A Kid with a Guitar on the Eve of War

Rewinding the reel of memories in my imagination, 45 years back. The time is the end of May 1967. Around the state of Israel, not yet twenty years old, clouds of war are gathering again. This is the middle of what was later termed ‘the waiting period’ that preceded the Six Days War. Egypt’s president, colonel Nasser, had closed the Strait of Tiran on the Red Sea, and is streaming large military forces into the Sinai. The Syrians and Jordanians are also gearing up for war, backed politically and militarily by several other countries. In Israel there is tense stillness. And apprehension.

I am not yet 14. I go to school in the morning and discover that alongside the tree lined road leading from the highway into our village, on the dirt track used by the tractors on their way to the farms’ fields, a long convoy of heavy fuel tankers appeared overnight. They are parked in a long line, nose to tail. Near an old building at the end of the road the drivers are gathered to drink coffee, tell stories and try and guess what is about to happen during this hot summer.

The residents of the village get organised quickly, as the people of Israel do when the sword is on the throat. Each family invites two drivers home for dinner. My parents get busy in the kitchen and prepare a large table loaded with good food. Two large built men, with thick moustaches and sun bleached forelocks of hair, kibbutznicks from the upper Galilee in their forties, appear at the door, with towels and wash bags. After a hot shower they sit down for dinner with our family. They tell us about the Independence War and the Sinai campaign. They inspire confidence. They believe that all will be well, that we will stand up to them, and that we have been through worse before. The conversation around the table flows and morale is improving dramatically.

The days get longer. The convoy is still parked in the shade of the trees. I adopt the bunch of drivers. Go down to them every evening after school, bringing with me my simple little guitar and trying to arrange some sing along for them. One of the drivers that visited our house, the one with the blond moustache, gathers his friends in a typical style: “Yalla, Khevre, there is a boy here with a will and a guitar, more will than a guitar. Come along and sing.” And the drivers gather. Lighting a campfire is out of the question – the huge quantities of fuel around us preclude that. One of the drivers toys with a lighter and an insect repellent spray and shoots a small flame into the air. He gets a sharp rebuke from the others. Night falls and we sing every song I, or they, can think of. If I don’t know the chords I turn the guitar around and drum on its back side.

A few more days pass. I get up in the morning, go down to the road on my way to school and discover that it is empty and deserted. As it appeared suddenly during that night, so did the convoy of fuel takers left last night with no warning, on its way to the front. Something is about to happen soon, it is clear. Farewell, dear kibbutznicks from the upper Galilee, with your overgrown bodies, moustaches and hair, the sons of the men of ‘HaShomer’ defence organisation. Salt of the earth. Take care and return safely.

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