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April 24, 2012 4:39 pm

Old School Zionism in a Modern Form: The New Israeli Guardians

avatar by Aryeh Savir / Tazpit News Agency

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A group of Israelis who call themselves "The Guardians". Photo: Tazpit.

Back at the turn of twentieth century, when Jewish settlers and farmers began to return to their land, no law existed in the area, and there was no sovereign force to protect it. In 1909, “Ha’Shomer” or “The Guardian”, was established to protect these pioneers and their endeavors. They were the forerunners of the Hagannah, which subsequently developed into the IDF. They were warriors, horse riding, gun carrying, Arabic speaking Jews who decided to protect what was theirs, understanding that only steadfastness would enable the Jews who were returning to their land to survive. They fought, and in many cases, they won.

It seems that in the Israel of 2012, some things haven’t changed. Many of the farmers face the same challenges their precursors faced a hundred years ago, including repetitive land seizures, theft and destruction of crops, theft of livestock, physical assault, ongoing threats and damage to property. Since 2004, over one thousand heads of cattle have been stolen.

Seeing the dire necessity on the ground, a group of young men have gotten together and established “Ha’Shomer Ha’Chadash”, “The New Guardian”, with the same objectives as the original. They have taken the task of providing security to farmers and ranchers upon themselves, primarily in the Negev and the Galilee. Maintaining a continuous physical presence, 700 volunteers at 21 locations help farmers secure their lands and property as areas patrolled by the volunteers have experienced a significant drop in violent actions against farmers.

The organization’s objective is to create a strategic change in Israeli society, developing awareness about the adversities landowners and farmers face, strengthening the weakening connection of Israelis to their land, and stressing the significance of ownership over open territory in the Negev and Galilee. These ideas are implemented by volunteers who stand guard, protecting farms and grazing lands.

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A member of "The Guardians" looks after cattle belonging to Israeli farmers. Photo: Tazpit.

According to the organization, the motives for the aggressors’ actions are not only financial, but ideological as well. Their aim is to exhaust the farmers and drive them off the land, so that they can claim it for themselves, thus weakening the Jewish presence.

The police and authorities are working to eliminate the problems, but are understaffed and have difficulty responding properly as the New Guardian cooperates with law enforcement, filling in gaps left by the police.

Wherever they have a presence, attacks lessen, although harassment hasn’t ceased completely. On one hand, the “other side” knows the New Guardian exists and is wary of the organization’s volunteers, according to a group spokeswoman, but lately there has been an increase in hostilities.

The spokeswoman says the key to success is in how the group perceives itself.  According to her, if they behave as owners of the land and conduct ourselves with pride, they should internalize the notion that this is their country. If they do so, the other side’s attitude will change as well.

“I grew up in a very Zionistic home, where I was educated to believe in the good in every human being, and where I was imbued with a love of the land. “The Guardian” wants to direct Israelis towards these values, reconnecting them to their land and their country. There is a general feeling that these good old basic values are lacking now, and we want to return to them,” the spokeswoman said.

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