With its haystacks, rusting plows, and the scent of livestock,
Kibbutz Beit Alfa at first seems to resemble its founders' vision of
a model community based on agriculture.
For generations, members of this kibbutz prided themselves on
their idealism, defined themselves as a vanguard of Zionist
socialism, and believed that their effort to create a utopian
community was part of a revolution that would improve the lot of
On a stretch of land near the Jordan River Valley, they sought to
create a new species: the Hebrew farmer organically tied to the land
of his forefathers, historians say.
But 81 years later, Kibbutz Beit Alfa has an economy centered on
industry rather than agriculture, based largely on the manufacture
and export of para-military equipment, most recently a controversial
deal to supply riot-control hardware to President Robert Mugabe's
pariah regime in Zimbabwe.
Beit Alfa's journey from a model of socialist agriculture to a
profit-driven exporter parallels Israel's change in values from
collectivism to capitalism and its development of a market economy
stressing a huge defense industry, analysts say.
"Like many utopias, when Beit Alfa was implemented in practice it
became part of an economic and political framework," says Yisrael
Bartal, a Hebrew University historian. "It adjusted itself to
The Zimbabwe deal was reported by the Ha'aretz daily newspaper to
include 30 riot-control vehicles to be supplied in exchange for $14
million. The Zimbabwe Standard reported that five vehicles arrived
last month and were part of a package that also included gas masks.
Two of its journalists were arrested for reporting on the arrival of
the Beit Alfa equipment.
The sale follows supplies by Kibbutz Beit Alfa to countries
including Angola, Uganda, and Sri Lanka. In the Israel Defense
Directory, published by the defense ministry, Beit Alfa advertises
its "armored personnel carriers" and other vehicles that have been
"proven in combat."
Vehicles can be equipped with a "front bulldozer" it says. The
company's website advertises a chemical additive that can be
injected into water streams to "demobilize" inmates in prison
It was not always this way. According to the ideology of HaShomer
HaZa'ir, the "young guard" movement to which Beit Alfa's founders
belonged, the kibbutz was meant to be an archetype of a utopian
"The principle was to work the land, that a [Jewish] nation of
merchants and luftmenschen [impractical and contemplative people
without a trade] would return to the soil," says Ely Avrahamy, a
historian of kibbutzim. …