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Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
Strategic Alliances for a Secure, Connected, and Prosperous Region

Agricultural Settlement: Up to the Present and into the Future

Filed under: Israel
Publication: Jewish Political Studies Review

Jewish Political Studies Review
Volume 28, Numbers 3–4

The beginning of settlement in the Land of Israel in the new era can be dated as early as 1700. In that year Rabbi Yehuda Hehasid and his followers made aliyah (immigrated to the Land of Israel), settling in Jerusalem. Also in that year, Rabbi Hayim Abulafia and his followers came from Istanbul to live in Tiberias.

Jewish settlement in Jaffa began in 1820 when Rabbi Isaiah Ajiman moved there from Istanbul. And in 1827 Sir Moses Montefiore made his first visit to the country. The year 1870 saw the founding of the agricultural school at Mikveh Israel.

And in 1872 Petah Tikva and Rosh Pina, the first of 21 colonies, were established. The year 1882 saw the aliyah of the Bilu pioneers, and there was also an aliyah of Yemenite Jews, some of whom settled in the village of Hashiloach near Jerusalem.

Some maintain that settlement in the new era began when groups of Jews founded the Nahalat Shiva, Mishkenot Sha’ananim, and Mahane Israel neighborhoods outside the walls of Jerusalem. 

The advent of Herzl and the holding of the First Zionist Congress reflected the awakening of the Zionist movement. As a national movement, Zionism undoubtedly draws from Jewish sources and from thousands of years of Jewish history. Zion and Jerusalem were not only part of daily prayers, but also of the plans and the thoughts of rabbis and emissaries who visited the Land of Israel at various times (such as Yehuda Halevi, Benjamin Toledano, and others).

The late 18th and early 19th centuries in Europe saw the rise of the major ideologies of socialism, communism, and later on in the beginning of the 20th century – fascism. This era also saw the awakening of the working class in the aftermath of the Industrial Revolution. These developments were followed by the Bolshevik revolution in Russia, the emergence of nationalist movements, and the establishment of European states (including Italy, Germany, the Balkan countries, and Russia).

In this period the Jewish people, most of whom lived in Eastern Europe, also underwent upheavals. Jews were also among the leaders of each of the European ideological movements.

The Jewish people, which was influenced by its surroundings, made transitions from ultra-Orthodox faith to a life of traditionalism to the Haskalah period.

All these factors together gave rise to the Zionist movement. As early as 1878 (before Herzl’s proclamation of the need for a Jewish state, followed by the First Zionist Congress in 1897), groups of Jews in Poland, Ukraine, Russia, and Romania got organized on their own initiative, purchased lands in the Land of Israel, and established colonies (which came to be called the “Baron Rothschild colonies”). This was the endeavor of the First Aliyah.

The Second Aliyah began in 1904. In terms of settlement of the land, it included the founding of the city of Tel Aviv, of the first kibbutzim, Degania and Kinneret, and of the first moshav, Nahalal.

The initiative to create the kibbutz form of settlement did not come from the pioneers themselves but from the Jewish Zionist leader Arthur Ruppin. As the kibbutz communal ideologies developed, a cooperative movement of agricultural kibbutz and moshav settlements emerged. More and more such settlements were founded and developed.

Hovevei Tzion, the pioneering movement, and various youth movements in European countries organized training nuclei of young pioneers, preparing them to make aliyah and found settlements.

Meanwhile the Zionist movement set up institutions to help promote the settlement of the country. These included the Jewish National Fund, which purchased land, the Anglo-Palestine Bank, Keren Hayesod, the Zionist leadership, Hashomer, the Haganah, the Hamashbir Hamerkazi wholesale supplier, Kupat Holim, insurance providers, transportation networks, schools, universities, and a mass aliyah movement.

It is impossible to describe the prestate period, before Israel was established in 1948, without highlighting agricultural settlement, and the kibbutzim and moshavim in particular. Without them, it can be assumed that the state would not have been established.

Settlement in all its forms operated in five basic domains. The first was the founding of Jewish settlements all over the country, eventually delineating its borders. The second was the development of agriculture, which bonds the Jewish people with its land and country. The third was the change in the national and international ethos from a people that had engaged in commerce, with individuals seeking their own benefit, to a people working its land. A movement arose that espoused values of human equality, freedom, fellowship, sharing, and self-labor, without exploiting others. The fourth was the establishment of an army for the state in the making, which prepared itself for fateful hours so that it could repulse the attacks of any Arab countries. And the fifth was the remolding of the Jewish and cultural tradition within a framework of pioneering rather than religiosity, while drawing on the heritage of the people.

The establishment of the state in 1948 in the aftermath of the Second World War and the Holocaust, in which we lost 6.5 million of our people, soon followed by large aliyot of Jewish communities from all over the world, resulted in great economic hardship. The ma’abarot (tent camps for immigrants from Arab countries), the austerity policy, the multitude of languages, the multitude of Diaspora professions, and war – all these symbolized the beginnings of the state.                         

The government pursued a huge plan to build hundreds of settlements, most of them moshavim, that could absorb tens of thousands of immigrants. Most of these immigrants did not come to Israel because of the ideals of the Zionist movement, but perhaps mainly because of the yearning for Zion throughout the generations. Entire communities came to Israel without any grounding in Western values such as cooperation, equality, and freedom. The settlements that were initially established were moshavim for the immigrants, located all over the country. The community settlements and development towns came later.

The main contribution of the hundreds of moshavim that were set up was to provide food, work, and income, albeit modest, while settling the areas along the armistice borders.

Tens of kibbutzim were also established, as Israeli youth movements organized youth groups to found and operate new collective settlements.

