“The British are on our side,” Devorah said. “Why else would they issue the Balfour Declaration and offer us a homeland?”
“Geopolitics, my dear. They didn’t give a fig for us or our homeland. The British needed the Americans to help them in the Great War. They thought doing a favor for the Jews here would cause the Jews in America to encourage their government to fight on their side.”
“So, if we can’t trust them, how are we going to get a state?”
The naiveté of the young, I thought. They always think their dreams will magically come true.
“The same way we built this kibbutz, inch by inch, brick by brick. You think the British built this infirmary? Devorah, before you came, I worked out of a tent. Sometimes so many chaverim had malaria we had to keep two in a bed. We had to beg, bribe and steal medicine from the British.”
“I always thought you were more of an optimist.”
“Realist,” he corrected. “Faith is important, my dear, especially if one is to live in Palestine. When God picked this land to be our home, sometimes I think he decided to find the place farthest from Eden. But when I see the children, I’m filled with joy. They won’t have to know what it’s like to be surrounded by anti-Semites. They won’t have to live in fear of angry mobs. They —”
Two men burst through the doors of the clinic with a third man between them supported only by their shoulders. The injured man’s feet dragged along the ground and his head hung limply. I saw that his chest was spattered with blood.
“Put him on the table there!” the doctor said calmly but with authority. “Devorah, get me hot water, bandages and a sterile scalpel.”
Devorah stood immobile, staring at the injured man.
Devorah ran to another part of the infirmary. “Wash your hands and put on a mask,” Dr. Susser shouted after her while he and the two men ripped open the wounded man’s shirt. Devorah came back with what the doctor ordered. Susser quickly scrubbed his hands in a basin and put on gloves.
“Even though he’s unconscious, I want to make sure he stays that way during the procedure.” Dr. Susser asked Devorah to get a bottle of ether from the medicine cabinet. “Go ahead and give him a handkerchief full.”
Devorah did as she was instructed.
“Ok, let’s start. Devorah, hand me the scalpel and stand close on the other side and hand me gauze pads. The rest of you stand back.”
I could see Devorah staring at the faces of the men who brought in the man on the table.
“Who are you?” I asked.
The shorter of the two men spoke without looking up. His shirt was covered with the blood of his comrade. I moved close so I could see his face. It was bruised and covered with a mixture of grime and black stubble. Curly hair flowed out of the back and sides of his army cap.
“I’m Shimshon and this is Yossi. We are members of the Haganah.”
The one he called Yossi was much taller. He wasn’t wearing a hat so I could see he had short dark hair with a growing bald spot in the back. His face was equally soiled and, combined with a beard and moustache, made his face look almost completely black.
“What happened?” Dr. Susser asked quietly as he made an incision in the unconscious man’s chest.
“A group of Arabs attacked Petah Tikvah last night.” Yossi replied. “We didn’t get there until after the killing began. Arik was wounded when he jumped in front of a small boy who was about to be shot by an Arab.”
Dr. Susser cut open Arik’s chest. He spoke calmly while he worked. “Why weren’t you able to prevent the attack?”
Yossi made no effort to keep his voice down. “It was the British commander again. He wouldn’t allow us to go to the town even after we told him we knew there would be an attack. We begged him to send troops, but he wouldn’t. We had no choice but to take the long road around the back of the city. By the time we reached our people, the Arabs were gone.”
“Then the British arrived,” Shimshon added.
“The British entered as the Arabs were leaving,” Yossi continued. “They came in and said they were going to disarm us. Someone fired a shot. To be honest, I don’t know if it was one of us or them, but soon the police and soldiers opened fire. Arik was hit. Shimshon and I snuck out with him. We traveled all night to get him here.”
“Why didn’t you take him to a hospital?”
I could tell the one called Yossi didn’t like having to explain his actions. Before he could make a nasty retort, Shimshon said, “Because the British would be looking for us there. Anyone suspected of being involved in the fighting will be arrested.”
“How many were killed in the village?” asked Dr. Susser.
“I don’t know for sure. Some were women and children.”
Yossi’s voice sounded more disgusted than pained.
“And your losses?”
“We all went in different directions when the British arrived.” Yossi closed his eyes and rubbed his forehead. “I’d say at least six wounded. Arik was probably the worst.”
This excerpt is from Mitchell Bard’s new novel, After Anatevka – Tevya Goes to Palestine available now in paperback and on Kindle.