Be Careful What You Dig For

"It's not always a good idea to play in the dirt and light a fire," Moshe Abramowitz advised his granddaughter. May Abramowitz, a twelfth-grader at Kibbutz Gazit, understood - and not for the first time - that there was something under the ground, something that no one talked about and that she would really like to uncover. But May worries that it may be something best left untouched.

May recently finished making the short film "Under the Earth" for a media class at the Emekim-Tavor high school on Kibbutz Mizra. She edited the movie with a another friend from Kibbutz Gazit, Neta Tsoref.

The pair, born on Gazit - which belongs to the staunchly leftist Kibbutz Artzi movement - tell of growing up with a sort of local legend that the kibbutz, located at the foot of Mount Tavor, had weapons stashes. "It's in the air, but no one actually talks about it," said Abramowitz.

They said they did not know why the caches were created. "We knew there was a defense connection, but it wasn't [for use] against the British, because the kibbutz was only established in 1950," said Tsoref.

Abramowitz and Tsoref discovered that some veteran residents of the kibbutz who are still around had been in on the secret of establishing the caches. They also discovered that a 57-year-old oath keeps them silent. The teens tried for months to find out what was behind the story, but could not break through the wall of silence built by the kibbutz founders, and were even pressured to stop researching the matter. One kibbutz member told them that "if you hurt them [those who know the secret], it will be on your conscience your entire life."

"I don't know" was the stock answer the teens got time after time. But in one interview, a kibbutz old-timer asked them: "Do you want me to go to jail?"

"We did something we should never have done," he added. "The purpose was political. We built weapons caches in case we had to fight - and not against the Arabs. And I cannot talk about that."

When the girls realized that the caches were political, they stopped their research. It was sensitive material, and people feared damaging the kibbutz's good name. "We felt as if people were angry with us, as if they were looking at us and talking about us. We believed we had taken on too great a responsibility and that we could really hurt the old-timers," Abramowitz said.

Dvora Shechner, a historian and kibbutz founder, was the only one who agreed to help them. Her late husband, Gabriel Shechner, was among the builders of the cache. According to Dvora, another three or four members worked with him; the rest knew nothing. "My husband only told me about it many years later," she said. "Apparently, there were a few rifles there."

Shechner tried to put it in context. "You have to understand the kibbutzim of the time. The Artzi kibbutzim were not high on the young state's priority list. Some worried that if war broke out and we were attacked, we would not get help and would be left on our own."

That was the period of the Korean War, she explained, and Gazit was pro-Communist.

In 1952, Gazit members decided to swear allegiance to the state and retreat from the pro-Communist spirit that led to the caches' construction. This included expelling 22 members who were followers of Israel Communist Party founder Moshe Sneh. "They believed our only friend was the Soviet Union and that ahead of World War III, it was important to put socialism above Zionism," Shechner explained.

Shechner thinks the caches should be spoken about. "It is important to admit mistakes," she said. "I would like the youth to be critical, to know how to make distinctions. Nonetheless, I understand those who keep the secret: It is the secret of their youth."

It has been 57 years since the kibbutz's establishment, and the ideological fires died out a long time ago. Only a few old-timers still cling to their strict orders and keep the location of the caches secret.

"The more progress we made, the more we understood that there was nothing to hide and that everything should be open and revealed," said Tsoref. "However, we also understood concerns about damage to the kibbutz's reputation."

Their great fear is of hurting the people interviewed in the movie. "It is important to us that they know we made the movie out of great respect for them. There is no criticism here," stressed Abramowitz.