Culture Clash

When a group of young people was sent to rescue Hanaton, a failing kibbutz in the Lower Galilee, two dreams collided. Now the veteran, religious residents, who favor privatization, are trying to expel the secular newcomers, who want something completely different.

It was supposed to be a nice story," she says, shifting her feet amid the wild grass. Tamar Zarfati, a member of the initial garin (a group that founds or settles in a kibbutz together) of the Hanoar Haoved Vehalomed (Working and Studying Youth) movement at Kibbutz Hanaton, sits on the porch of her commune, facing a landscape dotted with farm fields. "We collided with forces stronger than us," she says reflectively. "My garin has been here seven years, and now we received an evacuation order from the kibbutz. They're making us leave. It's a terrible feeling to be turned out of your home. We didn't accumulate anything for ourselves, we didn't engage in developing our personal careers. All the plans for the future were here at Hanaton - having children, raising a family. I can't see myself leaving here."

But that moment is closer than ever. Zarfati, 28, who came to Hanaton from Jerusalem, understands that a new chapter is beginning in the bleak saga of the relationship between the members of her garin and the religious old-timers of the kibbutz. With the issuing of the evacuation order in February against her and her 26 companions, the fraught struggle between the two sides reached a new peak. Thirteen years after the Kibbutz Movement sent a first garin to revive the dwindling kibbutz, the confrontation is nearing the decisive point.

The face off is between two weighty arguments. The 11 kibbutz old-timers, who are sinking in debt, want to privatize the kibbutz and feel that the home they built is practically being stolen out from under them by strangers, by the idealistic members of the Hanoar Haoved Vehalomed garin who are fighting to maintain Hanaton as a cooperative kibbutz. The latter also warn that what is happening now in the pastoral community overlooking the Beit Netofa Valley is much more than privatization - it is a warning sign, presenting a new model of the dismantling of kibbutzim as cooperative associations, and of the kibbutz shedding its core values. Of course, they are seeking to have the evacuation order against them nullified.

When one passes back and forth on the kibbutz between the rival parties, from the meager commune to the synagogue, from the sleepy grocery store to the big common lawn where children play, it's very clear that both sides are scarred and bruised from their struggle.

"There's a feeling of missed opportunity," admits Zarfati. "We came with the aim of creating a place that had a shared communal life, without alienation. Last summer we still ran activities here for the kibbutz children; now they won't let us. We dreamt of creating meaningful and important activity in the area. For example, I work with Arab youth in Sakhnin and teach Bedouin women to read and write. We wanted to promote coexistence between Arabs and Jews that goes beyond going into the Arab villages to buy hummus. We had a dream of establishing a Bedouin college preparatory program in Hanaton and a center for the study of Hebrew and Arabic. To me this is holy work. But not everyone sees it that way. Some people appreciate our work and say it's the most relevant thing, that we're meeting deep needs of Israeli society. But on the other hand, from within our home, we're told: 'There's no place for that here. There's no place for you here.'"

A demographic problem

The seeds of the trouble that led to the harsh conflict between the secular-socialist youth and the Hanaton veterans were sown back in the days when the kibbutz, located in the Jezreel Valley region, was first established. The kibbutz was founded in 1984 by American immigrants, in an unusual bit of cooperation between the Kibbutz Movement and the Masorti/Conservative Movement, with the aim of building a society that combined the observance of a religious lifestyle, Jewish values and social equality. At the start, there were 25 members, and at its peak, the membership ranged from 50 to 80 people. But there was a lot of turnover. Hanaton had difficulty maintaining a stable community, and dozens of families, including some who had completed the whole absorption process, ended up leaving Israel's only Conservative kibbutz.

When there were just 11 members left in the late 1990s, the Kibbutz Movement came up with a rescue plan. "In 1997, the Kibbutz Movement asked graduates of the Hanoar Haoved Vehalomed to bring a garin to settle in Hanaton," says Gil Plotkin, 28, a member of the garin. "The garin that was sent at first had seven people, and later on a few more small groups were sent. In February 2003, a large group of 35 people arrived. I was one of them. We'd formed as a garin as far back as 11th grade. After high school, each of us did a year of community service. I coordinated the movement's activity in the Krayot [Haifa suburbs].