The period of settlement from 1948 to 1967 saw the emergence of the character of the country, the development of agriculture and agricultural exports, the creation of networks for transportation, electricity, and water, and the building of an army. Also established were an extensive academic system as well as new and special facilities for research and energy. 

Per capita income rose, and the questions confronting Israel no longer concerned equality in providing for basic needs but, instead, a more just distribution of wealth.

The early 1960s saw the beginnings of change in agricultural settlement as a whole, first in the moshavim and later also in the way of life of the kibbutzim.

In 1967 Israel was again attacked, this time by Syria in the north, Egypt in the south, and Jordan in the center of the country. The war ended in an Israeli victory that created new borders, which encompassed the entire western Land of Israel, all of Sinai, and all of the Golan Heights. The policy of the governments up to 1977 was based on a security concept (the Allon Plan) with three main pillars:

  1. Israeli security
  2. No settlement in heavily Arab-populated areas
  3. Two states for two peoples

Again a settlement drive was launched, using the old methods. Moshavim were established, mainly in Sinai, and about 25 settlements were built on the Golan, seven of them kibbutzim and the rest moshavim, though not workers’ moshavim but, instead, a new model of religious settlement.    

In the Jordan Valley 15 settlements were founded, including nine kibbutzim, and in the Gaza Strip religious settlers founded 10 moshavim. These settlements were of different types.

On the Golan the town of Katzrin was founded, in the Jordan Valley the large settlement of Maale Efraim, and in the Yamit salient in Sinai, the town of Yamit. Tens of hilltop settlements were also established, mainly in the Galilee. The clear purpose was to prevent parts of the country from being taken over by private parties, particularly Muslims. Over the years the large majority of the outposts became community settlements.   

Kibbutzim and moshavim were also built in the central and southern Arava.

The period from 1967 to 1977 marked a continuation of the settlement period of the 1950s and 1960s.

With the change of government in 1977, changes in the sphere of agricultural settlement also began. The encouragement to work the land, along with government support for agriculture, greatly diminished.

As a result many moshavim abandoned agriculture and moved into real estate or tourism, transferring their lands to vegetable-production contractors. The cooperative settlement frameworks suffered, and amid rapid inflation even the stronger moshavim and kibbutzim were severely affected. The national economic policy changed direction drastically and with a speed that could not be adjusted to the pace of life. The result was a serious economic crisis in many of the kibbutzim and a large-scale departure of members.

The government’s policy opposed the principles of cooperation and equality. It also weakened the nonsettlement cooperative frameworks such as Kupat Holim, the Histadrut, Hamashbir Hamerkazi, the agricultural-export company Agrexco, and others.

Under these conditions, new trends began in the kibbutzim in an effort to adjust to the new reality. Demands were raised for allocating possessions and for making changes in the kibbutz way of life. Change has been a legacy of the kibbutz since its founding in 1909; it changes constantly as it adapts to Israeli society as a whole.

Issues such as the age of seniority, the pension coverage of elderly members, changes in land prices, and the pressure on the institutions of the state induced a sense of instability, and as a result far-reaching changes occurred in kibbutz life. The national objectives of the kibbutz no longer exist. The state does not support settlement, agriculture, or cooperation. Meanwhile the rise of an extremist religious, with representation in government, greatly facilitated the founding of numerous settlements out of religious rather than security criteria, as a period of settlement began mainly in Judea and Samaria. Numerous settlements were built without government approval, surreptitiously, with the help of all sorts of ruses and on all sorts of land. Most of them were given authorizations by religious associations, rabbis, and religious political parties, which exploited their power as part of the governing system.

Most of these settlements have no economic basis at their location, neither agricultural nor industrial. For most of these settlements the only economic lever is the establishment of religious educational systems of numerous kinds for different population groups, with funds provided by the government through the Education Ministry.

Over the past 10 years, as changes have occurred in the kibbutzim involving a much lower level of cooperation than in the past, many children of the kibbutz have returned to their kibbutzim, and the population of the various settlements has grown substantially. This period has seen the expensive construction of housing for sons and daughters, particularly in the moshavim but in the kibbutzim as well. Most of the kibbutzim now allow members to make their living outside of the kibbutz framework, transferring part of their earnings to the maintenance of the community particularly in the areas of culture, education, sports, gardening, security, pensions, and so on.

A new generation of kibbutzniks and moshavniks is now seeking the right balance between freedom and equality, between the life of the individual and family and the life of the community, involving culture, education, and so on. It should be pointed out, however, that out of about 260 kibbutzim, about 70 have retained the old cooperative model, and others are in different stages of change. Thanks to cheap apartment prices in kibbutzim, many young couples who do not identify with the kibbutz heritage at all have been joining kibbutzim. However, many of the veteran moshavim are continuing, in the fourth and fifth generations, the way of life of the classic and veteran moshav.

My expectation is that there will always be a balance between the kibbutzim and the general society in Israel. In the future kibbutzim will become small community settlements, a few will be dismantled, and ultimately they will become ordinary villages without special obligations between the residents – a kind of moshavim, perhaps cooperative at first. Some of the moshavim will become wealthy farms, amassing the lands of some number of settlers. They will deal with agriculture and the marketing of agricultural products, without employing Jews in menial farm labor.

Covered agriculture will develop greatly, with an increase in  greenhouses for various kinds of vegetables, fruits, spices, and flowers. These greenhouses will be maintained or destroyed according to the export policy of the government.    

As for the settlements in the areas that will be transferred to the Palestinian state, they will be able to remain where they are, their residents working and voting in Israel, and in Palestine as well. Just as there is an Arab minority in Israel, there will be a Jewish minority in Palestine. Or, alternatively, the residents will be able to transfer the settlements to Israel, moving to sites designated by the government and with appropriate compensation.