Today, as part of the program, we went on a field trip. Luckily the weather was nicer, in contrary to what we have been experiencing more recently. I love the snow, I love the sun and for this trip the sun was needed.
Our first stop today was kibbutz Chatzerim near Beersheva. You may remember me mentioning that name before, if you follow me here. We were here some time ago visiting the Army Air Base. This time however the character of the trip was slightly less military and focused on learning interesting facts about places within close proximity to where we are staying until the end of June. Kibbutz Chatzerim is one of the conservative kind, where every individual income supports the “communal wallet” and every member is financed according to his need. The “leftover” money is used for investment, research and improving the day-to-day living conditions of the existing members as well as allowing room for absorbing more potential residents. Though kibbutz Chatzerim was not the first kibbutz established in the Negev, it was one of the 11 kibbutzim established right after the Yom Kippur in 1946. It experienced a number of agricultural as well as security problems. Ofer, the senior member who kindly took us on a tour around the kibbutz and the factory, explained that the soil contained so much salt, that any agricultural attempt failed. The government, which then was much more supportive of agriculture, invested a lot of money trying to desalinate the soil by pumping in water as well as funds to ensure their survival. Throughout the 1950s though, the members of then less than few years old kibbutz became seriously divided over the issue of either remaining in this unsustainable land or moving on. Following serious governmental intervention the members decided to remain there and tried to work the land to sustain themselves and hopefully become eventually more self-sufficient.
The remarkable breakthrough came when in 1965 an engineer from Tel Aviv working in the kibbutz invented a drip, the new type of irrigation system. Over years from what started as a small project for basic needs of the kibbutz, produced and assembled in the backroom of the carpentry, became a ground-breaking system employed not only throughout Israel, but also overseas. In the end three kibbutzim formed a company called Netafim and began manufacturing and exporting pipes equipped with the drip irrigation system into all continents around the world. Till date, the annual sale reaches 800 million US dollars and that despite the general worldwide economical crisis. Sadly, as Ofer explained, due to financial difficulties that the kibbutzim faced over years, the company was forced to sell 30% of its shares to the foreign investor, who then in return sold his shares to the third party, who, using further financial hardships that the two other kibbutzim experienced, bought more than 70% of Netafim’s shares. The disappointment in Ofer’s voice was impossible to ignore, but I guess sometimes people do what they need to do. So far the company is manufacturing pipes on a massive scale with 300 drips being produced every minute and always looking to expand and increase profit. What was born out of desperation and necessity became the world-class merchandise desired for its high quality and excellent brand reputation. We were invited to their factory, which unexplainably made me unusually hyper. I love being surrounded by the environment of pure efficiency, lack of unnecessary questions and seeing the product born from nothing, but by the end becoming the final product assembled for shipping.
By now, knowing Israelis, who never give up, it is not hard to deduce that they probably did do something about the soil. Based on trial and error they discovered that there is one type of plant that grows very well on their soil – jojoba tree. With 50% oil saturation (in comparison to just 20-30% oil saturation in olive oil) this commodity is significantly desired by cosmetic corporations around the world. I guess every hardship brings new opportunities, but also creates craving for finding more sources of income. The kibbutz Chatzerim is considered to be one of the wealthier kibbutzim, but even they search for more inventions that require investments considering the ever-changing world market and foreign as well as domestic competition.
On the population note, 450 kibbutznikim live in Chatzerim and between 15 and 20 more members are accepted annually. These days, many people working in the factory are employed from outside of the kibbutz, which initially was not an option. Originally the kibbutz strived to provide employment first and foremost for its own members and was not interested in employing anyone else. Though the kibbutz is reasonably wealthy and there is no shortage of work only 25% of young people decide to become members nowadays. Three quarters of them moves away into cities looking for different opportunities and different lives. Aaron Yadlin, the ex-Minister of Education, was and still is the resident member of Chatzerim. We were told that it does not matter where the income of an individual member is coming from; it all goes to the kibbutz and so does the income of Aaron Yadlin. This is socialism in its purest form on the social level, but when it comes to trading, the kibbutz believes in pure capitalism. When people decide they want to live in a commune, they also agree to yield their financial independence. In reality nothing truly belongs to them, but they enjoy and are able to take advantage of everything that is available within the kibbutz. I believe this is what Karl Marx had in mind, only I doubt this model can be used on the national or international level; or at least so far no country has succeeded (sorry USSR).