"Afterward, we enlisted together for army service in the Nahal [a branch of service in which soldiers combine active duty with work on outlying settlements or outposts], which concluded with a mission. The mission of the garinim used to be to join Nahal settlements. In recent years, our graduates have been undertaking educational missions in cities. We were sent to Hanaton to settle there as a garin."

Sitting on an old blue sofa, sipping occasionally from a cup of tea, facing a small television that is turned off, he doesn't touch the honey cake that sits on the table. "We came here with a dream of establishing an educational place," he says. "We were very excited. As soon as we got here we started pursuing educational missions all over the area. Some people went into Afula, others into Arab communities, I went into Migdal Ha'emek. It was clear to us that we had come to rehabilitate the failing kibbutz on the model of Ravid and Ashbal (other kibbutzim), which were also rehabilitated by movement graduates. Today on those kibbutzim, which are called 'teaching kibbutzim,' there are 100 graduates earning a living from education and agriculture."

But what was clear to Plotkin and his friends was not at all clear to the Hanaton old-timers. After an exhausting day of milking, Reuven Samson paints a different picture. He is 57, and one of the major players in the goings-on at Hanaton, where he was accepted as a member in 1988. "It's true that it all started from this, that our kibbutz was stuck in terms of the size of its population. On Hanaton, as throughout the Kibbutz Movement, there was a demographic collapse. The low point came at the end of the 1990s, when there were 10 families living on the kibbutz. In addition, there was a collapse of the people in charge. There was a succession of kibbutz coordinators who came from the outside. A leadership and administrative vacuum arose here. So we thought about a cooperative-Conservative expansion of the kibbutz, which would be a solution to the demographic problem, following the model of Kibbutz Lotem, which added families that weren't kibbutz members in a cooperative expansion."

After that model failed to take shape, Benny Shiloh, a member of Kibbutz Yagur who served as director-general of Hanaton from 1997-2004, made a new proposal. "We saw that the Conservative Movement wasn't managing to recruit people to join a cooperative kibbutz," adds Samson. "Benny suggested that we take on groups that wanted to be absorbed in kibbutzim, and so the garin came to us. The first group was an integral part of the kibbutz. Seven of its people were absorbed as members. From our perspective, it wasn't a bad experience. The people in that group were also considerate about the religious issue, and for a while everything seemed fine. But in time it became apparent that the kibbutz came second in their order of priorities. As soon as the movement summoned them from the nerve center in Tel Aviv, they ran like soldiers. Today not a single one of those seven is left. One was appointed to coordinate a chapter of the movement in Kfar Sava, another got a job in the Histadrut labor federation and left. They all disappeared eventually."

Tense rivalry

But still, Hanaton's affair with the graduates of Hanoar Haoved Vehalomed didn't end, and in 2003, after no one from the previous garinim was left, 35 people from two Nahal garinim settled there and managed to put down stakes in the kibbutz. "The way it went in the beginning, one wouldn't have foreseen a situation in which we'd be kicked out," says Moran Cohen, a member of the garin. "Even though we were two separate communities - we are young secular people who live in communes and the Hanaton members were older and had a more religious lifestyle - we still mixed, we celebrated the holidays together. I was even on the cultural committee at one point."

But a year after the garin members began their lives on Hanaton as candidates for absorption, a dramatic turning point occurred. The 17 young women of the garin who had completed their military service were nominated for admission to the kibbutz as members and were rejected.

"They were all rejected," says Plotkin angrily. "We didn't sense it coming. After the vote, we thought that something illogical had happened. We couldn't understand how a kibbutz that was in such a severe crisis wouldn't be ready to accept new, quality members. We realized that there was a problem here, and it wasn't us. It turned out that among the 11 members of Kibbutz Hanaton, some of whom we were friendly with, there was a majority that simply blocked the admission of new members. When we understood this, the question arose of whether there was any point in staying."

