A Shining Future

Ein Gedi, for one / The battle for the almond grove / David Irving repents, sort of.

Eight years ago, Ayala Gilad, from Kibbutz Ein Gedi, on the Dead Sea, composed a kind of farewell hymn to the dying kibbutz movement. "The founders of the kibbutz did not think things through," she stated, and explained: "We have to admit that we did not succeed in changing human nature. We kibbutz members, too, are human beings, with all their foibles and yearnings. Regular mortals, concerned above all about their family, striving for money and a high living standard and desiring to leave property to their children." Conclusion: When kibbutzim no longer can offer most of their residents what they want and most of the children leave, the kibbutz as such is dead. Many kibbutzniks viewed her article as a requiem that would accompany them on their final path.

Now Gilad has made a film - and, wonder of wonders, it says nothing about a historic mistake or death but describes a success story with a glowing future. This is a unique document that deserves to be seen, something between a family video of the type people prepare for round birthdays and an ideological rebuttal to the wave of grumble films about the hardships of kibbutz life.

Gilad paints a paradise. At the start we see bare-chested youngsters in short pants fired with a vision to make the desert bloom at the lowest spot in the world, with its breathtaking landscape. At the end we see captivating promotional images of the local hotel surrounded by the botanical garden, a popular haunt for German tourists. In between we discover that the residents of Ein Gedi knew only happiness.

The viewer learns that in a kibbutz everyone works according to his ability and receives according to his needs; there is no private property; everything belongs to everyone. It's a direct and true democracy, in which women are equal to men. The communal houses where the children once lived, not their parents' homes, were terrific fun. In Ein Gedi, it appears, everyone always agrees with everyone else. There was no strife there about the proper attitude toward the Soviet Union or toward Germany; discrimination toward the Mizrahim - Jews from Middle Eastern and North African countries - did not bother the members, nor did the "Who Is a Jew" issue. Politics seems to stop at the entrance to the kibbutz. The future of the territories that were conquered in the Six-Day War was of no interest to them, nor was the suppression of the Palestinians, and Israel's wars came and went like the winter floods.

Gilad devotes much of the film to her family; she is now a grandmother nearing 70. The impression she gives is that everyone stayed on the kibbutz, and indeed, by her telling, there was no reason to leave. Because in Ein Gedi there was no selfishness or narrow-mindedness; no hypocrisy, self-righteousness or power struggles; no marital crises, no cheating or divorces, no mental distress, no disappointments, boredom or doubts, no diarrhea and no toothaches. Only togetherness and idealism. Everyone seems to have stepped out of a travel poster. Maybe everything will start anew, Gilad says, in the spirit of the song: A new day is not like last night, and tomorrow holds out a shining future. This is her truth: The beating of the wings of history is positive, lofty and sublime, she wrote .

Toward the end of the film, we see two of the many guests who have visited Ein Gedi over the years: Mikhail Gorbachev and the former president of China, Jiang Zemin. The two could certainly identify with Gilad: They knew something about socialism and also about the production of films like this. Gilad invested NIS 45,000 in the making of the film. Her own private money. The film is available for purchase in an English-language version.

Mazuz vs. Mazuz

The attorney general, Menachem Mazuz, is trying to block a serious blow that is, he says, threatening the country. It all began in 1948, and continued in 1967. The immediate question awaiting a Supreme Court decision involves the ownership of an almond grove located in Beit Safafa, an Arab village on the edge of Jerusalem. The real question involves the ownership of the Land of Israel.

The state maintains that the grove is absentees' property, and that Israel has the right to expropriate property in East Jerusalem that belongs to residents of the West Bank, just as, after independence, the state expropriated the property that previously belonged to the 1948 refugees. The problem is that just two and a half years ago Mazuz himself signed off on a directive not to implement the absentees' property law in East Jerusalem. "These are in fact 'present absentees' who were deprived of their property rights due to the broad technical formulation of the law," Mazuz wrote, adding that the law was not to be implemented without his authorization. The question is even more entangled in the wake of two contradictory judgments that were handed down by the Jerusalem District Court. One judge, Boaz Okun, ruled, in the spirit of Mazuz's directive, that implementing the law in East Jerusalem is "legalizing without legality"; a second judge, Raphael Carmel, handed down an opposite judgment. The State Prosecutor's Office asked the Supreme Court to rule that the expropriation of property belonging to residents of East Jerusalem is lawful. Attorney Miri Rahat, from the law firm of Avigdor Feldman, who is representing the owner of the grove in Beit Safafa, whipped out Mazuz's opinion. Accordingly, Justice Asher Grunis sent the prosecution's representative to find out what the state's position is, and he has now received a reply.

Mazuz warns the court: "The approach of Judge Okun means that all the actions that were taken throughout all the years with regard to assets of Judea-Samaria residents in East Jerusalem under the law, were prima facie undertaken unlawfully and without authority. The consequence is that the approach of the honorable judge, according to which the law never applied to the assets under discussion, exposes the Custodian of Absentees' Property and the state to many legal allegations and risks." In other words, everything will either have to be returned or billions paid in compensation. Mazuz suggests that the court rule that the law is binding and was so in the past, and that his directive only sets policy for the future.

Israeli heritage

Last week I praised the new Internet site of English Heritage (www.imagesofengland.org.uk), which contains more than 300,000 photographs. It deserves emulation, I noted. Emulation exists: The architect Sharon Raz maintains an intriguing Israeli heritage Web site. He actually started his project, which contains some 5,000 photos, before the English one. Images of England cost about 7.5 million pounds sterling to set up, whereas Raz works alone. He deserves support. (www.disappearing-architecture.co.il, Hebrew only).

Maybe, after all

A few months after his release from prison in Vienna, where he was incarcerated for over a year for denying the Holocaust, the British historian David Irving says that maybe, after all, there is something to that story about the annihilation of the Jews. Not six million, under no circumstances more than 2.4 million, but still, something.

Marissa Brostoff, who writes for the New York-based weekly Forward, quotes Irving as saying that he is now under attack by his fellow Holocaust deniers. They view him as a contemptible turncoat, collaborator, renegade and Kapo. The historian Deborah Lipstadt, who emerged victorious in a libel suit Irving filed against her, told the Forward that what Irving said "should be met with a big yawn."

A tree dies in Auschwitz

Reader David Amit recently visited Auschwitz and noticed that a birch tree that was planted by President Moshe Katsav in 2003 had withered and wilted. It's not clear whether the tree's condition was due to shame or to neglect by the groundskeepers.