The Privatization of the Kibbutzim and the Carmel Fire

 

Yesterday we visited Kibbutz Beit Oren, which was devastated in the Carmel fires. The ostensible point of our visit was to see the damage and the recovery efforts. The damage was terrible and the recovery is continuing.

But my own interest, really, was to see what a privatized kibbutz looks like. A “privatized kibbutz” is an oxymoron, because a kibbutz is, by definition, a socialist collective. Like all socialist projects, the kibbutz movement failed. Yes, yes, we all heard the propaganda–the kibbutzim show that socialism can work, isn’t it amazing, these beautiful, efficient collective farms where the babies are raised by day-care workers. Well, that was complete rot.

I worked on Kibbutz Afikim, in the Jordan Valley, when I was about eighteen years old. The path between working on a kibbutz and writing a book called “Why Margaret Thatcher Matters” was a straight line. It did not escape my notice that I was working on a collective farm–a place devoted to the production of agricultural goods, in other words–yet the only vegetable served in that dreary collective dining hall, ever, day in, day out, breakfast, lunch, and dinner, was the cucumber, and there was never any fruit. I farmed my brains out that summer and still nearly came home with a case of scurvy. I have no idea where the bananas I picked that summer went, but it surely wasn’t the dining room table.

Beit-Oren was founded as a die-hard socialist settlement in 1939. Predictably, it went bankrupt, because socialism doesn’t work. By the 1980s it had no means of subsistence, and the world’s ideological tides having turned, the larger kibbutz movement cut it off. In 1987 about half the population of the kibbutz decided to leave, an event known as the Beit Oren Incident. You can read between the lines of the brochure we were given yesterday, I’m sure:

During this difficult period for the kibbutz movement, a new concept was born at Beit Oren, of all places–the concept of “the new kibbutz.”

Much as it would give me pride to say that Israel was the birthplace of this new concept, they are of course not speaking of a new concept at all but rather a very old one–private property. Obviously–again reading between the lines–the old guard took this about as well as old socialists ever do when confronted with the idea of private property:

In 1988, after an intense period of discussion and decision, the New Kibbutz was on its way with renewed strength and vigor, and many new members. The kibbutz’s financial situation improved, empty apartments were rented to new residents, the kitchen and dining room became an events hall, and various kibbutz enterprises recovered. In June 1995, the decision was taken to privatize services and individual income. This was to be the first in a series of privatizations. Within a short time after this decision, most kibbutz members expressed satisfaction with this arrangement.

So in fact, what we were visiting was not a kibbutz. The proper term for what we saw is “a village.” A very lovely village. And even though this village had nearly burned to the ground, it had the hallmarks of a place where property is private, unlike the kibbutz at which I worked. What’s the telltale sign? The parts that had not burned were breathtakingly beautiful. Socialism never looks breathtakingly beautiful. And there were a variety of refreshments on offer beyond the cucumber.

Now, a few sad things that I have to point out. The fire was a terrible tragedy. The loss of life, in particular, was appalling–44 police officers died. (They died trying to evacuate a prison. All of the prisoners, Palestinian and Israeli, were saved.)

But it was abundantly clear on inspection that common-sense precautions to protect this village against forest fires had not been taken. One glimpse at this landscape is enough to see that it’s a tinder-box. Forest fires are obviously a huge risk here. Anyone from California would know that. There should have been nothing combustible on the hillside directly beneath this village. There should have been a safety zone of at least 30 feet between the houses and anything that could burn. There wasn’t. There were no fire hydrants.

The disaster was not only predictable, it was predicted:

After the “big fire” in the Carmel Forest in 1989, when “only” 3,000 dunam burned, an investigative committee had recommended that preventive steps should be taken, namely, creating fire breaks with no or restricted vegetation and limiting the kind of vegetation that proliferates in the woodland by thinning out and controlled burning. Further, when the plant life does regenerate, livestock or human volunteers should be put to work to keep it cropped. Sadly, these guidelines were not heeded.

