welch Accardo

Possibly been there, and have probably done that ..but eager to go and do more.