"[In] my experience of Israel...Events were always clothed in layers of nuance. All 'truths' were paradoxical...every 'bad' thing had a kernel of 'good'."
Perched on the hills of Northern Israel, or Southern Lebanon as the locals jokingly called it, Kibbutz Hanita was my home for two years in the early ‘80s. Hanita’s situation is spectacular – the Plain of the Galilee and the Mediterranean Sea lie at its feet. At night, the Galilee lit up, each settlement a circle of light like stars that had fallen to earth. Haifa, and the towns of Acre and Nahariya, were concentrated pools of light along the coast. By day, the gleaming sea was an invitation to swim at Achziv Beach.
But I don’t want to mislead you. This was not paradise. Achziv Beach was home to three different communities in 1982– the locals, a Club Med and the army, who used the beach as a staging post before entering Lebanon. This was the summer of the first Lebanese War, as it later became known. Israel had invaded Lebanon and the Israelis were experiencing an identity crisis. They were occupying their northern neighbour with the rationalization that there was a need to stop the daily katyusha rocket attacks that were terrorizing northern Israel. This was in fact true. But however you looked at it, this invasion was serving many other political agendas and Israel had lost its ability to frame its military actions as purely defensive. Now many saw them as aggressors.
I remember spending quite a few nights sleeping in the kibbutz’s bomb shelters. We could hear the distant thrumming sound of explosion after explosion as Tyre and Sidon (towns along the Lebanese coast about 20 kms away) were bombarded.
But what I really remember is one particular Shabbat night. The bomb shelter close to the chader ochel (dining room) served a dual purpose. It was also the kibbutz disco. Replete with a mirror ball and an intense sound system, this was the place where many of us busted out our Friday night moves. In a small community with nowhere to go, the disco was the event of the week for the under 30 crowd. And for a few of the older kibbutzniks, too.
During the Lebanese invasion, the kibbutz was heavily protected by army units who patrolled the perimeter road throughout the night. The night I remember was just another night at the disco – kibbutzniks and volunteers letting it all hang out after an intense week of work and politics.
Some time during the evening, a couple of the soldiers who were guarding the perimeter road came into the disco. They took off their helmets and rested their guns against the wall. Flak jackets and boots stayed on. Then they cut loose. The disco was used to exuberance, but these guys raised the bar to new heights. Notwithstanding all their military gear and uniforms, they gave it everything they had. A song or two later, back on went the helmets and guns, and they disappeared into the night.
This summed up my experience of Israel. Events were always clothed in layers of nuance. All “truths” were paradoxical. Just like the yin/yang symbol, every “bad” thing had a kernel of “good”, and vice versa. Soldiers were the best dancers. War was fought to claim peace. Beaches were an excellent spot for the army to provision itself for a long drive North.
For me, good and bad have never returned to being bipolar realities. Instead they exist on a continuum which spirals like a helix. The tranquility of Kibbutz Hanita grew from a seed of a pogrom in Russia, which in turn somehow led to the massacres at Sabra and Shatila.
There are no straight lines and no easy answers. I will always treasure my memory of the dancing soldiers and all that it taught me.
Feature image used under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike generic license 2.0. Image by the IDF.