The total damage estimate, they say, is about 70 million shekels. Their insurance only covers 20 million.

So. You’re living in a hot, dry, windy, heavily forested area known for the outbreak of fires. You’ve planted pine trees–pine trees, that resin is particularly combustible!–up to your windows. You don’t cut them back. The whole area is in range of Hezbollah rockets, let’s not forget that–they hit Haifa repeatedly in 2006, and you’ve got to reckon that doesn’t reduce the forest-fire risk. You don’t buy enough insurance to cover the damage if your house burns down.

Who makes a decision like that?

People who’ve only recently learned how to handle a checkbook and who have only recently come into contact with the idea of “Whatever happens, you’ll have to pay for it yourself,” I suppose.

There are 17 comments.

  1. Member

    I wonder how much of the Left’s hostility toward Israel could be traced to that country’s movement away from the Socialist principles of its early years.

    Doubt that it’s the main factor, but I suspect it’s been a significant one.

    • #1
    • March 18, 2011 at 5:44 am
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  2. Member

    Collective villages are nothing new. They first began popping up in the 1600s. My ancestors were involved in some in the 1800s.

    In every case–every single one–the residents turned to private property. Private property didn’t evolve to benefit the rich, or crap like that–it evolved because nothing else worked, no matter how many times alternatives were tried.

    This outcome was predictable; from the original Jamestown to southwestern communes, collectivist communities have never worked, not once in human history.

    • #2
    • March 18, 2011 at 8:05 am
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  3. Member

    Claire, any photos you could post from there? I can relate personally because of our periodic fires here in SoCal.

    • #3
    • March 18, 2011 at 8:12 am
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  4. Inactive

    Claire… you are a sweetheart. You give us so much. I have spent some time in post Soviet Russia and have seen much the same thing. Many people there seem not to be able to summon the personal initiative necessary to improve their lot, even though it has been over 20 years since the government leash has been slipped. They simply have too little experience with personal freedom and responsibility.

    I have never been to Israel (very much want to), but the Kibbutzim appear to be simply another Massachusetts Colony, founded on socialist principles for their first year, suffering greatly for the failure, and then turning to private enterprise for survival.

    Amazing how a part of any population are absolutely determined to learn nothing from history. Sadly, the intellectual appears given to the idea that if it works in his mind, than it is a done deal. To take a word from the Israeli’s, what chutzpah!

    • #4
    • March 18, 2011 at 8:25 am
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  5. Member

    raycon, from what I hear, Russia lacks some key parts of a free enterprise system (or atl least it did in its early post-Soviet years, when the damage was done). E.g. weak property rights, bad bankrupty legislation, not much in the way of antitrust, etc. I’m not sure how much of this is still there, but the damage they did dispirited the Russian people, I think.

    Essentially, Soviet Russia did not transition to a free enterprise system–it went to a monopolistic oligarchy, and has slowly been morphing into something else ever since. I’m not sure how things are today; I’ve heard it’s gotten better in recent years.

    • #5
    • March 18, 2011 at 8:43 am
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  6. Inactive
    Joseph Eagar: raycon, from what I hear, Russia lacks some key parts of a free enterprise system (or atl least it did in its early post-Soviet years, when the damage was done). E.g. weak property rights, bad bankrupty legislation, not much in the way of antitrust, etc. I’m not sure how much of this is still there, but the damage they did dispirited the Russian people, I think.

    Essentially, Soviet Russia did not transition to a free enterprise system–it went to a monopolistic oligarchy, and has slowly been morphing into something else ever since. I’m not sure how things are today; I’ve heard it’s gotten better in recent years. · Mar 18 at 8:43am

    I believe you are correct. But remember, it is that lack of personal initiative that allows post soviet Russia to remain unchanged.

    • #6
    • March 18, 2011 at 8:57 am
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  7. Member

    Tragedy of the commons…flambé!

    • #7
    • March 18, 2011 at 11:29 am
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  8. Inactive
    david foster: I wonder how much of the Left’s hostility toward Israel could be traced to that country’s movement away from the Socialist principles of its early years.

