The cold-blooded murders of Revital Ohayon and her two young sons in their
beds by a young Arab gunman last Sunday has not shaken Kibbutz Metzer's core belief
in an independent Palestine. If anything, the killings have reinforced the conviction
among its 500 or so residents that the peaceful coexistence they enjoy with their
closest Arab neighbors is the only answer to Israel's problems.
"We were targeted because of our belief," said Dov Avital, the kibbutz's chief economist. "They wanted to show there is no such thing as coexistence. They think Palestinians should fight Jews. If they kill our dream, our vision of life, then they will have succeeded."
The belief in that vision - derided by the Israeli right as "pipe dreams" - was affirmed by the dozens of Arabs who came from villages miles away to express their sorrow at the killings on a kibbutz which is known for its opposition to Jewish domination.
This is a recent family photograph of Revital Ohion who was shot to death overnight
at home along with her two sons Matan Ohion, 5, and Noam Ohion, 4, in a Palestinain
shooting attack inside Kibbutz Metzer, in Israel, near the West Bank border, Monday,
Nov. 11, 2002. Two other Israelis were also killed in the attack. (AP Photo/HO)
Yet the murders have underpinned a growing sense among some on the kibbutz that there has been a withering of the idealistic roots planted by those who gave up their middle-class homes in Argentina half a century ago to proclaim a Marxist utopia on a rocky outcrop thousands of miles away.
"This was utopia. It was a communist utopia," Martin Schupak, one of the founders of the kibbutz, said. "We considered ourselves to be on the vanguard of building a new society. Now we are a reservation like the [native American] Indians in America. But at least we could still say that a kibbutz is a paradise for children. Now it's a paradise where they kill children."
The kibbutz was founded in 1953 by Argentinians eager to escape Peronist rule.
Mr Schupak acknowledges that in those early days they relied on their Arab neighbors
in Maisir village for survival.
"It was like any new settlement; there were tents and flies. No buildings, no services," he said. "When we arrived, the Arabs let us use their pump to get water. Without that we could not have survived. We had a nurse here so we helped them with healthcare in return. The cooperation grew."
But Mr Schupak concedes that the relationship was unequal, and that the Arabs' initial collaboration was probably out of fear. The people of Maisir had good reason to resent the Jewish settlers -their kibbutz was being built on land that five years earlier, at the time of the 1948 war, had belonged to Arab families.
"We didn't see their tragedy. We were new and it was a blank sheet to us," he said. "The Arabs didn't say to us this is their land because at this time it was a military region here. They lived in fear of soldiers. Later, when they felt more secure, they told us who the fields used to belong to. This is a thing we cannot change. The land belongs to the government now and we borrow it."
But both communities say that, in time, respect and even friendships grew. Arab boys came to play football at a soccer school on the Kibbutz. Palestinian children visited the animals; their parents came to weddings and funerals of the Jews they came to know as friends.
"We are one family, Metzer and Meiser," said Tahir Arda, who led the Arab delegation from the village to the kibbutz to express sorrow over the killings. "It is true that there was a time when things were new and difficult. But now this friendship is part of our tradition. In 1967, when the kibbutz men went to war for Israel, I drove the tractor on Metzer. They know this was one man who killed, not the entire Arab nation. And we know they know that. It is what makes them different."
Relations were not so good with another neighboring village, Qafin, across
the 1967 border. But the Israeli government's plan to build a security fence along
much of the length of the green line forged an alliance if not a friendship. The
fence was going to cut the people of Qafin off from most of their olive groves.
"Qafin was not very receptive to our offer of warm relations, but I can understand it. They are under military occupation. I know the issue of coming to us about the security fence was a source of heated argument but eventually they did," Mr Avital said. "So we campaigned to have the fence moved west, closer to our land. We believe it should take equal land from both sides.
"We were able to tell Sharon that when he came to visit after the murders and he promised to try to do it, so maybe something good came from it."
For the some of the founders, however, the murders are a blow to the original ideals of the kibbutz as a haven from the world's shortcomings.
The first major change came a decade ago when the kibbutz leaders, under pressure from parents, scrapped the system of forcing the children of Metzer to sleep in a communal dormitory. It marked a shift of power away from the Marxist old guard to a less political way of life.
Another more fundamental change is on the way. Until now everyone on the kibbutz put their earnings into the collective pot. But in a bid to attract young professionals, residents will be allowed to keep some of their earnings.
"Life has changed and people have to come here voluntarily so we have to change," said Mr Avital. "The kibbutz has changed too. It was an instrument to build a country. Now it's built. Those who still believe in the creation of Israel through settlement are living on the West Bank."
"But if the kibbutz has a role in Israel's future perhaps it is showing how
to live with your neighbor in peace. I cannot see any other way. It's not a dream,
it's the only solution."
© Guardian Newspapers Limited 2002