The sun is shining, blue skies smile at us with a comforting touch of heaven. The remaining birds that haven’t dropped out of the sky poisoned by pesticides, play a delightful symphony. Sounds like the beginning of a novel? Well, not quite, just a true short story. Suddenly we hear machinegun fire in the distance, no need to take shelter it’s too far away by the sound of it. Is the army practising or is it a skirmish with the PLO? We are unable to distinguish this over the distance. Should it approach we would reach for the M16s and Uzis kept on the tractor. Soon the guns fall silent and we feel blessed with the perfect day, picking apples in the fields of Kibbutz Manara in northern Israel in September 1979. Manara and its plantations lie directly adjacent to Lebanon, fenced by wire mesh, topped with razor and electric wire paralleled by a strip of sand, raked daily to reveal footprints, (if an attempted crossing was made) then a few metres of no man’s land followed by another fence on the Lebanese side. Quite regularly some of us volunteers (guest workers) would grab a bottle of cheap wine (all we could afford), and share it with the border post soldiers on guard duty, sitting at the sand bag wall, machine gun positioned on top, overlooking southern Lebanon at sunset, effortlessly transcending into a surrealistic realm words cannot describe. Occasionally, a biblically clothed shepherd of advanced years would herd his sheep up the slopes of Lebanon, right up to the fence, for a casual chat. We exchange “As-Salaam- Alaikum”, “Wa-Alaikum- Salaam”. The soldiers converse with him in Arabic and act as interpreters for us, in total absence of any vibe of conflict. Here I should mention: I have experienced this sort of thing and more on numerous occasions, it happens at ‘people level’ all over the Middle East and I believe this would become the norm if the world’s power mongers and war profiteers kept their noses out of Middle Eastern affairs. Back to the beautiful day in the apple plantations, where the terrain is hilly and ‘no man’s land’ wider, thirty metres at a guess. Nature has decorated this part of the neutral zone with a growth of low vegetation. From the strategic view point atop an apple tree I spot some delicious looking berries on a small bush about halfway between Israel and Lebanon. Appled out and unable to resist temptation for a change in diet, I tell ‘John the American’ of my discovery, who enthusiastically agrees to join me in the harvest. Practicing an old technique we were competent in, where one lifts the bottom of the fence enough for the other one to crawl underneath and then returns the favour, we transgress into no man’s land, ‘picking berries’. Harvest over, we return. This time I slide on my back trying not to lose or squash the precious produce wrapped in my pulled up t-shirt, resting safely on my stomach. Later at dusk, back in the Kibbutz and after dinner, a group of us hangs around outside a house for the usual evening session of music and cheap booze, when John and I, proud of our accomplished mission, decide to share the berries with the others. Curiosity overcomes one of the Israelis, who inquires where we got them from, so we humorously tell him: “the other side, in no man’s land”. “You bloody idiots” comes his reply along with a disbelieving head shake” don’t you know there are land mines in there?”

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