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If you like Ehud Barak's story, you might also like:
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George Mitchell,
Shimon Peres,
David Petraeus,
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Teachers can find prepared lesson plans featuring Ehud Barak in the Achievement Curriculum section:
Global Conflicts

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Ehud Barak
Ehud Barak
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Ehud Barak Interview

Former Prime Minister of Israel

May 4, 2001
San Antonio, Texas

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  Ehud Barak

You were born on a kibbutz. Tell us something about life growing up on a kibbutz in Israel.

Ehud Barak: It was kind of a communal farm, where some 60 families were living together, supposedly according to a principle that everyone should give according to his skills and get according to his needs, but with a very modest interpretation of human needs.

In present terms it would be called poverty but we never felt this way. You know, my parents had a residence which was a room of 12 by nine foot, no running water, no toilets. The whole commune was dining collectively in one big room that was called the dining room. And even the bath where you could take a shower was some collective installation. Two of them, of course, for males and females, but that was the only kind of differentiation. And the -- you might say long hard working week, from early dawn to sunset. We, the kids, were raised from age of zero in kind of collective dormitories apart from our parents, but still I recall it as a kind of -- I must say happy--kind of happy warm childhood. We felt that -- I at least, was kind of lucky to get a lot of warm care, kind of --not just nurturing but in a way coaching by my parents in the four or five hours a day, high quality time, the five or -- four or five hours that we spent together every day. And, you know, I was there for 18 years and a few years into my adult life but I still remember it very warm. It was remote, far isolated, small, tough conditions, but somehow we felt a part of the emerging nation of Israel, part of the Jewish world, part of the world as a whole. We had a small radio. We listened to everything that happened around the world as kids, as young kids, and somehow our parents gave us the feeling of being both well taken care of young individuals and part of something wider than we as individuals are.

Did you also live with a feeling of danger?

Ehud Barak: Not at the time of my childhood.

I was born in the middle of World War II. Rommel divisions were at the gate of Egypt and there was for some times a real feel that he will take over the Middle East from the British. This was about the time that the parents of my mother were taken to Treblinka, not that we knew it at the time. The parents of my father were murdered in a pogrom before the first World War when he was two-and-a-half years old so I never knew my grandparents.

In retrospect I should have grown up in an unconfident kind of environment, but this was not the case.

I was eight years-and-a-half when the State of Israel was established and I still remember the evening, the counting of votes at Lake Success, and the eruption of kind of emotions immediately afterwards from all around the kibbutz. All the kibbutz practically went around a campfire and danced to the morning, and by the morning we were at war. And at a certain point we could hear the motors of the Iraqi unit that came and almost cut Israel into two. We were three or four miles from the seashore at the very narrowest part of Israel. And we at one morning could hear the mortars but I didn't recall a sense of fear all along these years. We became aware of the price where one member of the kibbutz was fallen during the war and later on when I was a youngster and elderly youngsters in the kibbutz joined the army and one of them was killed, but basically I don't remember fear. Maybe the close climate around us kind of isolated us and maybe my parents or our parents deliberately isolated us from the fears of life at this early stage.

Ehud Barak Interview Photo
I remember it as something very warm, kind of supportive and encouraging. I remember my father taught me everything, how to play chess, how to climb a tree. Always, whenever I looked, I knew that his hand somehow was behind me, to make sure that I would not fall, or at least not fall from too high a part of the ladder.

What kind of student were you as a young man?

Ehud Barak: I was shy, small sized, almost tiny, always behind the wave of coming to maturity. I joined the school at the age of five plus a few months. I was a shy, introverted boy, totally not in tune with the rest of the group. We were a very small group as a result of the size of the commune, but out of 13 or 14 boys and girls in the class, I was a little bit strange when I look at it in hindsight.

I never played basketball. In fact, until the age of 12, I couldn't throw the ball so it will reach the basket. The girls in my class, most of them, were running the 60-yard track faster than me. I tried once to play soccer but ended up in the defense kicking the knees of the other side rather than the ball, not deliberately but -- So I concentrated on reading. I read a lot. I played the piano.

I found my own way. I picked locks. I was highly interested in mechanics, in fine mechanics, understanding how things work. I was very clumsy in the big motoric movements and very accurate in the delicate ones. Nothing to predict a future decorated soldier or general or leader.

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This page last revised on Sep 22, 2010 14:42 EDT
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