There is a strong desire to develop the Negev, which constitutes 50% of the whole State of Israel. The majority of population is cramped in the centre of the country between Haifa, Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. There are certain obstacles though, for example the issue of having disorganised Beduin settlements, which have no borders as well as lack of infrastructure, that would encourage further development. Ofer hoped, probably along with others that live in the south that the move of army bases into the Negev as well as the building of another airport and railway would create a buzz in the area necessary for growth and would eventually encourage new immigrants to settle in the south, instead of the centre.
Since we are living quite far from the centre of the country, our next stop was the moshav Nativ Ha’Asarah located just at the northern side of the Gaza Strip, overlooking it and suffering most rocket fire along with other neighbouring moshavim and kibbutzim. In contrary to Chatzerim, Nativ Ha’Asarah focused all its energy on agriculture, especially planting peppers and tomatoes to obtain seeds for export. According to Efrat, the lady that lives there and took time off her busy schedule to show us around, seeds produced in that moshav have a 100% of sprouting success. Even with little agricultural fluency I understand that this is quite a success. She showed us around this quaint moshav only to make us realise how close to Gaza we were and how much fire and aggression this moshav has suffered over years. From every point in the moshav we had a clear view of the tall concrete security wall separating the land where the Jews live and the land where the Palestinian Arabs and Hamas live. There was no escaping from that thought. We drove as far as we could and walked up the hill only to see the valley, the wired security fence and the plains separating that moshav from Gaza. We saw what initially appeared to be a hill of dirt, in reality was an exit of one of the tunnels that Hamas dag in order to capture soldiers and trade them dead or alive for Hamas terrorists, who had been stopped and imprisoned by the Israelis. Some of us asked whether the government in any way supported the people living in the moshav. After all the moshav has till date 800 residents with a vast percentage being children. The kindergarten is protected by the fence and every few metres there are bomb shelters. The number of the latter increases every year. What is more, even the bus stops are actual bomb shelters too.
Efrat looked tired trying to name her feelings. I got the impression that there wasn’t much left. ‘I have less strength to go through this every time it happens. I have two sons, one is 17 and one is 13 and to see them screaming in terror like little children every time they have to run to the shelter is very difficult. During the Operation Protective Edge we had the alarm every 5-10 minutes. We couldn’t even take a shower. Even now, Hamas is “practicing” on Shabbat. On this one day that we don’t have to work, we hear of rockets being shot into the sea or towards us.’ The more she talked, the less smile there was left. With a strange combination of indifference in her expression and a chuckle she said: ‘We only have one life. We have to make sure we live it well. We have our families and our homes here. We have nowhere to go. We don’t want to leave.’
It was true. There were no houses for sale in that moshav, apart from one and that one was closest to the wall. People refuse to move, because they have families there, at least two or three generations live together. During the last operation many shells fell on houses. Luckily no one lost their lives, but some cheated death by minutes.
I can’t explain how that felt to be there. How does it feel to finally be in the place that I have only previously read about? How does it feel to look into these people’s faces and not see fear, but this tired and indifferent determination? There is a wall just next to the actual concrete security wall and there it’s written: Netiv Le’Shalom – Path for Peace. This mosaic is made of little clay tablets, created individually by everyone who wanted to join this project. The words such as “peace” and “patience” are written in both English and Hebrew. That wall stands silently near the border and resembles a muffled cry that we want peace and patience is what it takes, but the question on everyone’s mind is – how much patience? How many lives do we have to lose every year to achieve that peace? The symbol of peace stands silently near the symbol of conflict. One finds himself lost for words, because it’s impossible to comprehend the paradox of the desire for peace and reconciling the constant presence of soldiers watching the security wall. In between, the wind strokes three Israeli flags and that is the only sound you hear, if you manage to block off all noise. Am Israel chai.