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WESTERN GALILEE, ISRAEL -- At about dawn yesterday, with most American students huddled in one room around the radio with good reception, the BBC informed us that the Israeli government had instructed all citizens to open their gas masks and go into rooms that were sealed against noxious chemicals. Even the calmest of us were shaken. All at once, we jumped up from the ground -- where most were seated wrapped in blankets -- searched for our masks, and ran into the cellophane-tape-sealed rooms. Most American students on this collective farm outside of Haifa were asleep when U.S. and allied war planes made their first raid into Iraq yesterday morning. Like most of the young adults at the Beit Haemek kibbutz, we had been up late into the night Wednesday dancing and drinking at the kibbutz's small pub, and were taking a much-needed rest before the morning's work in the hatchery, kitchen and banana fields. I woke up with a start at 4:30 a.m. when someone knocked at my door. I answered it and was told that the war had started -- work was cancelled for the day and all students were supposed to stay in their rooms. The news spread quickly among the 13 American students in our group, and soon most of us had gathered in one room to listen to the radio. Some of us occasionally dozed off, while others paced nervously or ate until the chemical warfare warning came in. We had received the gas masks only on Wednesday, with explicit instructions not to open them. They were sealed in a small cardboard box along with a self-injecting syringe of nerve gas antidote and a container of decontaminating powder. The boxes were marked with our names and had rubber carrying straps. Citizens here were issued the masks only Wednesday because the kibbutz is in a rural area and is considered relatively safe. City dwellers have had the masks for months. None of us really expected a gas attack, but we felt better with the little brown boxes at our side. A few of us went to my room to listen for further instuctions on the Israeli army radio station, and when none came, we managed to fall back asleep. Another knock at the door came an hour later. This time the news was a little less shocking -- breakfast was ready in a nearby room with a television. The communal dining room was closed to reduce the number of people who would be in the same place at the same time. We were watching CNN clips with Hebrew dubbing while we ate the toast, avacadoes and tomatoes that make up a typical kibbutz breakfast when the head of Hebrew studies came in to tell us that since we weren't working, we would study today. We went to class carrying our gas masks, and suprisingly, yesterday continued in an almost normal fashion. The local children were kept home from school today so they wouldn't have to travel off the kibbutz. Only the most essential jobs like milking cows are being done, and the whole place remains very quiet. Although members of the kibbutz are anxious about the thought of an attack, they are calm. They know that this settlement is too small and too remote to be a target, even if an Iraqi attack does come. The 42-year-old collective farm has withstood six wars, and its members seem to be prepared to handle whatever comes. For the moment, with almost none of the men here called up for active duty, kibbutz members are content to stay at home and listen to the news, confident in the ability of the well-trained Israeli airforce. It's raining now, which encourages members since gas is relatively ineffective in the rain. We Americans are sitting in our rooms, waiting for daybreak in our home towns so we can call our worried parents and tell them that everything is all right.

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