Suddenly, in the blink of an eye, he jumped from the combine that was harvesting fresh corn. He ran, swiftly and with a club or a cudgel in his hands. It was dark. We were very close to the border with Syria. I was in the cab of my tractor-trailer, waiting for the final basket or two of fresh corn from the fields he was harvesting and when I saw him running, I grabbed my AK-47, a constant companion, and ran after him to make sure he would at least have covering fire.
He stopped, in the pitch dark of the night, and as I approached he raised a hand with…a porcupine in it. “It’s a delicacy! I must have scared it when I worked my way along the rows of corn. I’ll keep it in the cab of the combine until we’re finished loading you up, and then I’ll prepare it for a great meal!” We spoke a bit more, the Bedouin operator of the combine and I. We parted with greetings for good health and peace, and for a good meal for him. I eased the tractor-trailer south, as dawn was breaking in the Golan, headed for the processing plant in the Gaza Strip.
It was not my first encounter with the Bedouin. It would not be my last either. I had learned so much from them. During my service in the IDF, they were our eyes on the patrols. Soldiers like myself, citizens of Israel like myself, they served in front line units along the borders with Syria and Egypt. They could tell if a smuggler had entered Israel. They could tell how long ago that smuggler had crossed the barbed wire by the accumulation of dew or the lack of it. They knew how tall he was and how much he weighed from the imprint of the infiltrator’s shoe. They could tell if he wore sheepskin over his boots to cover his tracks.
During the early afternoon the Bedouin trackers would sit together, getting ready for the work we would perform all night long. I asked if I could join them. They made coffee. I mean, they made coffee from scratch, roasting the green beans, crushing them into powder with mortar and pestle, adding the sugar and coffee to pots that stood in the embers of a fire lit earlier. As we sat, they recounted countless tales of past exploits, the pursuits, the long treks with our squads, their impressions of us Jewish soldiers…those who kept quiet and did the work…those who constantly flapped their jaws and returned to base the next morning empty-handed.
I worked with many Bedouin when I was the tractor-trailer operator of my kibbutz. Some worked in our fields, harvesting wheat, operating the New Holland combine with skill, guarding the machinery and sleeping in a bus that had been converted into a sort of trailer, with a bed, a kitchen and a dining room. Some owned the latest state of the art heavy equipment, Caterpillar 950’s and 980’s, Volvo trucks, Scania trucks, DAF trucks. I thought of them as naturals in the field of transportation, for had they not led caravans for countless centuries?
As we learned from each other, and as we got to know each other, I was invited to their homes. I was invited to their weddings. I was honored to be invited when one of their Sheikhs passed away. I found the tent of mourning and I offered my condolences and sympathies to the men who lined the interior of the tent, finally arriving at a small table at the end of the tent, where someone poured a tiny cup of bitter coffee for me. An honor to be sure!
Z. and his family were my guests when my son became Bar Mitzvah. My father, who had arrived from Vienna for the celebration, was invited to Z.’s home.
I had decided to take my son on one of my long hauls. We descended to the Dead Sea and I returned with a load of potash from the Dead Sea Works. Just outside of Be’er Sheva the Volvo I drove could go no further. Somehow the yoke of the driveshaft had come loose and the driveshaft separated into the two sections the yoke had held in place as one. I radioed for help. My concern was for my son, because I knew that it would be a while before a mechanic would arrive to repair the damage. One of the Bedouin drivers I knew stopped and offered to take my son back to the kibbutz. It was just that kind of relationship. It was just that kind of trust.
And so, as I read about the tragic accident near Lehavim, my heart went out to the families of these women who had just returned from Jerusalem. I know the road so well. I know the intersection, and I can see it clearly in my mind. I offer my sympathies to the families of those who perished, and to those whose loved ones are now in the care of doctors. I share in their sorrow.
The passengers on this bus may have been the daughters or the sisters or the nieces or the granddaughters of people I knew. They were tragically involved in a prime cause of death in Israel: traffic accidents.
It matters not, however, as some have stated or thought, whether they were Bedouin or Jews, because they were human beings. They are deserving of the dignity of kindness. They are deserving of the hope for healing if they were wounded. Their families are deserving of our sympathies and condolences.