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Special to the JTA an Unusual Kibbutz

Although it was inaugurated as late as 1978, Kibbutz Mavo Hama is already one of Israel’s most unusual agricultural collectives. It’s a bit off the beaten tourist path; visitors wishing to pay a visit to this unusual commune will have to make special arrangements.

One of the reasons is that the special access to the kibbutz requires transportation either by car or minibus. None of the regular Egged or United Tours buses make the trip to Kibbutz Mavo Hama.

The reason? The kibbutz lies on the top of an isolated promontory on the Golan Heights. At an elevation of about 1,500 meters, the kibbutz is accessible only through a spiralling highway whose hairpin turns occasion either exhilaration for the intrepid traveller or mortal fear.

The ascent to Mavo Hama, including the short approach ride from the northern Israeli city of Tiberias, takes about half an hour. The last 20 minutes of it provide the tourist with a breathtakingly beautiful view of northern Israel, Syria and Jordan.

That vista is reason enough for the Israeli government to have authorized the construction of the kibbutz, straddling as it does the vital crossroads of the north.

The Golan Heights were wrested from the Syrians in the 1967 Six-Day War after an assault by Israel’s famous Golani Brigade. For the previous 19 years, Syrian gunners had used Lake Tiberias and the Israelis fishing on it as target practice.

A KIND OF SYMBOL

The presence of Kibbutz Mavo Hama is a kind of symbol therefore that Israel will never again permit its citizens to function on the sufferance of hostile neighbors.

That’s one of the reasons why, when PLO infiltrators tried in early June of 1984, to penetrate the kibbutz they were apprehended within hours by Israeli soldiers. The whole area where the kibbutz is located contains not only numerous army camps but an electronic fence with a supersensitive detection skin. It was an irritation on that skin which alerted border soldiers that a penetration had occurred.

Kibbutzniks with whom we met to discuss the terrorist incursion were concerned because nothing similar had taken place in the previous 10 years. There was speculation, therefore, as to whether the incident was an isolated one or whether it heralded something more ominous.

One of the kibbutzniks suggested that the terrorists had been engaged in a probe to ascertain the strength of Israeli defensive positions. Another indicated that the infiltrators had surrendered without firing a shot as soon as they had been seen. A third expressed astonishment at the age of the terrorists, mere boys, we were told.

The kibbutz itself had already assimilated the terrorist “raid” by the time we arrived at Mavo Hama some two weeks later. The 200 members of the collective are simply too busy with their obligations and chores; they cannot afford the luxury of excessive analysis.

The kibbutzniks preferred to speak more about the accomplishments of Mavo Hama — which aligns itself with the Labor Party movement politically and is quite left of center. Its ideology, however, does not go as far as Mapam. This issue was raised by our queries on how Israel’s rampant inflation affects the kibbutz sector. While the kibbutz is an expression of the Socialist ethos, it cannot disengage itself from the economic system which surrounds it. The kibbutz interacts with the outside environment: its products must be brought to market and in this way the kibbutz suffers like other parts of Israel from the inflationary spiral.

Despite these difficulties the kibbutz has made amazing strides in its seven-year existence. Its computerized irrigation gantries have been methodically programmed to make periodic sweeps over the kibbutz’s crops in a way that not a drop of sweet water is wasted.

Several members of the kibbutz spoke about the pride of the collective in its cotton production. We were told that contrary to the conventional wisdom, Egyptian cotton is no longer the world’s best cotton. Mavo Hama makes the claim that its cotton is superior to the Egyptian variety.

We were unable to ascertain whether the claim was true or simply a bit of kibbutz bragadoccio, but the enthusiasm of the kibbutz’s promoters was infectious.

Mavo Hama’s achievements in agriculture are all the more laudatory given the inclemencies of weather on the Golan. The summers are fiercely hot and in the winter howling winds (and occasional snow) make life difficult. Those problems, however, have not deterred the impressive growth of the kibbutz.

A LARGE NUMBER OF CHILDREN

There are so many toddlers on the kibbutz that native ingenuity has been put to work and the result is the invention of a mobile play pen (a cross between a play pen and a supermarket buggy) which kibbutzniks push around in order to entertain their children while transporting them.

While the Bible’s first commandment on fertility has been realized in the kibbutz, its other imperatives are not so closely adhered to. The kibbutz in fact has no synagogue. The holidays (Sukkot, Passover and Shavuot), we were told, were observed primarily as agricultural festivals with librettoes supplied by the kibbutz’s movement.

What happens when a child reaches the age of Bar Mitzvah? Arrangements are made to have the boy celebrate his Bar Mitzvah at another kibbutz on the Golan Heights where synagogue facilities are available.

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