    Food for thought. Israel was essentially founded by a bunch of atheist/agnostic socialists (see Golda Meir’s famous quote on the subject), and as late as the 80’s, Israeli political leadership often sounded like something from the Fourth International. And now Orthodox Jews are growing, Israel has turned to what Americans consider the Right Wing, and the old socialist beliefs have been cast aside, replaced by a rapidly growing capitalist economy. The early socialist Israelis would be appalled, and I think that this helps prove that, yes, the Lord does indeed work in strange ways.

    • #8
    • March 19, 2011 at 7:25 am
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  9. Inactive

    Claire, your talent for the succinct continually amazes me.

    “I worked on Kibbutz Afikim, in the Jordan Valley, when I was about eighteen years old. The path between working on a kibbutz and writing a book called “Why Margaret Thatcher Matters” was a straight line.”

    Beautiful.

    • #9
    • March 19, 2011 at 8:36 am
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  10. Inactive
    Claire Berlinski, Ed.

    Casey Taylor

    Casey Taylor: Claire, your talent for the succinct continually amazes me.
    Continually or continuously? I can’t ever get a good answer for that. As someone who lives by the written word, what do you say, Claire? · Mar 18 at 9:02pm
    “Claire: Succinct.” · Mar 18 at 10:05pm

    You are so cool.

    I’m meeting today with Yucel Yanikdag of the University of Richmond and Mehmet Furat of the University of Istanbul. Ever run into those two?

    • #10
    • March 19, 2011 at 8:52 am
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  11. Inactive
    Casey Taylor: Claire, your talent for the succinct continually amazes me.

    Continually or continuously? I can’t ever get a good answer for that. As someone who lives by the written word, what do you say, Claire?

    • #11
    • March 19, 2011 at 9:02 am
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  12. Editor
    Claire Berlinski, Ed. Post author
    Casey Taylor
    Casey Taylor: Claire, your talent for the succinct continually amazes me.
    Continually or continuously? I can’t ever get a good answer for that. As someone who lives by the written word, what do you say, Claire? · Mar 18 at 9:02pm

    “Claire: Succinct.”

    • #12
    • March 19, 2011 at 10:05 am
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  13. Editor
    Claire Berlinski, Ed. Post author
    Del Mar Dave: Claire, any photos you could post from there? I can relate personally because of our periodic fires here in SoCal. · Mar 18 at 8:12am

    DMD, I have tons of photos and videos that I haven’t uploaded yet because I’ve yet to encounter truly high-speed Internet here–which is weird, given that Israel is billed as Internet heaven. This is either one of those vile Zionist myths or I’ve just been unlucky. When I get back to Istanbul we’ll have a big show-and-tell. For now, I can’t take the frustration of trying to upload this stuff.

    • #13
    • March 19, 2011 at 10:10 am
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  14. Inactive

    I do realize that there are 70 million Turks in the world, but it’s worth a shot.

    • #14
    • March 19, 2011 at 11:20 am
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  15. Editor
    Claire Berlinski, Ed. Post author
    Casey Taylor: I do realize that there are 70 million Turks in the world, but it’s worth a shot. · Mar 19 at 11:20am

    Nope–never met them. But if you narrow all the Turks in the world to the ones you might be meeting at the University of Richmond, the odds aren’t as long, so yes, it was worth a shot.

    • #15
    • March 21, 2011 at 10:25 am
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  16. Inactive

    Sweet. They were hesitant to admit that they hadn’t met you, I assume out of politeness. Then we all drank like demons and I learned some new songs.

    Is this common?

    • #16
    • March 22, 2011 at 8:13 am
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  17. Inactive

    Douglas, as Claire points out in her description of Itamar settlers’ penchant for organic farms, Orthodoxy in religion doesn’t necessarily = right-wing in anything other than defense/security. Convincing those Israelis who see themselves as idealists that socialist dreams of economic equality are misguided is an uphill battle. I’m working on it though!

    • #17
    • March 24, 2011 at 12:06 pm
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