by Joseph Puder
Avner S., 26, is a handsome young man with a smooth face that gives him the appearance of a teenager. He is, in spite of his soft exterior, a hardened ex-combat soldier who served in the top combat unit of the Israel Defense Forces – Sayeret Matkal. Both Avner and his colleagues are wearing helmet-like skullcaps and tzizits, which are flowing out of their T-shirts. The roofers, busy putting on red tiles, and the other two dozen workers, all of whom are veterans, are now on a new mission- to build up the
This group, led by Avner, and many others like them, have began a movement that is reminiscent of the early 20th century. An idealistic and pioneering movement of Jewish Labor, inspired by the philosophy of A.D. Gordon. Unlike many secular-leftist, post-military service young men who let themselves go and use drugs in Thailand or India’s Goa, Avner and his crew are being true to a paraphrased rendition of JFK’s famous words: “See what you can do for your country, for your ancestral heartland.”
While the kibbutz youth, who once symbolized Israeli idealism and self-sacrifice, have left the kibbutzim in droves moving either to
Globalization and Americanization have left many of
In the leftist, post-Zionist, bastion of
Sweating in the midday heat Avner comes down on a ladder from the rooftop to get his jug of water. What about Tel Aviv and its post-Zionism, I ask? He thinks for a moment and replies in a quiet and assured voice, “Our mission of rebuilding the country and bringing back its idealism will not end at Yitzhar, we plan to go to Tel Aviv and build there too – not only houses but souls as well.”
“And what about the Arab-Palestinians surrounding you,” I continue? “We respect them as people, and they respect us.” Unlike the Jewish developers in cities of central Israel who hire and exploit mostly non-Israeli labor, Avner and his ilk believe in Jewish Labor – to “Build and be built by it” as a well-known old Zionist pioneering song goes.
The Arabs from the surrounding villages are ambivalent about these hard working Jews who cultivate the land and build their own homes. In their hearts, the Arab villagers admire the fortitude these young Jews display. At the same time they resent the fact that the Jewish Labor movement is denying them construction jobs. Still, commercial activities between Jewish settlers and local Arabs in the
The land that Jewish settlers live and build on is government ownded, not taken from local Arabs. Although pioneers like the legendary Moshe Zar of Karnei Shomron, a community not far from Itzhar, would buy land for cash from Arab landlords occasionally, there are few, if any cases of Jewish settlements built on “stolen” Arab land as the anti-Israel movement abroad often charges.
The young men of Jewish Labor are not only reviving the idea of Jewish manual work, a long forgotten pursuit by ordinary Israelis, they are also creating a defensive and strategic shield for Israel by building a chain of hilltop settlements that control the passages from the Jordan Valley to Israel’s coastal communities and that surround Palestinian cities like Nablus, Jenin, Kalkilya, and Tulkarm. The Jewish settlements in the
History seems to repeat itself. The kibbutzim of the pre-State era formed the front line of defense for the Yishuv – the Jewish community in Mandatory Palestine, against Arab attackers. Nowadays, the Jewish settlers in the
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