Following that vote, relations between the groups turned into a tense rivalry. Samson says that the garin members live on Hanaton as an autonomous entity. "There are a few who are still nice, but we don't speak with most of the kibbutz members," says Cohen, who ran a branch of Hanoar Haoved Vehalomed in Haifa before coming to Hanaton. "A hostile environment has been created here. Sometimes there are unpleasant remarks, sometimes it takes the form of shouting and harassment. We stay out of it, we keep our distance from it. I'm not looking for this kind of friction. But it's not pleasant here on an everyday basis, unfortunately. I thought it would just take some time and we'd reach an agreement, perhaps a model of two separate communities that live together on Hanaton and share the assets equally. But we didn't give up, because the Kibbutz Movement always insisted to us that there was still a chance. It would have been a lot easier to rent a house in Migdal Ha'emek than to stay here. But we came here to maintain a cooperative and educational kibbutz and we're not prepared to give it all up. This is something that I still believe in and want to see happen. I know almost 70 people from the movement in Sderot and Acre, people who've completed their army service, who could come live here if the situation were different. We could really develop this place, establish an educational center and preserve this place as a Communal Kibbutz." [For a detailed explanation of the difference between a "Communal Kibbutz" - kibbutz shitufi - and a "Renewed Kibbutz" - kibbutz mithadesh - see the Kibbutz Movement Web site: http://www.kibbutz.org.il/eng/081101_kibbutz-eng.htm]

And that's just what frightened the veteran Hanaton members. "It's true we were in a bad situation demographically, but we weren't ready to let them take over our kibbutz," says Samson. "The idea of turning our kibbutz into a kibbutz of educators in which members of Hanoar Haoved Vehalomed are the majority that determines our way of life is not an option. The fact that they schemed behind our backs, that's another matter. Their integration process in the kibbutz, like their intentions, always remained vague. It was all done with lies and schemes, in order to hide the truth. As soon as we understood their real intentions, we couldn't go along with it. We wouldn't consent to them standing for election as a single group that would become a majority overnight. This was their plan, they were plotting here, they secretly wanted to deliver the kibbutz to the Hanoar Haoved Vehalomed movement."

A twist in the plot

Following that fateful vote, the Kibbutz Movement requested that the Registrar of Cooperative Societies, the regulator of settlement on kibbutzim and moshavim, appoint a supervisory committee to take over the management of Kibbutz Hanaton. The registrar, attorney Uri Zeligman, acceded to the request, convinced that the economic and social situation of the association on Hanaton justified intervention. The committee, which included representatives of the Kibbutz Movement, the Conservative Movement, Hanaton members and representatives of the Jezreel Valley Regional Council, recommended that the members of Hanoar Haoved Vehalomed be accepted immediately. But the Hanaton members stood firm in their refusal, exacerbating the crisis.

Consequently, in 2006, at the request of the Kibbutz Movement, the Registrar of Cooperative Societies appointed a mefarek-mafil (liquidator-activator) for Hanaton: attorney Sagi Merom, a former resident of Kibbutz Yifat and the son of former MK Hagai Merom. He was given complete administrative authority over the kibbutz, with the aim of covering a deficit of about NIS 10 million and rehabilitating the strife-ridden community.

Eitan Seth, a member of Kibbutz Gadot, who served as chairman of Hanaton's last supervisory committee, recently described those times in the biweekly Kav Lamoshav: "The young people from Hanoar Haoved Vehalomed tried again and again to integrate in the kibbutz, they reached out to the 11 members, but they received very hostile treatment. Even serious attempts on the part of the movement couldn't help produce a reasonable organic connection. It soon became clear that if a supervisory committee couldn't put things right, couldn't alter the way things were being done and the behavior ... there would be a need to switch direction by dismantling the association and starting it anew. In October 2006, a mefarek was appointed. He had to 'close down' the existing association and absorb more new members and reactivate the kibbutz-association."

