A GROUP of pioneers bands together to fight the forces of lawlessness in their
small farming communities.
Together, they become the defenders of the
It sounds like the plot from a spaghetti western, but as
is so often the case in Israeli history, the truth is stranger than
This was the humble beginning of Hashomer (“The Guard”), an
organization established in 1909 to protect Jewish farms in Palestine, then
under the control of the Turks. The Yishuv movement sought to settle the Land of
Israel, a noble Zionist endeavor that many commemorate on Independence Day. But
Hashomer recognized that there was a second half to that equation: protecting
what you’ve created.
Israelis, and their pre-state forebearers, are no
strangers to defense. That legacy began, at least in part, with Hashomer. By
1913, it had enlisted approximately 400 members, and operated in 13
After 11 years of service guarding the crops and cattle of
fledgling Jewish farms, the organization disbanded in 1920, having decided to
join forces with the Hagana and thereby present a united front in defending the
regional Jewish communities.
But its spirit lived on, and would serve as
an inspiration for another group of Zionists nearly a century after its
In 2007, Yoel Zilberman and On Rifman founded Hashomer
Hahadash (“The New Guard”) for largely the same reasons as those of their
predecessors: to help the ranchers and farmers living in the remote areas along
As with many things, necessity was the mother of
Hashomer Hahadash’s invention.
Although he had been been thinking about
his personal identity as an Israeli, the government’s role in society and the
general well-being of the nation for a number of years, largely as a result of
his service in the Second Lebanon War, Zilberman was spurred into action after
his family’s ranch in Tzipori was attacked.
Beduin vandals threatened to
kill his father, torched fields, destroyed property and either killed or stole
cattle. Dozens of complaints to the police were entirely ineffective in stopping
The blow to the business was enormous, to the point that
the embattled rancher almost abandoned his property. But Zilberman, only a few
days after his discharge from the IDF, came to his father’s aid, insisting that
he not give up.
Together with a group of army friends, Zilberman set up a
makeshift command post on the property to defend the farm from thieves. If
authorities were either unwilling or unable to solve the problem, Zilberman felt
that he and his friends would do it themselves.
Pleas for help soon came
in from other struggling farmers in the area and the network of civilian
guardsmen was born.
The organization has 700 volunteers based in 20
locations. Volunteers usually spend one night a month guarding a farm, although
some do so on a more frequent basis. They also mend fences, pick vegetables, put
up property markers and feed the animals.
Although it originally began as
a volunteer grassroots movement, Hashomer Hahadash grew to include programs for
connecting people to the “values on which the State of Israel was founded” and
fostering Zionism, volunteerism, activism and a sense of civic leadership among
“One of our main goals is educating about the importance of
maintaining a connection to the land and creating a conversation about our
roots,” says Zilberman. The organization’s other two main priorities are helping
farmers in need and championing Zionist values among today’s youth.
want to see young people become active leaders on a familial level, on a
communal level and on a national level,” the Hashomer Hahadash founder
In addition to creating a cadre of young leaders, the
organization aims to raise public awareness about the difficulties of the
farming communities in the Negev, Galilee and Golan, and works to establish an
atmosphere of national unity in which members of widely divergent sectors of
society can rally around a common goal: preserving the safety of those facing
lawlessness on the modern-day frontier.
Zilberman points out that this
emphasis on the Land of Israel is built on a national, rather than a religious,
foundation, and that the organization has both haredi and secular
“We stand for the concept of mutual responsibility. We want to
see an Israel where everyone is safe to go wherever they want, even out into the
middle of nowhere, and that if an Israeli is ever in need of help, even if they
are in the middle of nowhere, there will be someone to give them a hand,” he
At its core, Hashomer Hahadash stands for a universal ideal:
helping those who cannot help themselves. Yehuda Marmor was one such individual.
A 50-year-old farmer in Moshav Yavniel, Marmor feared in 2009 that he would be
forced to close the cattle farm created by his grandfather after he faced
growing problems of theft, arson and vandalism from the local Beduin community.
Marmor was physically attacked and even shot at a number of times. After
beginning the process of finding a buyer for his ranch, he was approached by
Zilberman, who told him not to sell and promised that Hashomer Hahadash would
work to protect Marmor, his property and his livelihood.
later, that relationship is still going strong. Volunteers and young people
working in national service programs come to the farm a couple of times a week
to guard it from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m.
“I would not have been able to
survive without them,” Marmor says emphatically.
“The volunteers and
people doing their national service show the good side of Israel. There’s
nothing like them; they are the next generation of leaders in our country. I
really have no words to describe just how much I appreciate them.”
