Two weeks ago, Jeff Halper, the human rights activist, drove me south through the West Bank and I asked him about the blessed kibbutzes of my childhood memory, the Jewish agricultural cooperatives that were transforming Jewish identity and making the desert bloom; and he exploded the myth with a simple truth: Palestinians were not welcome to join kibbutzes, in fact kibbutzes played a role in ethnically cleansing Palestine.
In the video above, Halper tells a disgusting story about the Palestinian who wanted to join the kibbutz he had worked for for many years. It’s in the first couple minutes.
As you listen to this story, remember that Palestinians make up 20 percent of Israeli society. They don’t get drafted, they can’t join kibbutzes, and their political parties are barred from the room, even by Labor, when ruling coalitions are formed, in favor of rightwing Jewish parties. So Israel is much like the South during the time of segregation; and as Yonatan Shapira told an American audience some weeks ago, Palestinians can’t found new towns inside Israel, even as Jews have founded hundreds of new towns since 1948. Did you know that? I sure didn’t.
Also, watch this video to see the geography of the colonies in the occupied West Bank. We’re driving to Hebron, south from Jerusalem. We’re passing Efrat, the “Scarsdale of the West Bank.” Now and then the videographer manages to capture the scene. The video ends with a crushing revelation about Israelis depriving Palestinians of water for some of the richest farmland in the Judean hills.
And watch it too for, starting at 4 minutes or so, Halper’s memories of his rabbinical school buddies. They’re all rabbis now. And you’d think that they’d have him in to their synagogues, to learn about the oppressive occupation that is taking place in the name of all Jews, right?
(Now let me amend, and say that Halper transformed my myth of the kibbutz. I honor Jewish collective awareness; and I can still think of the kibbutz as a hallowed artifact in Jewish history– on the path to discovering the Other we oppressed. The late Tony Judt had this very awakening on his kibbutz back in the 60s.)