72. ‘Moshav’; ‘Tower and Stockade’ – experiments which went on to characterize the identity of Israel

The Jews immigrating in large numbers to Palestine were poorly off. Hence, it was infeasible for them to take to farming independently. Also, the local Arabs were against them. It was thus essential from them to work for their livelihood by staying together. Thus, the utopian concept of ‘Kibbutz’ came forward so that the Jews develop as a society.

However, the concept did not always succeed in reality. With the members in the kibbutzim not having two pennies to rub together, the investment in it was but nil. Though everyone’s share in the resources of a kibbutz was equal, the labour by every individual was proportionate to their physical strength and would thus not be the same. Hence, returns being the same for all, they were not proportional to the work done. In fact, the returns were never monetary, but the necessities of clothing, food and items of regular use of the members and their families would be satisfied by a kibbutz.

‘I work more; he works less yet the same returns; this is an injustice unto me’ –thoughts like these considered ‘capitalist’, slowly started to creep into many minds. Gradually, the ‘Moshav’ emerged as a solution to all these issues. It was an attempt to find a golden mean to the systems of ‘capitalism’ and ‘socialism’.

The ‘Moshav’ was a concept very close to the ‘kibbutz’. The only difference being – Moshav was not about collection farming but individually owned land of equal size. The members produced crops on the lands respectively allocated and would provide for themselves. They were free to use the produce for their family or sell it outside to earn money. However, all the available resources in a moshav would be collectively owned and used equally by all. A moshav was governed by an elected central council of members chosen within themselves. The decisions by the council were binding on all in a moshav. For meeting some of the administrative expenses and other outlays, the members would pay a certain tax to the council. A large number of the Jews who immigrated to Israel after its independence hailed from different social settings and environments. They were also devoid of any experience of ‘Community Living’. Thus adapting to living in a ‘kibbutz’ was a difficult task for them. However, with the prevailing conditions and the available resources, there was no option but ‘Community Living’. Thus the alternative of ‘Moshav’ – a type of ‘semi-community living’, became popular among such immigrants.

The very first moshav was established back in 1921 in the ‘Jezreel Valley’ at ‘Nahalal’. The moshav spread over an area of eight and a half thousand square kilometer was shaped as a circle and was planned in a foresighted manner. The structure was so created that there were public buildings and administrative offices at the center. The other structures and creations were in concentric circles around the centre with houses in the innermost circle, one beside the other. The construction was based on the principle of the ‘round table’by which, all the members were equal, no one either big or small.

Moshav Nahalal

The parcels of the land allocated to the members were well demarcated. If one is to view their structure from the top, it would resemble a ‘spoke wheel’ in which the rays originate from a central point and spread in all directions.

Though, both the kibbutz and the moshav were created keeping farming as the central source of livelihood, gradually with time, the impetus was given to other businesses as well.

Later, when the independent nation of Israel was born, the kibbutzim and the moshavim held a very significant position, and it is a fact even today! The kibbutzim and the moshavim played a very important role in defining the boundaries of Israel at the time of its independence as these were the only two types of Jewish settlements which were continuous and intact. Even today there are more than 265 kibbutzim and 445 moshavim in Israel.

During the 1936-39 Arab riots, these settlements took the form of ‘Tower and Stockade’, also known as ‘Wall and Tower’ settlements.

Tower and Stockade (Wall and Tower) settlement

During the riots, when the Arab rioters began attacking the Jewish settlers in the kibbutzim and the moshavim, it became inevitable to take certain measures. The ‘Tower and Stockade’ came up as one such step. Under the arrangement, a ‘watchtower’ was erected in the Jewish settlements along with the building of a fortification around the settlement perimeter. The British adopted a pro-Arab policy during the time, thus placing numerous restrictions on Jewish immigration. Yet, to protect the Jews from the Arab rioters, the British turned a blind eye to these Jewish constructions. Interestingly, the British used an archaic law of the Ottoman times to justify their approach that said – ‘The destruction of a building, though illegal, was not allowed if the roof had been erected’.

The fortification would be speedily built using pre-fabricated wooden moulds filled with gravel and sand. The fortification would then be fenced with barbed wire. Likewise, a watchtower would also be raised. Such settlements would generally spring up close to one another. This approach helped to create continuous and intact Jewish settlements increasingly. During the period from 1936 to 1939, fifty-seven such ‘Tower and Stockade’ settlements mushroomed across the land of Palestine.

Along with these measures, for protecting the Jews during the Arab riots, the British also set up the ‘Notrim’, a Jewish police force in which most of the personnel were recruited from the Haganah self-defense units. At the start, they were given outdated weapons which were not of much use to the British. However, as the intensity of riots increased, the British were forced to arm them with proper weapons which served the Notrim well in the difficult times that followed.

Thus, all such events were slated to play a role in Israel gaining independence. (To be continued…)

– Shulamith Penkar-Nigrekar