But then there was another twist in the plot. The mefarek who was supposed to follow the guidelines of the committee that preceded him, and accept members of Hanoar Haoved Vehalomed, deviated from the course set out for him. In July 2008, Merom recommended that the Registrar of Cooperative Societies classify Hanaton as a "Renewed Kibbutz": The collective was privatized, as had been done with other kibbutzim, and it was decided that more Conservative families would be admitted. Merom chose not to be interviewed for this article, saying he would present his position only in court.

"Since the cooperative idea didn't work at Hanaton and didn't attract people to join, the solution of the mefarek and the members was to reclassify the kibbutz under the model of the Renewed Kibbutz," explains Samson. "Everyone understands this, apart from the Hanoar Haoved Vehalomed people, who continue to think about a cooperative kibbutz. They have good reasons for that. It's completely obvious that they want to take over the kibbutz, which has an educational center, and especially the production means, like the chicken coops and the cattle shed, which could fund their movement's activity. They asked the mefarek, and are now asking the High Court, to divide the kibbutz's assets between us and them. So it is demagoguery to say that they could save Hanaton. The kibbutz doesn't need any salvation from them."

Samson rejects the claim that the mefarek deviated from the mandate he was given. "His mandate was to ensure there was demographic growth, but mostly to repay debts. The Hanoar Haoved Vehalomed people are 28-year-olds with limited income, they live in a commune with minimal needs. They couldn't sustain themselves financially and it's a fact that to this day they don't pay for the use of the kibbutz's assets. The Hanoar Haoved Vehalomed people cannot offer a solution to the economic problem, and this is a critical point. Their absorption is no magical solution to the kibbutz's problems. Their plan was to continue the payment of the debts for 30 years, while they don't have any real capacity to earn a living. With all due respect to their idealism, you can't take that to the bank and repay debts with it."

Feeling of togetherness

The absorption of the Conservative families began last June, to the great chagrin of the members of Hanoar Haoved Vehalomed. At five in the afternoon, on the public lawn in the heart of the kibbutz, Yaniv Glicksman sits on the grass with his wife Marisa and their blonde, 1-year-old triplets. The Glicksman family is one of the 15 new families that the mefarek has managed to bring in so far. "We moved after we came together as a group and were asked by the veteran members here to revive the place," Glicksman says with a smile, picking up a giggling baby. "We're from Jerusalem and we decided that this is the way of life we want to have, in a Conservative community. I work in the Conservative Movement, I run a pluralistic Jewish organization, and my wife is a clothes designer. I heard about Hanaton just when we were looking to buy a house. We connected with the place right away."

These new members bought their home for about NIS 300,000, enriched the kibbutz's coffers, and immediately got caught up in the long struggle that has been going on here. "It's really funny," says Marisa. "I made aliyah from Brazil, having grown up in Hanoar Haoved Vehalomed. I never saw that the movement believes in living in a place that you're not contributing to. It's clear that they don't contribute to the kibbutz. Today the community life on Hanaton is a shared life, with holidays and Shabbat celebrated together. I think they had an opportunity to revive the place, but they've been here for years and they ought to admit their failure. The atmosphere on the kibbutz today is excellent. There's a real sense of a community in the making, a pluralistic community in every way, both religiously and culturally."

While the Glicksman family is relaxing on the grass, Sari Avraham, a veteran kibbutznik, sits on a plastic chair outside the small grocery store she runs. The latest developments - the evacuation orders against the Hanoar Haoved Vehalomed people and the entry of the new Conservative families - haven't calmed her emotions over the whole thing. They are foreigners who never brought a cent into the kibbutz, all these years, not a thing, she says of the Hanoar Haoved Vehalomed group in her American-accented Hebrew. Avraham says she came to Israel from New York in the late 1970s, through a study program at Tel Aviv University. She came to Hanaton in 1987.

