In the first of its nine numbered sections, the story begins with a depiction of the northern flight, sanctioned by Israeli military authorities, of Bedouin Arabs from a famine in the drought-ravaged south to a kibbutz and of the appearance and behavior of the Bedouins, their flocks, and their camels. Typical encounters between the Bedouins and kibbutzniks (residents) are described, along with the eerie nocturnal Bedouin music and the baying of their dogs—all of which unsettles the kibbutzniks and their own dogs.
The story then describes animal diseases and crop losses from the Bedouins’ flocks and an “epidemic” of petty thefts by Bedouins in the kibbutz. There is some physical retaliation by young kibbutzniks and an administrative confrontation between Etkin, the secretary of the kibbutz, and the elderly leader of the Bedouins. However, the meeting is unsatisfactory because the Bedouin leader admits his people’s responsibility for only a fraction of the damage. After the Bedouins leave, Etkin coolly ignores the personal insults of the younger generation kibbutzniks and humanely argues against their retaliating against the Bedouins. However, he agrees to a vote of the secretariat, whose meeting he urges Geulah, a twenty-nine-year-old resident, to attend, asking her to bring a pot of her celebrated coffee and a lot of good will.
Geulah, irritable after being awakened from sleep by Etkin, is wandering around outside on a hot, humid night. She is short, energetic, and pretty from a distance but has acne. She makes coffee and cookies for gatherings and once had a relationship with the narrator, a writer and member of the secretariat. During their relationship, she often strolled with him to the orchard, mercilessly criticized his stories, and dropped flirtatious hints. Now, the...
(The entire section is 741 words.)