WESTERN GALILEE, ISRAEL -- Even with Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's promise to attack Israel in a Persian Gulf war, students and local residents at this collective farm just outside of Haifa remained calm thoughout last week's diplomatic failures but are preparing for the possibility of an outbreak of hostilities. Most members of Beit HaEmek kibbutz, in the northern Israel, said last week that they felt confident, that they are not in immediate danger, and that they will be protected by the Israeli army. Several locals have planned parties for today, making light of the United Nations' deadline that is being watched by the rest of the world. But the 14 U.S. students here as part of a Haifa University program said they were a little less confident in their security. Many spent last week cleaning bomb shelters, getting gas masks, and watching Israeli fighters fly low overhead. The students -- volunteers working on Israeli kibbutzes, studying Hebrew, and taking classes for a semester -- decided to remain here despite the exodus of many of their collegues and a strongly worded recommendation from the U.S. State Department to return stateside. The program normally attracts about 60 students. Some Israelis have questioned the judgment of the American students for putting themselves in the middle of an unstable situation. Two students said they were shocked when kibbutz members asked why they have not left the country. Those few who have stayed have been reexamining the reasons for coming to the region. There have been reassurances. An Israeli radio broadcast last week thanked all volunteers who have chosen to remain in the country, saying that only the best, most dedicated had stayed. The students at Beit HaEmek heard the broadcast while they were working in the banana field. One of the students who spoke Hebrew translated the news. "They said we're the best," she said smiling. But the rhythm of their new lives here at the kibbutz has been constantly interrupted. In the first of such interruptions, several students last week were assigned the job of cleaning the collective farm's bomb shelters. Although they were told the chore is done monthly, the shelters appeared in disarray, leading many to believe that the work is less than routine and raising concerns about personal safety in the coming weeks. Last week's Israeli government decision to distribute gas masks to rural areas heigtened fears among students and residents alike in this farming community. Some students asked if they needed to carry the masks at all times but were told it was not necessary. The roar of low-flying jets heading north for the Lebanese border, which is only 10 miles away, sent a shudder through a work group trimming banana trees last week. Their heads turned skyward, frightened by the closeness of the war machinery and by the possiblity of war itself. Amy Schumann, a Boston University junior from Connecticut, said that while she does not feel that she is in jeopardy, she would not hesitate to leave if her father asked her to come home. But others said they would stay even if parents told them to return to the U.S. "[This] is a statement that I support Israel while other people don't," said Todd Golub, a junior at the University of Delaware. And Boston University freshman Efrat Livini said she would rather be in Israel when it needs support than in the U.S. "I have more fear of living with regrets than of losing my life," she said. Despite their joking, the kibbutz members may also be afraid. Anna Perelman of Long Island, New York, said she thinks the insulated nature of the collective farms has given residents a false sense of security, which they will eventually lose. "They grow up in this bubble, so they think nothing can touch them," she said. "Now they're scared because someting is going to touch them." Alvin Johnson, a Wesleyan junior, contributed to this article.Comments powered by Disqus
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