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Caught in the line of fire


First-hand experience of the ethnic divide
Uri Avnery Social activist
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Immigrants is not the right word. They were volunteers. Volunteers in the true sense of the word. Today forget it. From Morocco, Tunisia. Not Algerians, Algerians went to France. Iraqis and Turks. In all I had a large class of some 15 people. They told me, 'Train them, because any day you might leave with them for the front'. All well and good, but I didn't have any common language with these people. Literally. They didn't speak Hebrew. They were true volunteers. They had left their families in their countries of origin and had come to fight. They were called gahal, foreign recruits. The ones who came from America or Europe were called MaChal: volenteers from abroad. I was exposed to the ethnic problem long before everyone else. That was my first encounter with the problem. As I mentioned, in my squadron there were many men from what was then called 'oriental' neighbourhoods, but they were veterans in Israel. This was something completely different. And the Sephardic Jews were, in general, the richest people in the country. We were poor compared with the Sephardi. Carrasso, Mataraso, Moghrabi, Recanati – these were Israel's wealthy inhabitants before the war. Why? What was the reason for their wealth? Until the 1940s, wealth was land, only land. And who had land? They did. Only after World War II did industry begin to grow and people began to accumulate riches of another kind. People came here totally 'new', they didn't know a word of Hebrew. You trained people – you had to tell them: 'a grenade has a higher trajectory and a sharp dropping angle'. How do you explain this?  There was one of the Moroccans who knew English. I said it in English and he translated into French. Most of them spoke French and among the Turks were one or two who knew French, and that's how it went for every sentence. I really connected with these people. I really liked them, although they could be truly annoying. They had a value system that was entirely different from ours. Honour was hugely important to them, which helped us greatly. So you couldn't call them 'son of a bitch' but overall we got along very well.


"עולים" זו לא המילה הנכונה. אלה היו מתנדבים. מתנדבים במובן האמיתי של המילה. היום שוכחים את זה. ממרוקו, מתוניסיה. אלג'ירים לא היו. אלג'ירים הלכו לצרפת. עיראקים וטורקים. סך הכל כיתה גדולה של איזה 15.איש שקיבלתי. אמרו לי: "תאמן אותם, מפני שאתה כל יום יכול לצאת אתם לחזית". הכל טוב ויפה, לא הייתה לי שום שפה משותפת עם האנשים האלה. מילולית. הם לא ידעו עברית. הם היו מתנדבים אמיתיים. השאירו את המשפחות שלהם בארצות מוצאם ובאו בשביל להילחם. אבל הם נקראו גח”ל, גיוס חוץ לארץ, בעוד שלאלה שבאו מאמריקה או מאירופה קראו מח”ל, מתנדבי חוץ לארץ. ואני נחשפתי לבעיה העדתית הרבה לפני כל האחרים. זאת הייתה ההיתקלות הראשונה שלי עם הבעיה. כאמור, בפלוגה שלי היו בני שכונות רבים של מה שנקרא אז "עדות המזרח", אבל הם היו ותיקים בארץ. זה היה משהו לגמרי אחר. והספרדים בכלל היו עשירי הארץ. אנחנו היינו עניים בהשוואה לספרדים. קראסו, מטראסו, מוגרבי, רקנאטי – אלה היו עשירי הארץ לפני המלחמה. למה? מפני שמה זה היה עושר? עד לשנות ה-40' עושר היה קרקע, רק קרקע. למי היה קרקע? להם. רק ממלחמת העולם התחילה לצמוח תעשייה והתחיל להצטבר עושר מסוג אחר. פה באו אנשים לגמרי חדשים, לא ידעו אף מילה אחת עברית. אתה מדריך אנשים, אתה אומר להם "רימון-יד יש לו מסלול תעופה גבוה וזווית ירידה חדה”. איך אתה מסביר את זה? אז היה אחד,


מהמרוקאים ידע אנגלית. אני אמרתי את זה באנגלית, הוא תרגם את זה לצרפתית. רובם דיברו צרפתית. ובין הטורקים היה אחד או שניים שידע צרפתית, וככה כל משפט הלך. אני מאוד התקשרתי לאנשים האלה, מאוד מצאו חן בעיניי. למרות שהם יכלו לעצבן לאללה. היה להם סולם ערכים לחלוטין שונה משלנו. הכבוד היה מאוד-מאוד-מאוד חשוב להם, שזה עזר לנו לגמרי. "בן זונה"? אז "בן זונה",  לא יכולת להגיד להם…  וכו’. אבל בסך הכל הסתדרנו מאוד יפה.‏

Uri Avnery (1923-2018) was an Israeli writer, journalist and founder of the Gush Shalom peace movement. As a teenager, he joined the Zionist paramilitary group, Irgun. Later, Avnery was elected to the Knesset from 1965 to 1974 and from 1979 to 1981. He was also the editor-in-chief of the weekly news magazine, 'HaOlam HaZeh' from 1950 until it closed in 1993. He famously crossed the lines during the Siege of Beirut to meet Yasser Arafat on 3 July 1982, the first time the Palestinian leader ever met with an Israeli. Avnery was the author of several books about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, including '1948: A Soldier's Tale, the Bloody Road to Jerusalem' (2008); 'Israel's Vicious Circle' (2008); and 'My Friend, the Enemy' (1986).

Listeners: Anat Saragusti

Anat Saragusti is a film-maker, book editor and a freelance journalist and writer. She was a senior staff member at the weekly news magazine Ha'olam Hazeh, where she was prominent in covering major events in Israel. Uri Avnery was the publisher and chief editor of the Magazine, and Saragusti worked closely with him for over a decade. With the closing of Ha'olam Hazeh in 1993, Anat Saragusti joined the group that established TV Channel 2 News Company and was appointed as its reporter in Gaza. She later became the chief editor of the evening news bulletin. Concurrently, she studied law and gained a Master's degree from Tel Aviv University.

Tags: volunteer, foreign recruits, squadron, veterans, Sephardi, Moroccan, translation

Duration: 3 minutes, 45 seconds

Date story recorded: October 2015

Date story went live: 10 March 2017