The initiative to inscribe the kibbutz as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, as reported yesterday in Haaretz, deserves support and encouragement. This year, Israel is marking the centennial of the establishment of the first kibbutz and international recognition will express the uniqueness of kibbutz settlement, whose influence has extended beyond the borders of the country.

The kibbutz movement began during the Second Aliyah as a fascinating social experiment of equality and cooperative ownership of the means of production, consumption and education. Unique cooperative institutions were established, such as the general meeting, the dining room and the childrens' houses. Its founders saw themselves as a trailblazing social elite, combining Zionism, socialism and democracy.

During the years of the establishment and development of the state, kibbutzim played a key role in settling frontier regions, army service and leadership. Many of Israel's political and military leaders were kibbutz members or lived in a kibbutz for some period of time. In the West and in the developing world, the kibbutz was seen as a uniquely Israeli creation, which symbolized the Zionist revolution and making the desert bloom.

But the older and more established Israel became, the more difficulty the kibbutz had in dealing with the social and political changes the country underwent. Its members were regarded as a separatist elite, who ignored their neighbors from the development towns and the new immigrant moshavim. Economic and employment possibilities in the city drew young people away from the kibbutz.

Right-wing governments undercut the support and subsidies that left-wing governments had given the movements that had settled the land. In the end, the economic crisis the kibbutzim experienced and the increasing social tendency toward individualism led to the collapse of the cooperative lifestyle. Like other institutions, many kibbutzim were privatized and became regular small communities.

Inscription of the kibbutz as a World Heritage Site will be proper recognition of the kibbutz, its place in the history of Zionism and the state and its uniqueness in the entire world. International recognition will also help rehabilitate and restore the historic buildings so that they will not be swallowed up in the momentum of real estate development.