One night, shortly after our marriage in Tel Aviv, I was preparing a cup of coffee for myself when I heard my wife calling out to me from the bedroom.
I walked to the room and saw my wife reclining in bed with a cross-word puzzle book in her hands.
“Darling”, she said to me. “What does the word fu—en mean?” I was so startled that I spilled half of the cup of coffee on the floor. “My God, dear. Is that a word you found in the cross-word book?”
“No, no”, she replied “I was just remembering something that a British soldier used to yell at me every morning on my way to school. I was about ten years old and had to cross the Sarona fields where Arabs worked. There was always a British soldier standing on guard there. And every morning he would yell at me ‘hurry up, little Jew girl. Don’t be late for school you fu—en little Jew girl”.
I could not find comfortable words to explain the obscenity but I asked her why, at this time, after so many years had passed, did she recall the incidents. She explained that the puzzle-book requested another word for “soldier on guard duty”. It was that cross-word phrase that awoke her memories. I told her it was “sentry” and we both laughed with some degree of embarrassment.
She often told me how children were verbally abused by soldiers of the British Mandate in Palestine, how homes were searched for hidden weapons and the cruel punishment to anyone in whose home weapons were found.
She sat up in bed and continued. “I don’t know if I told you before that my family were members and supporters of the Irgun. Not the Lehi (the Stern gang) whose retaliation against the British often caused the hanging of British soldiers, but they were believers in the anti-British military which ruled over every aspect of our daily lives. There were frequent curfews and anyone found outside during a curfew was subject to arrest and imprisonment.”
As for weapons, she proudly related how her grandmother hid pistols, two rifles and bullets in a place where the British would never find them. They searched her Tel-Aviv home on two separate occasions and found nothing. God bless clever Jewish grandmothers.
Her mother was active in rescuing illegal immigrants who had escaped from Nazi-occupied Europe. Ships were anchored in international waters and passengers were ferried to the beaches in Tel-Aviv where groups of Jews awaited their arrival and hurried them to safe places, frequently to kibbutzim, out of sight of British patrols.
Those were the glory days when Palestinian Jews struggled to outwit the hateful British in acts of defiance against the Mandate and to eventually see them withdraw from mandatory Palestine in defeat.
Immediately after the British departure from Haifa port, the Union Jack was hauled down and the blue and white flag bearing the six-pointed Star of David was raised up in its place. Our independence was on its way.
The very first day, May 14, 1948, when David Ben-Gurion and the provisional government declared the independence of the land, now to be called the State of Israel, two thousand years of forced exile had ended.
But on the very first day of our independence we were attacked by seven Arab armies. We were few in number with limited weapons. America sent us nothing. We were able to buy some weapons and ammunition from Czechoslovakia and some from DeGaulle’s France, but we were unprepared for the attacks by the armies of Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the armed militias of the Palestinian Arabs.
With faith in the Rock of Israel and with our total determination to live freely in our country, we were victorious against the combined Arab onslaught. At the cessation of our War of Independence, a truce was signed in Rhodes between us and some of the Arab countries, under the auspices of the United Nations Peace Forces.
It amazes me how history came to mind… all due to a cross-word puzzle book and the phrase “fu—en little Jew girl”. Historia v’zichronot. History and memories. Hayu zmanim. Those were the days!