Kibbutz Leaders Say War Putting Future of 50 Communities in Doubt
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KIBBUTZ AMIR, Israel — The rockets that hit a cow shed here marked the latest bitter blow against a community already struggling to survive.
For this farming collective five miles from the Lebanon border, the attack last week, which killed more than two dozen cows, raised new worries about life ahead for the troubled kibbutz, and others like it in northern Israel.
With many beset by financial woes, and up to half their residents fleeing for safer ground in central and southern Israel, kibbutz leaders say the conflict with Hezbollah threatens the future of the 50 such communities in the line of fire.
“They need help,” said Achikam Barlevy, who runs a development group in the upper Galilee region for kibbutzim, as the communities are known collectively in Hebrew. “We are at a standstill. There are no tourists. We can’t work in the fields or the factories.”
The cross-border rocket fire has peppered Israel’s rural north, leaving streets deserted and bringing the economy to a near halt. The uncertainty over what comes next is one more worry for a movement that has labored to stay afloat in the face of chronic debts, aging membership, and cultural changes that have shaken its standing as a mainstay of Israeli society.
Many kibbutzim, born of a socialist vision predating Israel’s 1948 founding, have turned in recent years to private enterprise, augmenting their communal farming operations by opening bed-and-breakfasts, building homes for newcomers from elsewhere in Israel, and launching factories to turn a profit.
But the fighting has stemmed the flow of weekend visitors to the scenic northern reaches and stifled kibbutz business enterprises. It is a crucial time, as many kibbutzim are privatizing or making other changes to stay vital in a nation that has been shedding the communitarian ethic on which it was built.
Nowhere is the plight clearer than at Amir, a community of 600 in the northern Hula Valley that went broke three years ago and has labored since then to dig out from debts of nearly $60 million. Four days before the rockets hit the cow shed, a separate rocket struck a diaper factory housed on the grounds of the kibbutz.
The first strike temporarily closed the factory, leaving 15 Amir residents without work. Community leaders have stopped sending workers into the wheat fields and orange groves out of concern they might be injured during one of the dozens of barrages that have targeted the upper Galilee region.
In many ways, the roof had fallen in on the 77-year-old kibbutz long before the rockets struck. Like many kibbutzim that lapsed into debt as a result of heavy borrowing in the 1980s, Amir was deeply in the red when it filed for bankruptcy protection three years ago.