"We were like any other kibbutz. We had a laundry, a dining hall, a sheep pen, an orchard and a vineyard. Life wasn't easy, and we didn't expect it to be, but it was wonderful. There was a real feeling of togetherness. Granted, we fought a lot, over silly things, but there were also a lot of members. But soon we ran into difficulties. We tried to absorb new members, but it was hard. It's important to emphasize that the Kibbutz Movement didn't help us recruit members. Our feeling was that they tried to wear us down so they could take over Hanaton and bring in members of Hanoar Haoved Vehalomed. They came in here like it was a revolving door, I don't even know the ones that are here on the kibbutz now."

Your accusations are a bit extreme. Remember that the kibbutz veterans consented to have them come to the kibbutz, because you believed that they could help you. Don't you feel sometimes that they've been mistreated?

"They felt hurt because they were promised a kibbutz. But they never wanted to be part of the kibbutz, they wanted to take it. Their plan was to forcibly remove us. It's chutzpah. They make extreme accusations, too. They say we're not prepared to absorb new members when that's exactly what we've done in the past year. They accuse the kibbutz mefarek of wanting to sell off the kibbutz assets; they say he's making real estate deals. But that's exactly what they want - the land. They want our school building. When I pleaded with them to do something for Memorial Day, they told me they had too much work to do in their branches. I think they're a cult. They don't marry, they don't go to study. They're being brainwashed to fight for Hanaton. Why do we need this aggravation?"

How the system works

Merom, the mefarek, evidently agreed with the veterans. He submitted a request to the Registrar of Cooperative Societies in the Industry, Trade and Labor Ministry for an evacuation order to be issued to the young people. When the order arrived in February, the garin members hastened to file a petition with the High Court of Justice, arguing that only the courts, not the Registrar of Cooperative Societies, had the authority to deal with the matter.

"We were surprised to find that an official who is supposed to support the kibbutz settlement policy was supporting leaving the situation as it is," says an incensed Uri Matoki, 32, the garin coordinator. "The Kibbutz Movement agreed to the Registrar's proposal to appoint a mefarek solely because it seemed that this was the way to circumvent the members' vote and have us absorbed. But the mefarek decided to go a different way. Dismantling instead of rehabilitation."

What the kibbutz veterans see as a revival of their collective enterprise, Matoki describes as a model of the dismantling of the kibbutzim, and the severance of the kibbutz from its core values, for money's sake. "This is how the system works," he says. "They take an underpopulated kibbutz and appoint a mefarek-mafil. The mefarek sells off the kibbutz assets, or the rights to them, in order to pay off debts. To the minority of association members, a large group of people is added whom the mefarek accepts as members, when these families are essentially buying their membership with money, in return for future property rights to the assets."

Matoki believes that their educational work should buy the garin members the same rights as those families, all the more so since they identify with the traditional outlook of the Hanaton members. "Hanaton is a cooperative kibbutz, that is its essence," he says. "Therefore, our activity is much more suited to the place. Moreover, the economic crisis on the kibbutz was created by the Hanaton old-timers. They're the reason for the deterioration. It's funny that they have the nerve to say that we're an economic burden on the kibbutz, when we've sustained ourselves all these years. The only thing we didn't pay is rent, but that's because we were in the process of absorption. The amount of income in itself is irrelevant. It's a matter of what your expenses are compared to what you bring in. But the Hanaton veterans had trouble understanding this. All throughout the years, the reports from the mefarek and the Kibbutz Movement said that we had the ability to rehabilitate Hanaton financially, even on what we earn from our educational work."

In Matoki's view, the mefarek's decision marks one of the lowest moments the Kibbutz Movement has ever known. "The case of Hanaton exemplifies the same deep shift in Israeli society's attitude toward the labor-settlement movement. We don't want to fight or impose a way of life on anyone. We agree to a division in which our kibbutz and a kibbutz of the new community live side by side. All we asked for is to be able to continue to preserve this kibbutz settlement in the location where it already exists, while working in agriculture and doing educational activity in the surrounding area. Is that such an unreasonable thing to ask?"

