In Israel, kibbutzim are reinventing themselves, far from the socialism of their beginnings

Yuval Vakrat poses in a shop in the Israeli kibbutz of Hanita on April 13, 2023 (Menahem Gahana).

„You can still see some oil on the walls,” says Yuval Wakrat, in a former metallurgical plant that now houses an art gallery, several shops and a distillery in Kibbutz Hanita in northwestern Israel.

Like this man who returned to live in the kibbutz of his birth 43 years ago, others have returned to the fold, inspired by the new opportunities that have opened up in those former collective farming communities.

In the Upper Galilee, near the border with Lebanon, Hanita Kibbutz, founded in 1938, currently has a population of 750.

Created by Zionist European Jews who came to settle in Ottoman Palestine, then under British rule, the kibbutz long represented the dynamism of the young Israeli state proclaimed in 1948.

„Everything is shared,” explains sociologist Yuval Achuch, a kibbutz expert, meaning „assembly” or „group” in Hebrew. „There is no such thing as private property,” he says.

„The kibbutz was the most successful socialist society in human history,” said Achuch of the Western Galilee Academic College in Acre (north).

But in the wake of the collapse of communism in the Soviet Union and the Israeli economic crisis of the 1980s, many kibbutz residents fell into debt and their cooperative model weakened, Achuch says.

Young people left rural communities in search of urban life, and in the 1990s, socialist ideals lost strength to individualistic values.

Since then, most kibbutzim have been privatized.

„They put aside their ideological principles of socialism and tried to integrate into the economic system,” Achuch added.

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But plans to attract young people back to the kibbutz have sprouted recently, Wakrat said.

Wakrat praised Hanita’s quality of life and proximity to nature, surrounded by trees and close to the Mediterranean Sea.

“I also managed to buy an old house at a good price and jumped at the chance.

There are about 270 kibbutzim throughout Israel, whose residents make up less than 2% of the country’s population.

– high technology –

Further east of Hanita, a black-and-white photograph is seen at the entrance to a renovated stable at Kibbutz Yiron, which contrasts with the current reality of the site.

„It was only 30 years ago that there were cows here,” said Simcha Shor, who founded his high-tech company AgroScout on the kibbutz.

The stables’ original roof and metal bars were kept, but Shore installed glass partitions to convert the old stables into offices.

Some employees are engrossed in computer screens while others prepare drones to fly over nearby fields.

AgroScout has developed technologies to detect pests in crops using drones, satellites and mobile phones.

Some high-tech companies, the engine of the Israeli economy, play an important role in the modernization of the kibbutz.

„Kibbutzes were the first start-ups,” says Gil Lin, president of the Kibbutz Industry Association, where residents shared an „innovative approach” to the challenges of the day.

These communities still account for 40% of Israel’s agricultural production and 11% of its manufacturing, but are increasingly investing in property, services and new technologies, Lin added.

„This growing diversity reflects the country’s 'bold and creative’ culture, which was previously led by the kibbutz movement and is 'now emerging,'” Achuch explained.

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