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Behind the Headlines Nes Ammim: Zionism, Christian Style

August 17, 1977
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The only moshav in Israel which will not accept Jews as members is Nes Ammim, a cooperative settlement half-way between Acre and Nahariya. Paradoxically, it was the fear of Jewish reaction that made this village closed to Jews.

When Nes Ammim was launched as a Christian village in Israel in the fall of 1962, Premier Levi Eshkol came under attack by the religious parties “for giving aid to the establishment of a missionary village.” Jewish sensitivity to missionary activities caused a public storm, at the end of which the Christian settlers committed themselves–in writing–not to ask for Israeli citizenship and not to accept Jews as members. Nes Ammim was to remain a purely Christian village, so that no suspicion will rise as to its motives.

Indeed, the motives of Nes Ammim are the exact opposite of the so-called missionary activities. Nes Ammim was established, in the words of its founders, “to promote greater Christian-Jewish understanding and cooperation through a continuing interfaith dialogue.” The original settlers, most of them Dutch, devoted themselves to living together with the Jewish people in their own land and promoting a dialogue between Jews and Christians in the State of Israel–“based on mutual respect for each other’s identity.”

Today, 15 years after the village was officially founded, it is a prosperous settlement, hardly different from the many kibbutzim and moshavim surrounding it. Some 120 members, the majority of them still Dutch, with a representation of Swiss, Germans, English and Americans, earn their livelihood by exporting avocados and flower. During the winter months Nes Ammim exports roses to Holland, and business is booming.


The idea that was once but an abstract dream of a group of Dutchmen, is today a very vivid reality. And if anybody has any doubts about the materialization of Zionism, it is in this Christian village that those doubts disappear. Because, just as Zionism, Nes Ammim is the materialization of a dream. Its existence in the heart of Jewish land is a Christian recognition in the historical justice of the Jews returning to their ancient homeland.

“You don’t have to tell me that it’s one thing to believe in an idea, and it’s something else to materialize it,” says Christine Pilon, originally of Harlem, Holland, the veteran settler. “I know this of my personal experience.” The personal story of the Pilons is an integral part of the history of Nes Ammim.

In the years 1956 to 1960, the Synod of the Dutch Reformed Church, issued a booklet urging a “theological rethinking” of Jewish-Christian relations, in the wake of the extermination of six million Jews and the establishment of the State of Israel. The booklet said that “missions to the Jews should be replaced by a dialogue.”

Following the publication of the booklet, a series of discussions were held by a group of Dutch workers at the Scottish Hospital in Tiberias. The result was a conference in Holland in 1960 in which the idea of a Christian settlement in Israel was proposed. Its purpose would be to demonstrate solidarity with Israel by active participation in the up-building of the new Jewish State.

By the end of 1964, following a bitter struggle to convince the Jewish public that there were no intentions for missionary proselytism, the first settlers made their home in Nes Ammim.


One of the first families to settle was that of Christine and Johan Jacob Pilon. The Pilons arrived in Israel in 1950. Johan Pilon, a physician, was invited to work in the Scottish Hospital in Tiberias. He planned to stay two years–but he stayed for six years and both he and his wife developed during that period a greater involvement with Israel.

The idea of responsibility toward the Jewish people had been with them ever since the Holocaust, but the decision to translate this responsibility into a decisive change in their lives developed in those six years. The Pilons, like other future founders of Nes Ammim, somehow could not live with the idea that Jews were massacred systematically very close to their doorstep. “We knew that what had happened in Germany was not just the work of one maniac or even of one country. It was the extreme expression of anti-Semitism that lies within Christianity itself,” says Christine.

She sits at the coffee table inside the spacious house. The only thing that makes this house different from similar Israeli form houses is the large fireplace, a reminder from home. Just by the fireplace are pictures of Johan and the family. Johan died two years ago, suffering from a lung disease. “I don’t have a guilt complex,” says Christine, “but I have a responsibility. I am also one of the family of Christianity. As a father, if your son has stolen, you are not guilty–but you are responsible.”

If the Pilons needed any further evidence that their future lay in Israel, it was a seemingly marginal experience Pilon had in the Tiberias hospital. Practicing gynecology, he once took the case history of a middle-aged woman who was about to give birth. “This is my fourth delivery, but my first child,” she told the Dutch doctor. And then she added: “Hitler took the other three.”

“I remember my husband telling me: you sit there with a woman and you wonder what has she done that they took her children. Suddenly the absolute absurdity of life became clear, and we became more convinced that anti-Semitism was built within our thinking.”


The Pilons went back to Holland and helped to organize Nes Ammim. They came back in 1966 with their five children. There wasn’t much to come for, except for 275 acres of land and a room that was hardly enough for the family. “It wasn’t the material difficulties that bothered me,” says Christine, “but the uncertainty.” The two older children, Peter, now 28, and Ellert, 26, went back to Holland to study. The others were enrolled in regular local schools.

The difficulties in the village continued. Two converted Jews wanted to join the village. There was a discussion, and Pilon said–no go. His argument was that this can be interpreted as the result of a missionary activity. “Next thing, the Jews will suspect us of converting Jews outside and then admitting them to the village. This will stop the dialogue with the Jews,” he said.

For this reason, the settlers did not ask for an Israeli citizenship, although, says Christine, “today this is my home. I don’t feel homesick for Holland.”

The children want to stay. Peter is the only one who now lives in South Africa. Ellert, and Blene, 23, have decided to stay. Richard, 22, is studying in Holland to be a veterinarian and wants to practice in Israel. The youngest one, Christina, who calls herself Michal, is completing her studies at the Gesher Haziv regional secondary school and is considering serving in the army.


Christine Pilon is so deeply convinced in her mission that she is unwilling to see the shadows of the Jewish society in Israel. “What I see is a new country. Maybe there is a bit of a balagan (Hebrew slang for total disorder), but this is a very humane state. The Jew in his attitude, even if he fails to express it, tries to be humane. A common Hebrew expression says, ‘tihye ben adam’ (be a mensch). You won’t find these terms in other languages.”

By now Nes Ammim is a well established fact in the Western Galilee and relations with the neighboring Jewish villages are excellent. There are plans to build a youth hostel in the village, a guest house and a unique botanical garden. The Christian village has integrated well into the Jewish State, so well, that it is sometimes difficult to tell it apart from the rest of Israeli society.

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