Young Israelis of the year: Yoel Zilberman, 25: Militiaman

Yoel Zilberman, 25 Mili

Yoel Zilberman, 25, the founder and leader of the New Guardsmen, was born and raised in Moshav Tzipori in Lower Galilee. The son of a third-generation cattle breeder, he grew up witnessing the escalating struggles between the region's farmers and herders and local criminal gangs who invaded their grazing lands, sabotaged their equipment and ran a protection racket. At 20, while still a soldier on active duty, Zilberman learned that his father was on the verge of going out of business, unable to maintain the ever-rising cost of securing his property. Zilberman asked his commanders to authorize a leave and settled in a modified shipping container overlooking his father's property, keeping watch over the land and the herd. His actions gave rise to a new movement as friends and supporters joined him and took turns guarding his father's land and that of other herders in the region from the nightly attacks. Zilberman modeled the organization after the original guardsmen of the region, the pioneers of the pre-state Yishuv, who formed the Hashomer organization to protect remote Jewish settlements from attack by Arab bandits and thieves. Zilberman's movement gained momentum as the severity of the attacks intensified and it became clear that the police was unwilling or unable to curb the criminal activity. Today the movement has a membership of nearly 2,000 and calls on a cadre of 250 regular volunteer guardsmen. While some may argue that Zilberman and his friends are taking on a task that should be dealt with by the authorities, he sees their activity as a resolution to keep the Jewish character of the region in place. Zilberman rails at the moral apathy of his generation and its self-centered worldview. He and his friends believe that by maintaining a physical presence on the land and refusing to pay the criminals for protection, farmers are the vanguard in the battle for Galilee and the periphery in general.