It’s amazing how cold it can get here at night. I’m freezing to death even though I’m wearing everything I own. I wrapped myself in burlap and stuffed my socks with newspaper and it still feels like icicles are forming on my ribs and toes.
Of course, it doesn’t help that I’m doing nothing but lying here on my stomach in the mud. I’m right under a beautiful apple tree, but I can’t even grab a snack because they’re not ripe yet.
I don’t know what’s scarier, holding a rifle or the thought of having to use it. After Bernice left, the Defense Committee made sure all the men and women were properly trained to fire the weapons. It’s difficult to feel too confident with our marksmanship, since we didn’t have enough ammunition to take more than a couple of shots at stationary targets. And, as Moshe explained, shooting a tin can and a human are two completely different things.
Every few minutes, I hear a noise and strain to see through the darkness. The whistling of the wind, the rustling of a lizard, the humming of a mosquito, any sound or movement puts me on the edge of panic. At first, I didn’t want to lie on my back for fear of falling asleep, but I needn’t have worried. Even without this flask of coffee, I don’t think I could relax long enough to doze off.
I thought I was being clever by choosing guard duty here, where I wouldn’t have to spend all night walking. I should have been suspicious when Timur and Enoch volunteered to patrol the fences. Their feet may get tired, but at least they’ll stay warm and dry while they’re moving.
It could be worse, a lot worse. It might start to rain or I could have gotten stuck laying here with Natan. Fortunately, he was assigned to a different orchard and I was allowed to stay here by myself. The person I really feel sorry for is whoever was given the joyous task of accompanying Faiga. She doesn’t need to carry a gun; she can simply talk the Arabs to death.
You might be wondering why a woman was given sentry duty; well, the decision was not made easily. We actually had quite a row. Most of the men said it was too dangerous. A few said lying on their stomachs all night was too difficult. Others suggested the women couldn’t shoot as accurately. You should have heard the tumult. The women finally said they would not do any work for the kibbutz — no cooking, cleaning, sewing, nothing — unless they were allowed to contribute to the defense of the community.
Reluctantly, the men agreed to allow women to patrol the inside perimeter and to act as messengers. Some men and women protested, but the majority accepted this compromise.
So Faiga is walking around the houses sharing the news of the world, and I am sitting here shivering, trying to keep from shooting the first leaf the wind blows in my direction.
Bernice was right about the British reaction to the Arab riots. A Royal Commission was sent to visit our happy little homeland. I’m beginning to think the British and their commissions are the eleventh plague.
Anyway, no one was too surprised when the honorable representatives of His Majesty’s Government concluded that the Mandatory government and police were not to blame for the violence. We expected them to find the Arabs responsible for the attacks on us, but what shocked everyone was the Commission’s explanation.
The honorable group said the Arabs did not plan the attacks and suggested they were justified because of the Arabs’ hostility toward the Jews and fear for their economic future. So rather than punish the Arabs, or take steps to protect the yishuv, the commissioners recommended that Jewish immigration be restricted, that Arabs be protected from being evicted by Jewish land buyers and that the Jewish Agency be told that it would have no role in governing Palestine!
The Arabs discovered a formula to prevent us from rebuilding our homeland: Attack and kill us and then the British will blame the Jews and prevent any more from coming to Palestine. It’s as if God has reversed the order in the universe.
This excerpt is from Mitchell Bard’s novel, After Anatevka – Tevya Goes to Palestine available now in paperback and on Kindle.