Inspiring Zionism: The Founders of HaShomer HaChadash

Amidst the outlaws in the hills and the violent bullies trying to exile women from public places, there is the organization HaShomer HaChadash a clear, heartwarming point of light.

Ben Caspit

A narrow dirt road makes its way from the center of Moshava Tzipori to the top of the hill, twisting between well- kept barns, orchards, ancient olive trees and cattle.  The warm winter sun is shining brightly, the air is fresh and the view clear.  There is nothing like winter in the Israeli Galilee.  Above us, three white horses are whinnying; there is also a fire, a pot of tea and a number of cups.

We are watching Mount Atzmon, gazing at the imaginary skyline between the Jezreel Valley and the Lower Galilee, astonished by the Beit Netofa Valley, which soon will be sparkling from the water that is supposed to fill it up in the next few months.  A ridge of the enormous Mount Nazareth is peeking behind us, serenity is wrapped around everything.

There are only four Shomer Hachadash Young Leadership groups, 53 members across the country.  When I asked Yoel Zilberman, the man who dreamt, came up with, and funded this wondrous organization (together with his partner On Rifman), what they are really doing here, he told me they were creating a language, a new language.

Rare Spirit

Yellowing in the sun on one of the benches is a brown book by Moshe Hess (Rome and Jerusalem).  This book is the foundation.  During the day they read and study the literature of the Rambam, Ben Gurion, Levi Eshkol and anything else that has Zionistic values, and at night they guard.  Field patrollers, on their horses, are currently the only body protecting the fields and property of the Hebrew farmers in the Galilee and the Negev.

The police are inadequate and busy, the government would rather flex its muscles at the hills in Samaria, and what’s left for the Hebrew farmer in the Galilee and the Negev is to “close the shop”, pray for a miracle or call the volunteers from HaShomer HaChadash.  There are more than 20 locations across the country, in the north and south, where HaShomer HaChadash is active.

Besides the groups of people doing their Shnat Sherut (year of volunteer service) there are hundreds of volunteers guarding at night; students and volunteers who are doing agricultural volunteer work, students who received scholarships and guard and work in the field (mostly from Ben Gurion University in Beer Sheva and the Interdisciplinary Center, Herzliya).  All of these people are brought together by this rare and special spirit, the spirit of sane, moral and entrenched Zionism.

In the black sea of madness all around, between the outlaws in the hills and the violent bullies trying to exile women from public places, amidst the destructiveness of a Prime Minister who is trying to silence anyone who criticizes him, and all of the Members of the Knesset competing with one another as to who will propose a crazier bill in order to win more votes in his party, I found these guys from HaShomer HaChadash a clear, heartwarming point of light.

Living Zionism

Zilberman is the third generation of his family in Tzipori.  His grandfather worked these fields, as his father does today.  The rising wave of theft, fires, ruined fences and abusiveness towards farmers, unanswered by the government, is what brought him, along with On Rifman (from Revivim in the Negev) to take this step and establish this organization.

“Am I my brother’s keeper?” Zilberman asks, then answers in a booming voice, “Yes, absolutely, we are our brothers’ keepers.  Where there are no guardians, we will be guardians.”  The organization has been around for three years.  The passion is at its peak.  The Zionism is there, it’s alive and flowing through the veins.

In addition to organizing the groups and migrating between the fields and the valleys, Zilberman makes appearances.  He lectures, all day and night, to any forum, school, class or division that wants to listen.  That’s how he came to a school in Nes Tziona, where he sat with the students who told him, honestly and openly, that they don’t care about this nonsense, all they’re interested in is reality television and Facebook.

Zilberman’s goal is to change one young mind in each group like this.  Today we have Tal with us, who sat at Zilberman’s lecture at that school in Nes Tziona and got hooked.  He ditched his iPhone and got on a white horse in the hills of Tzipori.  I asked him how it was going.  “It’s a real pleasure,” said Tal. “This is what life is all about.  Up until now I would be sitting with my friends at home, growing tomatoes on Facebook; believe me it tastes better out in the field, it has a flavor, a smell and texture.”

