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Briv funem arkhiv: “Arabs Make Peace… With the Khalutsim of Liepaja”

Sam Glauber-Zimra

While skimming 1938 issues of the illustrated Yiddish newspaper Idishe bilder, I came across an intriguing headline that caught my eye: “Arabs Make Peace… With the Khalutsim of Liepaja.” The writer Moyshele Vulfart describes the visit of two Arab men from Palestine to a kibbutz hakhshara, a preparation kibbutz, in Liepaja, Latvia, accompanied by a photograph. Such preparation kibbutzim were common in Europe in the 1930s, as young Zionist pioneers sought to acquire the training that would prepare them for life in Palestine and possibly provide them with an exit ticket out of a Europe that seemed cascading toward further conflagration. The surreal scene comes against the backdrop of the 1936–1939 Arab Revolt in Palestine.

The young pioneers, Vulfart writes, were in the midst of dancing the hoyra, when “two dark figures with colorful fezzes on their heads” appeared and sang along “with great fervor and devotion.” The two men, Ali and Muhammad, announce themselves as visitors from Palestine. After exchanging pleasantries, Vulfart reported, the pioneers asked the men about the latest happenings in Palestine. While it was not uncommon for such reports to be conveyed by comrades on return visits from Palestine, in this instance the message-bearers were not Jewish pioneers, but Palestinian men presumably on the other side of the conflict. The men—perhaps unsurprisingly given the Zionist standpoint of Idishe bilder—convey standard Zionist talking points, noting that Jews and Arabs had lived peacefully side-by-side for centuries until the British stirred up conflict, and that the immigration quotas put in place by the latter were enacted for their own profit. Responsibility for the conflict, in other words, lay solely with the British.

As the young pioneers return to their labor, they were reported to bid their new friends farewell in Hebrew: “Shalom, see you in the Land [of Israel].”

Turning my attention to the photograph, I discern dozens of young faces squinting at the camera. In the middle, marked with X’s, are the two Palestinian men. I am struck by the men’s body language. Ali, on the right, appears uncomfortable, standing awkwardly with a cigarette in hand. Muhammad, by contrast, looks assured as he poses arm in arm with the smiling Jewish women on either side of him.

What was the fate of the aspiring pioneers in this photograph—some grinning, but most looking quite serious? Did any of them succeed in migrating to Palestine prior to the outbreak of World War II, or did the legal obstacles put in place by the British hinder them? Did any of those who remained in Liepaja survive the destruction that reached Latvia in 1941? (Vulfart, we know, was murdered by the Nazis in 1941.) Such questions often come to mind when viewing photos of young Eastern European Jews taken in the years immediately prior to World War II. Yet the image prompts other questions, as well. What about the young khalutsim’s “Arab guests”? What brought them to the grounds of the Latvian preparation kibbutz? Were they displaced from their homes with the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948? Where do their descendants now live?

All that remains is the photograph, taken, Vulfart writes, “to immortalize the peace between Jews and Arabs on the territory of Latvia.”

MLA STYLE
Glauber-Zimra, Sam. “Briv funem arkhiv: “Arabs Make Peace… With the Khalutsim of Liepaja”.” In geveb, November 2021: https://ingeveb.org/blog/briv-khalutsim-of-liepaja.
CHICAGO STYLE
Glauber-Zimra, Sam. “Briv funem arkhiv: “Arabs Make Peace… With the Khalutsim of Liepaja”.” In geveb (November 2021): Accessed Nov 29, 2021.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Sam Glauber-Zimra

Sam Glauber-Zimra is a PhD candidate in the Goldstein-Goren Department of Jewish Thought at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev.