Kibbutz Metzer: An Enduring Arab-Israeli Friendship

Article excerpt

ON A VISIT to Israel last year a colleague suggested that I visit Kibbutz Metzer, a community founded by Argentinean Jewish emigres in the 1950s. So along with my Quaker traveling companion and one other American, I hired a taxi and drove north from Jerusalem for nearly two hours to the interior of the country.

As I sat down in one of the four plain metal chairs around the small table in the trailer office of the kibbutz, I stirred my coffee slowly and wondered about the commune's simplicity. I wondered also about the journey of its people and of those in neighboring Israeli Arab villages. Dov Avital, the secretary general for the kibbutz, who had poured each of us a cup of coffee, as is customary among the people of the Middle East, was as eager to tell his story as we were to listen.

Avital explained that in 1948, many Palestinian villages were emptied and Arabs expelled during what was called "the War of Independence" by the Jews and "the disaster" by the Palestinians. Kibbutzes were established throughout areas vacated by the departing Arabs. From the very beginning, however, the founders of Kibbutz Metzer chose to relate with the people of the surrounding villages, who were Arabs. (Today Arabs make up about 20 percent of the Israeli citizenry.)

The cooperation went both ways. When the kibbutz could not locate a viable source of water, the nearby village of Meiser connected Metzer to its own small well. That action would not be forgotten. Other acts of kindness would follow over their decades of working together: they doused a threatening brush fire together; they shared sports activities and used Metzer's swimming pool together; they even formed a soccer team that competed in the regional league.

Then, on November 10, 2002, a lone Palestinian assailant entered the kibbutz and murdered three adults and two children. The mother had just finished reading her children a bedtime story. This violent act shook the kibbutz and neighboring villages, and the shock reverberated throughout Israel.

A few weeks before the murders, the Metzer board had protested Israel's plan to build a security fence through their area because it would cut through the olive groves belonging to the West Bank village of Kefin and would deprive the farmers of 60 percent of their fields. …