Left-leaning kibbutz still idealistic amid Kassam attacks

Despite daily threat of rockets, Zikim residents cling to Labor/Meretz stands on security issues.

Zikim 224.88 (photo credit: Shelly Paz )
Zikim 224.88
(photo credit: Shelly Paz )
"There [in Argentina] it was terror, here it's a war," Danito, a Kibbutz Zikim member who made aliya 26 years ago and a father of two young girls, said over the weekend, explaining why life in a Kassam-battered community is better than it was under the the Argentinean military junta back in the '70s. "The fear here is different than the fear there," he added, on a day when a Katyusha rocket fired from the northern Gaza Strip hit Ashkelon, 16.5 km. away - the farthest the rockets have traveled so far - but which nonetheless found Kibbutz Zikim members relaxed and calm. Indeed the 150 members of the kibbutz, situated south of Ashkelon, and the 200 others living there, including children, renters and older sons and daughters of members who have decided to live on the kibbutz, do not tend to complain. While the members joined the kibbutz at different times, for different reasons and from many different countries, they have one thing in common - they are all Labor or Meretz voters who cling to their leftist political opinions despite the fact that the "Color Red" alert sounded when a Kassam rocket is on its way is heard there at least twice a day. "This is our ideology. We didn't choose to live in the kibbutz without a reason," said Yvonne, another kibbutz member and a mother of two young children. "We support giving back the occupied territories. It is true that I have become less left-wing than I was before, but in general, they [the Palestinians] are people in distress and poverty, and we certainly don't think they should be wiped off the map," she said, referring to the responses of Sderot residents to the rocket and mortar attacks. Zikim, located in the northern Negev, was established in 1949 by a group of young Romanian immigrants who had graduated from the Hashomer Hatzair socialist-Zionist youth movement. Since its foundation, the kibbutz has attracted new immigrants affiliated with the movement from around the world. Zikim's main industrial product is polyurethane, produced at its Polyrit factory. It has mango and avocado crops and is also home to one of Israel's largest dairy farms, one that took a hit from a Kassam rocket a few months ago that killed nine cows. Though suffering from the Kassams over the past seven years, Zikim residents say they never considered leaving. Indeed, kibbutz general secretary Ilil Burde said that not one member had left since the Kassams started landing on their piece of heaven. "Of course mothers of more than one little child are experiencing higher stress, because when the alert starts they need to bring the children in the security room in less than 20 seconds, and that is not realistic," she said as she lunched in the kibbutz dining room. Burde argued that reality was more complicated than being left-wing or right-wing. "As a mother of four boys, eventually I'll have at least one son in the army for 15 years in a row," she said, adding that all of her children served in combat units, and some in elite units. "It's either a Kassam here or my sons inside the Gaza Strip, so I don't know which is less bad," she said. Burde supports two states for two people and thinks "it is outrageous that a government of a sovereign state allows a few settlers to establish outposts and create a harmful reality. We wouldn't be in this entanglement if we evacuated settlements." Mati Prinz, the kibbutz office manager and a mother of four grown children, immigrated to Israel from Germany with her Holocaust survivor parents when she was four years old. She made her home in Zikim 40 years ago, and she, like many of the members, is grateful for the efforts the state made in reinforcing and securing the kibbutz's buildings. "We have security rooms, an electric fence against infiltrators, and reinforced kindergartens," she said. "We don't like to whine and we have a strong functioning community whose members support each other," Prinz said. When asked how it was that, by comparison, so many of Sderot residents seemed exhausted by the continuing attacks from Gaza, the kibbutz members all agreed that their source of strength was found in their small numbers. "When one of the children here was wounded by the Kassam that landed here two weeks ago, his mother explained to him quietly that the Kassam caused the boom he heard and this is what a Kassam does. There were no screaming, just being reasonable," Prinz said. "I immigrated to Israel from Brazil to live in the kibbutz, and there is no doubt that my paradise was invaded," said Etel, another member who is still a leftist. "However, I don't know how I would have sounded if I had lived in Sderot and needed to take cover 10 times a day," she added. "The Jewish people more than any other people should know that there is no such thing as wiping out another people," said Anat, another kibbutz member. "The people of Sderot certainly handle a much more difficult reality, and finally it is important to remember that our prime minister didn't even refer to this problem in his campaign before the elections, so what is surprising about the situation?" Even former Zikim member Laura Baz of Uruguay, who was making her biannual visit, said it was not the Kassams that had forced her to leave. "I love it here," she said, "I just couldn't accept the idea that I wouldn't be able to be a part of the decision as to whether my children would serve in the army or not. They would have to if we stayed here."