He and his friends sleep in shacks during the winter and out in the field during the summer.  They work and learn during the day and guard at night.  They wake up in the dark and learn to listen to the night; they learn the Arabic language and culture, and the rules of being a good neighbor, in order to get to know their neighbors better and learn how to nurture the relationship with them.

“We must not forget”, Yoel and On say, “that most of the Arabs and Bedouins around us are good people, and we have a great relationship with them.  When my grandfather died a few years ago many Arab leaders from the villages came to the funeral.  We respect them.  We talk to them.  Not long ago we met with some guys from Rahat.  They say themselves that there are about 10-15 problematic people in each village; the problem is that they take over and that’s what we are trying to prevent.”

Mutual Guarantee

After a talk with the people doing their Shnat Sherut we made our way to Sando Lookout, named after Yoel’s grandfather, at the top of the hill looking out at Tzipori.  There we met Beni from Alon Hagalil, a cowboy and farmer who herds his cattle and makes cheese, and Yehuda from Yavniel, also a cowboy and farmer.  They both have been struggling for years with the unceasing theft, robbery, fires, torn fences, violence and even attempted murder.

The government does nothing.  Sometimes a cop comes, hours later, clicks his tongue and says there is nothing to be done.  Sometimes even that much doesn’t happen.  Dozens of kibbutzim and moshavim in the north and the south are giving up their land and handing it over to the Israel Land Administration.  It’s not worth it anymore.  The usage fee is higher than the profit, the struggle against the theft and violence is taking a heavy toll, and it seems hopeless.  Hundreds of thousands of dunams are being abandoned.  That is exactly what the people of HaShomer HaChadash are fighting against, and according to the evidence in the field, they are succeeding.

“It’s all about mutual guarantee,” Yoel says.  “The best example is the one of Eric Crep, who was beaten to death on the beach at Tel Baruch, screaming for help but nobody helped him.  They let him die alone.  We want to change that.  We are studying history because we’re trying to understand Zionism through touch, feeling and smell.  We’re studying the field, what happened at the battle in Latrun, and who Ben Gurion was.”

“We try to understand how it could be that our best friend finishes the army and leaves the next day to conquer Machu Picchu and then comes back lost or confused or both.  We’re saying that first we should conquer our country, our home.  People are leaving places like Upper Nazareth, running away from the land and the field, right here in the heart of the Galilee, and in the center of the Negev.”

Not All is Lost

“We give lectures all the time in the army, and they tell us there that the real problem isn’t at the borders; we don’t need to fight with tanks.  The problem is eating at us from the inside.  We just need to work the field, herd the cattle, and let everyone who is looking at us with anticipation know that we’re here to stay and have no intention of giving up.”

“Our settling along the land,” say Zilberman and Rifman, “gives the farmers a sense of security.  Look at the valley and the Galilee, look at all the Jewish settlements surrounded by electrical fences or regular fences, whereas the Arab settlements don’t have any fences.  Our friends from the Shnat Sherut help Beni and Yehuda save their cattle and fields and keep their heads above the water.”

“We create a role model that’s different from shows like A Star is Born.  They are the new soldiers of Zionism, the soldiers in the field; they study the ways of the shepherds and cowboys, they are inventing a new language and a new way of thinking.  They are our hope.  Think what it means when a country decides not to deal with this hooliganism.  That’s quite dramatic.”

“When we saw the protests this summer we said to our selves, if every one of the 300 thousand protesters would help us for a couple of hours every month, we would have changed the face of this country.  There are thousands of farmers who have been deserted in the fields.  The cowboys, for example, are getting old and don’t have a younger generation.  People are scared, they can tell that it’s not worth it, they can’t put up with the violence and the determination on the other side.  We need help.”

During the hours I spent there, in the fields of Tzipori and at Sando Lookout, I heard dozens of stories, each one more horrifying than the last.  You could fill an encyclopedia with them, not just a column, and maybe someday that might happen.  They were hours well spent, hours of optimism, of getting to know a generation of hesitant young Israelis who nevertheless are filled with strength and faith.  It turns out, that despite everything, all is not lost.  HaShomer HaChadash receives some aid from the government (the most prominent among the ministers are Silvan Shalom, who gives hugs, and Boogie Yaalon, who appreciates), but they need much more than that.