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Israel’s Kibbutz Movement Celebrates 100 Years

June 1, 2010

by: Joshua Spurlock, BFP, Israel Mosaic Radio

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Shay Shoshany, the chairman for Degania Alef, expressed to Bridges for Peace the difficulty of imagining Israel without the kibbutz. Almost 40 years older than the state of Israel, the kibbutz movement has played a role in developing Israel from a dream to a reality and eventually into the regional power it is today. Shoshany said the kibbutz system has been important to Israel in the fields of education, agriculture, settling the country, and security. One factor affecting both settlement and security is the location of the kibbutzim(plural for kibbutz). Shoshany pointed out that the kibbutzimare mostly located in outlying areas or near borders—from the Galilee region (which faces Lebanon and Syria) to the Jordan Valley (which is opposite the state of Jordan) to the southern Negev region .

The Syrian tank that attacked the kibbutz in 1948.

Degania’s location near the Sea of Galilee made them a prime candidate for Arab attack in the 1948 war for Israel’s independence. However, the Degania kibbutz members, using Molotov cocktails and hand grenades, halted the advance of one of the first Syrian tanks to reach them. Eventually, the Arab forces retreated. Today, the defeated Syrian tank still stands in Degania as a testimony to their defense of Israel.

Politically, the kibbutzim were part of the experience for some of Israel’s most famous leaders. Israel’s first prime minister and key founder of the state, David Ben-Gurion, spent many years on a kibbutz in Israel’s south. Among the other famous politicians who were connected to the movement include Moshe Dayan, who was minister of defense during the 1967 Six-Day War, in which Israel retook Jerusalem’s Old City.

A Living Model of Life 

In its ten decades, the kibbutz movement has evolved, becoming more moderate in their communistic approach and today running hotels and businesses. [Note that this kind of “communism” was a purer form than the oppressive kind with which it is normally associated.] Despite their age and change, Shoshany said they have values to model for the country. “We believe that Degania not only symbolizes something from the past; we think that Degania can also symbolize and reflect something for the future—a society that many, many people in Israel and in the world can see as a model of life,” said Shoshany. “We can reflect a model of life, a model of communities, that still share[s] a lot of solidarity between people. I think that those are the most important goals and ideas that we are very proud about.”

Looking ahead, Shoshany said they expect more young families to join the kibbutzim in Israel. He feels that those who declared the death of the idea behind thekibbutzmovement are wrong. “Especially now, in the 100-year anniversary, we’ve found that this is something of which we are very proud—something that is still alive,” said Shoshany.

So while bustling Tel Aviv is on the cutting edge for Israeli culture and economy, another 100-year-old community feels it also has more to offer the still-growing state of Israel. Ironically, Israel’s biggest airport, named for the kibbutz-loving Ben-Gurion, is located near Tel Aviv. It turns out that Tel Aviv and the kibbutz movement have more in common regarding their importance to Israel than just their age.

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