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Legend that was Elisha Linn

A group of overseas students studying Arabic at Givat Haviva meet Elisha Linn

Elisha Linn, who died recently, was one of the firstborn members of my kibbutz, Mishmar Ha'Emek, founded 91 years ago by Polish pioneers who drained swamps, planted forests, and broke rocks with sledgehammers in order to build the main road across the Jezreel Valley upon which the kibbutz is situated. Judging by photographs found in our archives the women also swung a mean sledgehammer.

More than two decades later, the pioneers of the Hashomer Hatzair kibbutz were to stand alongside their own kibbutz-born children to defend their homes. In April 1948, a ferocious 10-day battle raged around the kibbutz with mortar bombs raining down from the Yarmouk battalion of the Arab Liberation Army perched on the Menashe Hills. The battalion, commanded by Beirut-born Fawzi al-Qawuqji, was intent on taking the kibbutz and then marching triumphantly to do the same in Haifa. They failed, however, to achieve their goal and retreated.

Elisha, a storyteller par excellence and somewhat of a local historian, was 87 years old when he died recently. Until a couple of weeks before his death, when he tragically fell in the shower, he was still in fine fettle, holding audience during every lunch in the kibbutz communal dining room. A small cadre of groupies would eat their dinner at his table, hearing more stories from the past – and sometimes the same stories again and again - stored in Elisha's phenomenal memory. Elisha provided food for thought. Those thoughts of substance have been passed on by avid listeners, one, a 50 year-old kibbutz -born member, recently published a Hebrew-language book based on many of Elisha's recollections.

"Elisha taught me so much and he died far too soon as I still had a lot to learn from him," commented Doron Shoham at Elisha's funeral in the kibbutz cemetery.

Elisha, a great-grandfather, had a daughter, four sons, and seventeen grandchildren. He was a handsome man with a shock of grey-white hair, bright clear blues eyes that had a permanent twinkle, and a smile that wobbled the hearts of young ladies – and older ones too I might add.

A few months ago, Elisha met with a group of overseas students studying Arabic at Givat Haviva. As a staff member of the MASA-Givat Haviva Intensive Arabic Semester, I invited the students to spend a day at Mishmar HaEmek to learn the history of the kibbutz movement and its relations with neighboring Arab communities prior to 1948. Before that, four Arab Muslim villages surrounded the kibbutz on three sides, with the main road on one, and a valley on the other. I had invited Elisha to come and chat with the American, Australian, and British students – some Jewish, some not – tackling the difficult language and different narratives of the Israeli-Arab conflict. Elisha spoke fluent Arabic, learned as a child from interaction with children in the villages across the way, as he worked closely with Arab contractors and construction workers on kibbutz building projects before the War of Independence. Since his retirement, he could often be seen speaking with Druze and Bedouin employed in various branches of the kibbutz, including the kibbutz industry, where he worked a few hours a day. My students quickly fell under Elisha's spell. He recounted the early days of the kibbutz; stories heard from his pioneer parents, from his education in the kibbutz children's houses and high school and, of course, about the famous battle with Fawzi al-Qawuqji's soldiers in 1948, and of the men, women and children killed in that battle which had left Elisha seriously wounded. 

Local historian ... Elisha Linn telling stories of the past

"Just before the fighting began, I was near the fence surrounding the kibbutz and some of my Arab friends from Abu Shusha called me over. We had a short conversation and as I was moving away, I heard more voices but didn't see who they were. Than a shot rang out and a bullet entered just under my chin and came out here," he told them, pointing to a scar under his jawbone and another above his eye. "Did one of your friends shoot you?" asked one of the students. "I don't believe it was one of them," he replied, and went on to explain how, after the Six Day War (1967), he went to the West Bank town of Jenin – a short drive from his kibbutz – to look for Abu Duab, one of his closest Abu Shusha friends, and eventually found him in a refugee camp. But that's another and rather long story.

I have been involved in peace education/conflict resolution for many years but on many occasions, Elisha told me that he thought I was naïve. Just a few weeks before his death he said that he didn't believe there would ever be peace with the Palestinians because they would always be seeking revenge for the past. My last comment to Elisha was that I hoped he lived long enough to take his words back. He laughed.

"Meideleh, how can you still be so naïve - but we need to talk some more," he said. Sadly, we never did.

So many will miss the larger-than-life, salt of the earth Sabra who became much sought after walking, talking history book and a colorful part of the kibbutz scenery, in and out of the dining room. 

Music man: Elisha Linn strumming on a guitar

During the course of my work, I met and befriended a West Bank Palestinian high school mistress. After many years, during which time she assumed that I lived at Givat Haviva and I assumed that she was born in that particular village, we discovered the Elisha – Abu Duab connection: She had been born and brought up in Jenin and Abu Duab was her father. A few years ago, she tearfully asked me to let Elisha know that her father had died in Jenin. When I told him the sad news, he was very upset. I now have to tell the daughter of Abu Duab – whom she told me used to call Elisha his brother, and whom it seems was a storyteller on par with his childhood kibbutznik friend - that Elisha is also no longer with us. I already know how upset she is going to be. May Abu Duab and Elisha Linn rest in peace, buried a short distance from each other in the Jezreel Valley – the Palestinian in Jenin, Elisha Linn in Mishmar HaEmek – the 1949 Armistice Line and an electronic security fence between them. 

 

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Friday, 26 February 2021

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