71. Experiments which went on to characterize the identity of Israel: ‘The Kibbutz’

The Jews were preparing for the ultimate struggle to gain their rightful ‘Promised Land’ and create a Jew-nation in Palestine. They undertook many programmes for their development as a society.

Prominent among them were the experiments of the ‘Community Living’ – the ‘Kibbutz’ and the ‘Moshav’, which were based on the following ideals –

• All the Jewish people would be equal – no one either big or small.
• All the Jews would have an equal right on all the available resources.
• There would be absolutely no dependence on the outside world for any need.

The ‘Kibbutz’ and the ‘Moshav’ were in fact believed to be perfect examples of an idealistic, utopian society that the founders of Zionism wished to create in Palestine for the Jews.

The first kibbutz was established in 1909. While building the first kibbutz named ‘DeganiaAlef’, its founders had the concept of ‘Collective community farming’ before them. This was done to create an idealistic combination of socialism and Zionism.

Degania Alef, a Kibbutz in northern Israel

• View of (1931) –

• View of (2010) –

The concept of ‘Collective community farming’ took roots due to specific needs. In 1909, the geographic conditions in the land of Palestine were harsh and irregular. The region of Galilee was a wetland, the Judaean Hills a rocky mountain range and the southern area a desert. Though the perseverance of the Jews was unending, the nature of land and the scarcity of resources made it infeasible for them to take to farming independently. Also, many of them were without any agricultural experience. Moreover, the region was badly hit by epidemics like malaria, cholera, etc. In addition to this, there was also a menace of local, wandering Arab tribes whose profession, in fact, was robbery, and they would break into houses and loot people. Furthermore, the Arabs deeply resented the manner in which the immigration of the Jews to the land of Palestine was taking place. Therefore, expecting the cooperation of any kind from them was of no use.

Israel geographical map

Till then, the businesses established by the Jewish people in the land of Palestine mainly employed the local Arabs. Considering their growing opposition to the Jewish people, this was not going down well with the Jews who reached Palestine during the ‘Third Aliyah’. They believed that the Jews themselves should labour on the Jewish lands and that there was no need of the Arab labourers. The equation was also making way for resistance against the ‘capitalist’ concept of ‘owner-servant’.

Besides, the Jews in the ‘Third Aliyah’ possessed farming experience unlike those who migrated during the first two waves of ‘Aliyah’ without any of it. The Third Aliyah included the ‘Russian Jews’ who were witnesses to the ‘Russian (Soviet) Revolution’ from a close quarter.

In addition, on knowing about the problem, agricultural training was imparted to the Jews who wished to immigrate to Palestine before their travel. As a result, the Jews coming from places other than Russia also came with at least some experience in farming. At the same time, the ‘Jewish National Fund’ was established for buying land in Palestine. Through this organization, the Jews across the world started to pool in their funds for the purpose.

The Jewish National Fund office

With all of this was found the first kibbutz. At the start, there were only 12 Jews who came together to establish the first kibbutz. In this system, all the decisions were always made unanimously, taking everyone on board.

The concept was somewhat like –

• The land in a kibbutz belonged equally to all.
• All the resources like agricultural tools and equipment, livestock, seeds, manures and fertilizers, water, etc., were to be equally used for the land in a kibbutz.
• There would be no external or outside labourers, but all the kibbutz members themselves would work in the kibbutz fields.
• Even the family members of the proletariat would contribute their efforts as and when possible.
• The children in the kibbutz would all be kept together during the day in any of the houses of the kibbutz members and the female members in the kibbutz would take turns to care for them during the daytime.

Kibbutz Afikim children with their nanny at the children’s house (the Mid 1960s)

Also –

• The arrangements for imparting vocational training as also proper schools for the children would be part of a kibbutz.
• The harvest would also belong equally to all. Only after satisfying the needs of all the members, whatever crop is left, would be sold. From the money thus earned, various items and articles of routine, regular and household use would be purchased for all the members at the community level. These things would be provided to the members through a store in a kibbutz.
• For all the members of a kibbutz, there would be a common kitchen. Food for all would be cooked together and also served together in a big dining hall. All the family members in a kibbutz would eat together in the hall.
• A kibbutz would also have facilities for entertainment. Programmes would be held after organizing classes for various art forms.

Some students from several kibbutzim were selected and sent to undergo medical education, the cost for which was borne by the kibbutzim. This was done to so that after graduating, they would provide medical services to the people of the kibbutzim.

During the early days of their immigration to Palestine, the Jews were penniless whatsoever and thus were left with no other option but to stay in a kibbutz. Consequently, during the time, the number of kibbutzim in the land of Palestine rapidly increased. With the changing time changed, even the smallest of the aspects of the kibbutzim, e.g., the weekly meetings of the members held to decide on the various issues were gradually shifted with everyone’s opinion from the dining hall to an open place in a kibbutz. Here, these meetings were held along with campfire and some entertainment programmes would also be held on the sidelines. By introducing amusing changes like these, the kibbutz members tried to make their dry daily routine comes to life.

The ‘Kibbutz’ was, of course, a ‘utopian concept’ and did not always succeed in reality. (To be continued…)

– Shulamith Penkar-Nigrekar