Apart from the fact that the garin members feel they have been treated unjustly, Matoki warns that the process the kibbutz is undergoing is a test case for the model of transferring lands now in the hands of the Cooperative Societies to private hands. "The motive for the machinations against us is the same thing that always drives people out of their minds - money," says Matoki, sitting under a window from which blue wind chimes are suspended. "The model taking shape in Hanaton will trickle down to all the underpopulated kibbutzim, and then to kibbutzim where the number of lots doesn't match the number of members, and then to other kibbutzim that get into economic or social crises."

He says powerful real estate interests are working to wipe out the kibbutzim, with the encouragement of the state, which has its eye on the land. "Because much of the land reserves in Israel are still in the hands of the Cooperative Societies, the feeling is that state officials have set themselves the goal of advancing their liquidation, via the Israel Lands Administration and the Registrar of Cooperative Societies," he explains. "The registrar appoints a mefarek, who uses the kibbutz's debts as a pretext for selling its lands and manufacturing assets. The houses are sold right away at 'unprecedented prices.' The new members can leave the kibbutz and keep the asset under their ownership. The state will argue that it's no longer a kibbutz, the cooperative society will be dismantled, and the lands and the manufacturing plants will go to the state, which will subsequently transfer them to private hands."

Who profits from the dismantling of the communal kibbutz and its transformation into a yishuv kehilati (community settlement)?

"The Jezreel Valley Regional Council increases its income from the property tax, the contractors can develop real estate projects, families of the kibbutz members get a house with land practically for free, lawyers get their percentages, the Israel Lands Administration receives high rents on the land and moguls get their hands on the land that once belonged to the state. Only the ordinary citizens lose out."

Meeting point

Kibbutz rabbi Yoav Ende, 34, an energetic redhead whose flock is made up of the new families on Hanaton, does not agree with Matoki, but says that in the battle for Hanaton, once all the legal hardships come to an end and even if someone comes out on top, it will be hard for anyone to proclaim victory.

"Kibbutz Hanaton was founded with the aim of becoming an influential voice, of instilling more connectedness in Israeli society," he says ruefully in a conversation in the kibbutz synagogue. "They founded a school here that was supposed to be the place where the dichotomy in Israeli society between the religious person and the secular person was broken. But what's happened is that this place that was supposed to be a meeting point became a scene of total lack of understanding, of anger and hot tempers.

"I came here to build a special, idealistic community, and one that was also Conservative and pluralistic, where people live together equally and women are counted for a minyan (prayer quorum) and there is no barrier separating men and women in the synagogue," he adds. "But in the heat of the disputes, people forget to talk about the new life at Hanaton. And it does exist. Kibbutz Hanaton is basically the only kibbutz that belongs to the Conservative Movement, and after many years it is being renewed. It is going back to its beginnings. The members of Hanoar Haoved Vehalomed are not sensitive to the importance of a community with these characteristics and are creating something else here. Despite everything, the Kibbutz Movement continues to fund their public and legal struggle. It's a shame. The movement, which is supposed to support me, too, ignores me and the veteran Hanaton members. Since we don't wear a blue shirt with a red lace (the uniform of Hanoar Haoved Vehalomed) and we wear a skullcap on our heads, we're alien to them. Even though all the legal frameworks and the Registrar of Cooperative Societies have told them, 'You must leave this place,' they petitioned the High Court. Fine. Now they're at the final legal setting and afterward there will come a happy ending for Hanaton."

Your happy ending could be their bitter end.

"I'm not opposed to Hanoar Haoved Vehalomed, but I think that on Hanaton they sanctified any and all means for the sake of their goal. While seeking to save Israeli society, they trampled people. Apparently, these are processes that model societies come to. I think they ought to ask themselves some hard questions. I don't think they understand the kind of distress they caused the kibbutz elders. In the end, it won't be so sad for them, because they have Ravid and Ashbal, two kibbutzim of Hanoar Haoved Vehalomed that are just a 15-minute drive from here. That's where their vision can be found." W