8,019 sq miles of Israel, surrounded by 5,070,420 sq miles of Arab World is a dream for the discriminated Jewish people who are around 1% of the world population as compared to the 24% of the Islamic population.
The numbers are significant to start with in order to understand the threats and security issues in the Middle East or say to understand whose existence is jeopardized more.Israel is a romanticized story of a nation beyond discrimination; a safe haven specifically for Jews whose ancestors were brutally massacred and are still a victim of antisemitism.
The movement of Zionism roughly started in the 19th century by the secular jews in response to the anti-Semitism emerging in Europe. The land of Israel or Eretz Israel was imagined as a ‘home’ for this smaller section of the globe who never had a state of their own.
The sentiments of Israelis with the nation can only be understood once you visit the country and listen to the stories of their great grandfathers being killed, cousins being separated or them being looked down upon in other countries.
The international media would narrate just one side of the story, however, what it means to exist and survive can only be felt if they talk to people of the country. Most of the journalists siding with a particular ideology often ignore the history, numbers, and hard facts, presenting the scenario with the veil of human rights of ‘just’ Muslims.
However, a separate article would be appropriate to discuss the history of attacks and the importance of numbers in the security of any nation. This article deals with the highly misunderstood but a beautiful dream of Israel.
The moment you enter a Kibbutz, you would smell socialism in the air, without needing to read any theoretical text.
The 21st-century capitalism has kept us all away from nature and the very necessity of the concept – socialism, while Israel is living it. Kibbutz is a Hebrew word meaning ‘gathering/clustering’ and its plural form is Kibbutzim.
After almost a century of the onset of Zionism, the concept of Kibbutz started in 1909. After the formation of Israel in 1948, Kibbutzim played a pivotal role in the establishment of the state.
Degania was the first Kibbutz of all, also referred to as the ‘Mother of Kibbutzim’. It is a Utopian community and a beautiful combination of socialism and Zionism.
It was majorly based on farming; however other economic activities have partially replaced agriculture in modern times. It was founded by the Jews who migrated from Russian Empire. 10 men and 2 women came to the place known as Umm Juni on 28th October 1910 and as they wrote in Hebrew, later translated in English
“Our goal was to establish an independent cooperative settlement of Hebrew (more appropriately Jewish) workers on the national land. A place without exploiters and exploited – a commune.”
In a Kibbutz, everything is shared, even clothes were shared earlier, however, the modern times did not leave this commune as well from its alienating impact.
The concept of independent living and freedom has reduced the sharing culture. People born in a Kibbutz are called ‘son of kibbutz’ and are obliged to contribute to the community.People do collective farming in the area and grow all the vegetables which are shared by the families later. On Shabbats (Fridays), people eat together in a huge dining hall meant for all.
However, many from the younger generation consider moving to another Kibbutz where they won’t be considered as a son of Kibbutz, thereby liberating them from certain obligations.
Many consider moving to cities as well for a better and independent life, while the parents choose to live in the commune which can be broached as an ideal scenario for older ones at-least.
As part of my visit, a friend – Yam Palmony gave me a small tour of the place in a car which belongs to Kibbutz and can be booked online whenever it is needed.
It seems like a dream for every environmentalist, who would believe in shared resources and using just what is needed.
We then went for a Shabbat dinner (Jewish religious dinners on Fridays), where the whole community was eating together like family members.
Oh well, I should mention that the first thing I was told as I entered the house that the room provided to me is a safe room in case of rocket attacks!
Every Kibbutz has places meant to be ‘safe-rooms’ and this shows how priorities are listed when living in the Middle-East. While in any other country we would offer our guest with something to drink, here the priority is to survive.
The next day Yam’s parents took me for another short tour to Umm Juni, the place from where began the idea of Kibbutzim. It feels like living in a harmonious relationship with nature.
On the way, I could see banana plants and all sorts of vegetables, grown in the community & for the community. If visiting anywhere in Israel, one thing is certain to witness is their history and its info graphic representation.
The people are so connected with their history and almost every child would know the genesis of themselves, places, rivers, agriculture, military, borders, annexations and colonialism.
Until 2010, there were 270 Kibbutzim in Israel, and as I was told during my visit, it is around 278 by now which would soon see an increase.
Winston Churchill had said, “If a man is not a socialist by the time he is 20, he has no heart. If he is not a conservative by the time he is 40, he has no brain.” This turned out to be true in the case of Israel.
The Kibbutzim played a decisive role in shaping up the new and poor country with its socialist economy, where government and citizens were completely involved in molding the nation of their dream.
It is the similar timeline when Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels’ socialism was seen as opposition of capitalism. The issue of limited natural resources and barren lands did not stop the hardworking people to create this community based on farming and now the country largely depends on its own production.
Technology has certainly been a great facilitator in making Israel self-sufficient in food production. It is considered as the most advanced country in Southwest Asia and the Middle-East.
However, with the changing times, Israel conveniently reshaped its economy from being socialist to be a free-market after 1985. Experts have always said that Israel would not have survived in its early years without such solidarity of socialism and certainly, this utopian concept is still alive in the country keeping its people together.
On one hand, where the country is referred to as Silicon Wadi and Startup Nation because of the successful entrepreneurs and highly advanced technology, Kibbutzim makes it feel like ‘home’ on the other.
As part of the university trip, I also visited area towards the Gaza Strip and another Kibbutz Kfar Azza, where the supervisor Miri Eisin, a retired colonel said
“Kibbutzim have been a back bone of Israel. Without these, the country wouldn’t have survived; it is a true home of Israel”.
Apart from contributing to the idea of the state of Israel, Kibbutz has given birth to some great inventions as well, like a popular one is Netafim which manufactures irrigation equipment that has contributed greatly in the state’s agriculture.
The members of a Kibbutz are called Kibbutznikim and they really take pride while sharing stories of some of the popular and reputed Kibbutznik like Moshe Dayan who was a former defence minister of Israel, and Ehud Barak – former Prime Minister of Israel.
I asked Yam’s mother Roni Gil Palmony, who is an architect and has re-designed many historic venues of the Kibbutz “Would you ever invite an Arab to be a Kibbutz member?” and with so much optimism in her eyes, she said, “Well, Arabs are already staying in the Kibbutz, they are not yet a member though, however, this can be possible if we are willing to make peace.”
To end my conversation and understand how the younger people feel about Kibbutz, I asked Yam if he would like to stay in Israel for his lifetime or any other country once given the opportunity. For a background, after finishing his military service, Yam stayed in Germany for a year and worked with zionist movement where he experienced some indirect backlashes and negative body gestures towards ‘a Jew’.
Well, coming back to my question, his response stumped my idea of the superficial concept of the global citizens when he said
“I feel at home here, I don’t feel discriminated at all. Jews have equal rights here and I don’t feel same in another country, I would choose Israel as my home.”
(This post first appeared here in The Tilak Chronicle.)
Sugandh Priya Ojha
Sugandh Priya Ojha is the co-founder of a political consultancy startup. She is also an IR professional and a polyglot with interest and experience in Political Analysis, Culture, International Security and Climate Governance.
The views and opinions expressed in the above article belong to the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official opinion, policy or position of Lokmaanya.