Thirty-one years ago, on the heels of a European backpacking odyssey, I spent a month on an Israeli kibbutz (commune) in the upper Golan near the town of Kiryat Shmona. Kiryat Shmona is on the evening news all too often: It gets shelled daily by indiscriminate mortars and Katusha rockets.
Kibbutzim, a.k.a. "settlements" in the media vernacular, are agricultural or small industrial Jewish villages, settled and operated by some of the toughest men and women I've met, sabras (thorns).
Early Jews tamed the land-the deserts and the swamps-and made them blossom. The Arabs dissented. Claimed the lands Israel confiscated after Arab-precipitated aggressions belong to Arabs.
One evening as I enjoyed the company of my host kibbutzniks, soaking up a star-filled night on the grassy knoll behind the cafeteria, I commented on the thunder boomer flashing in the northern sky. The kibbutz had its lights shut off, the result of unfriendly, unwelcome "incoming" and the light show immediately to our north was spectacular. Several of the kids I was talking to snickered.
Finally, a young lady broke the silence, "That's artillery." "Oh?" I replied.
Pointing, she said, "That's Lebanon."
It was 1978, and Israel was between the 1973-74 Yom Kippur War and the 1982 War, embroiled in fierce fighting in southern Lebanon against the PLO for the non-stop shelling of its cities.
Then I began to see the jigsaw pieces coming together. The kibbutz had several bomb shelters; loose ammo-9mm and .223-could be found in drawers throughout the kibbutz; an obsolete tank hull, stripped of its armaments was a playground kids' toy near where we sat on the grassy hillside. And each day, military convoys could be seen heading north with tanks and armored personnel carriers (Zeldas) as truckloads of armaments-tons upon tons of small arms taken, "retrieved" from Lebanese basements were headed south to augment Israeli armories. Israel secured hundreds of thousands of rifles that way.
And perhaps in one or two of those trucks was a crate of Swedish-designed Hakim Rifles.
The Hakim Rifle is a gas-operated semi-autoloader sold to Egypt during the 1950s and 1960s. The Egyptians later bought the Hakim's tooling and design and made it at their Maadi factory.
This rifle draws inspiration from U.S., Russian and French gun designs. It is chambered for 8x57mm (i.e., 8mm Mauser) and fires a 192-grain bullet from 10-round removable magazines.
On the business end of the Hakim, operators attached the Hakim Bayonet, one resembling the Swedish 1896 Mauser, with an 8 1/4-inch double-edged blade, wooden handle and muzzle ring.
Next time you visit the Holy Land, check out the rifles carried by Israeli soldiers (just not too closely). It's possible one of those assault rifles was booty retrieved by Israel from Lebanon in 1978.
War-or the threat of it-is a constant in the Jewish State. Shalom and Salaam.