Har-Shemesh took a different route on the way to becoming a rancher.
in the US, he made aliya from California 30 years ago. After serving in the
Nahal Brigade, he worked at a kibbutz on the Golan Heights before starting his
own farm raising sheep near Lahav Forest between Kiryat Gat and Beersheba, seven
years after moving to the country.
Like many Jews in isolated
agricultural communities, Har-Shemesh was plagued with theft and violence. He
was attacked on several occasions, although he notes that it is difficult to
tell whether the incidents were criminally or nationalistically motivated.
Entire flocks of sheep were taken. Fences were destroyed or stolen.
losses took a severe toll, especially when coupled with the other problems that
farmers face, such as inclement weather, disease and bureaucratic
Other ranchers faced these problems as well, and as a result of
the lawlessness, the number of farms in the country declined.
recalls that he was “pleasantly surprised” when Hashomer Hahadash reached out to
him. Now two or three times a week, volunteers come to guard his land and his
Hashomer Hahadash helps on a practical level, but also on
symbolic, psychological and local levels as well, he explains, in that it shows
“that there’s a network here” and that ranchers aren’t fending off criminals on
their own. The organization also raises public awareness of the difficulties
that people in the agricultural community face and promotes a sense of national
unity on the issue “strengthens the bond that binds Jews and Israelis
Gil Glaser, a volunteer who frequently works with Har-Shemesh,
also made aliya from the States, although Glaser did so as a child. The
47-year-old went on to serve in the Israel Navy for 20 years before retiring six
years ago, and now is studying in a teaching program.
Glaser notes that
with his background in the navy, he was “facing toward the sea and didn’t see
the problems behind [him].” He explains that Lehavim, the small town outside
Beersheba where Glaser lives, faced many problems involving the lack of law and
order in recent years. There were stories of burglaries and car thefts. People
“felt less safe in the area, both in terms of personal security and in terms of
“As a dual citizen, I don’t take my Israeliness for granted. I
wanted to contribute,” Glaser says in discussing his response to the problems
faced by the community.
In a moment of serendipity, Glaser found a
YouTube video of Zilberman speaking about Hashomer Hahadash, and decided that he
wanted to volunteer.
Training consisted of learning about the
organization and about what his monthly guard duty – either in the barns or in
the fields – would entail. He also learned about the “Shai Dromi” Law. Named
after the Negev farmer who shot and killed Khaled el-Atrash when he broke into
Dromi’s farm with a group of people intent on stealing livestock, the law gives
property owners more freedom to use lethal force against thieves.
newly minted volunteer also learned about the body language techniques and
correct tone of voice to be used when talking to suspected thieves or
“That’s all you have out there – your body, your voice and the
phone,” Glaser explains, emphasizing that volunteers do not carry firearms, in
order to prevent their misuse. “When you carry a hammer, every problem looks
like a nail. So we don’t carry the hammer.”
Glaser puts a premium on the
positive nature of the organization, saying that it stands for something rather
than against something. Hashomer Hahadash is only and explicitly
“anti-criminal,” and not against any group of people in particular, he
“It doesn’t matter if the person [committing the crime] is
Jewish, Arab or Martian. We are for making sure that the farmer’s animals are
Another laudable result of Hashomer Hahadash’s work is its social
aspects, Glaser states, in that it brings together people from very different
People from the West Bank interact with those from the
Farmers from the Arava volunteer their time in defending the land
belonging to ranchers outside of Beersheba. The organization, he explains,
provides people an outlet to converse and exchange ideas.
“We spend the
night talking [while on guard duty] about different views.
than a year of university,” he declares.
When asked about the roots of
the organization, Glaser is quick to express his respect for the original Guards
and the sense of Zionism he feels in carrying on their legacy.
about them a lot, and hope I am worthy of using their name,” he says with
reverence. The volunteer work, he explains, is a way of expressing the Zionist
views and love of the land he shares with those who defended Jewish communities
in the early days of the Yishuv.
This mentality also motivates another
volunteer: 38-year-old Nahariya-area resident Miri Bokhbot. As an animal therapy
profession who works with atrisk youth in Talbiye, Bokhbot says that the
volunteer work fits in with other parts of her life.
She first heard
about the organization through the media and joined in June.
For the vast
majority of her nine months, he volunteered twice a week, usually at a farm in
“I am a nostalgic person. I look back on the pre-state period
and think that if I could go back in time, I’d go there.
I wanted to
connect with that, and with the Land of Israel and with nature. Before I joined,
it was difficult for me to see the values connected with that time period. It’s
good to see that the stores of Zionism [from that era] are not completely
Turning to contemporary issues, Bokhbot focuses on the people with
whom she has worked during her time with the organization.
“It’s fun to
meet with the other volunteers and talk with them, especially the old ones. The
60- and 70-year-olds. The people are great and really impressive,” she
“I feel like I came to the right place, like I’m coming home.”
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