First Kibbutz Is Established in Palestine Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

Partly inspired by the writings of Theodor Herzl, Jewish pioneers established the first permanent settlement, known as a kvutza or kibbutz, at Deganya, near Hadera, in what was then Palestine. Most of the settlers came from Russia, and early settlements represented collectives modeled on a socialist system.

Summary of Event

Modern immigration of Eastern European Jews to Palestine was spurred by pogroms and Russian anti-Semitism in the 1880’s and 1890’s. During this period, around fifty thousand people—most of whom knew very little about farming—established a dozen communities in Palestine. These people were part of the Zionist Zionism movement, which was based on the concept of the Jewish people’s return to their ancestral home. The movement originated in the work of several early nineteenth century writers, but it was the Austrian journalist Theodor Herzl who brought these ideas to fruition. Kibbutzim Jews;kibbutzim Palestine;kibbutzim Deganya kibbutz [kw]First Kibbutz Is Established in Palestine (1909) [kw]Kibbutz Is Established in Palestine, First (1909) [kw]Palestine, First Kibbutz Is Established in (1909) Kibbutzim Jews;kibbutzim Palestine;kibbutzim Deganya kibbutz [g]Palestine;1909: First Kibbutz Is Established in Palestine[02290] [c]Expansion and land acquisition;1909: First Kibbutz Is Established in Palestine[02290] [c]Colonialism and occupation;1909: First Kibbutz Is Established in Palestine[02290] [c]Government and politics;1909: First Kibbutz Is Established in Palestine[02290] Herzl, Theodor Ruppin, Arthur Gordon, Aaron David Bussel, Joseph

As a young man, Herzl believed that religious and racial prejudice would gradually disappear, but several later events convinced him otherwise. The late nineteenth century rise of nationalism was accompanied by waves of anti-Semitism, and one of Herzl’s friends committed suicide as a result of this discrimination. Herzl gradually came to the conclusion that assimilation was impossible and that only the establishment of a Jewish homeland could solve the problem. In 1896, Herzl penned Der Judenstaat (The Jewish State, 1896), Jewish State, The (Herzl) a pamphlet in which he argued for a return to the ancestral homeland of Zion. That year he convened the First Zionist Congress, which gave rise to the formation of the World Zionist Organization. World Zionist Organization Herzl died eight years later at age forty-four, but his dream continued among a majority of his followers, who called themselves Zionists.

Herzl favored the outright purchase of land in Palestine, which was then ruled by the Turks as part of the Ottoman Empire. As a result, the Jewish National Fund Jewish National Fund (JNF) was founded in December, 1901, during the Fifth National Congress at Basle, Switzerland. Fund members quickly planned to purchase land in both Palestine and Syria. From 1902 to 1907, the JNF was administered in Vienna, and it was during this period that the most recognizable fund-raising mechanisms were established: JNF labels were issued, the blue collection box was created (this symbol continued to be used into the twenty-first century), and the organization began to record large donations in a “Golden Book.” In 1904, the JNF purchased its first tract of land, at Kefar Hittim in the Lower Galilee, and in 1908 and 1909 the organization bought land for the settlements of Ben Shemen, Hildah, and Deganya.

The wave of immigration into Palestine took place primarily in the period 1904-1914 and became known as the Second Aliyah. Second Aliyah The movement was inspired by several writers and pioneers, including Aaron David Gordon and Joseph Bussel. Gordon, a writer and a leader of the Zionist labor movement, emphasized that self-realization could come from land settlement. In 1904, he came to Palestine to till the land, even though he had never farmed before. Bussel came to Palestine in 1908 from Russia, where he had been one of the cocreators of the idea of the kvutza (kibbutz). He also helped establish the settlement at Kinneret, where the concept of the independent agricultural collective began.

Kinneret had been among the first holdings acquired by the JNF. In 1908, Arthur Ruppin, the JNF’s director of land acquisition, established a training farm there for Jewish laborers. Administrators, however, regarded the workers simply as wage earners and argued that it would be cheaper to hire Arab laborers. In response, the Jewish workers began a strike. Eager to test whether a collectivist settlement was practical—or even possible—Ruppin purchased some 1,200 dunam (approximately 13,000 square feet) of land near the shores of Lake Galilee. The initial attempt was less than successful, as workers developed malaria and suffered under the intense heat. In 1909, Ruppin sent seven additional workers east of the nearby Jordan River, where they established a 75-acre settlement in the area known as Um-Juni. Bussel named this settlement Deganya, which means “God’s corn.” The first workers were paid a monthly salary of forty-five francs each, and they shared half of any profit earned by the settlement. In 1909, Deganya had a profit of four thousand francs. The next year, a second small group replaced the previous group of workers, and each worker was paid fifty francs a month.

Initially, Deganya was governed by a principle of cooperative labor, but the founders’ socialist backgrounds led to the evolution of a communal system—the first kibbutz—in which everything was shared equally. While men cultivated the land, women shared duties such as taking care of the animals, cooking, and child care. The population of the kibbutz doubled over the next two years, and permanent housing replaced the original huts. By 1911, the harvest proved successful, and kibbutz members were able to purchase additional livestock as well as land. After the community at Deganya proved its viability, other settlers purchased land using JNF funds. By 1914, fourteen similar collectives had been established, and they all operated on the principle that members shared ownership of the land.

Significance

The kibbutz was clearly based on a socialist model, which was not surprising given the founders’ European origins. For decades prior to the establishment of the state of Israel, most Jewish immigrants to Palestine came to live at kibbutzim. In addition to the sense of camaraderie that life on the settlement fostered, farm life inspired a connection between residents and the land on which they worked. This affinity would prove crucial during later years, as regional boundaries were drawn and redrawn, and kibbutzim became a central element of the labor movement in the growing region.

In the beginning of the twentieth century, Palestine was an undeveloped, primarily arid land with few population centers. Survival necessitated the ability to grow one’s own food, and it was not a coincidence that the first settlers at Deganya were farmers. The survival of Deganya demonstrated that Zionism was practical and that the kibbutz was a viable concept. Fleeing from persecution in Russia and other Eastern European countries, immigrants came by the thousands, and many of them wanted to establish socialist communities. Some flocked to the kibbutzim, but most settled in the first towns established in the region in two thousand years. Gradually, the romance of the kibbutz faded; after the establishment of Israel in 1948, immigration moved toward the cities, and fewer young people chose to remain on the farms. Kibbutzim Jews;kibbutzim Palestine;kibbutzim Deganya kibbutz

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Ben-Gurion, David. The Jews in Their Land. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1966. History of Israel from biblical to modern times, written by one of the founders of the state. Includes numerous photographs and maps.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Gavron, Daniel. The Kibbutz. Boston: Brown & Littlefield, 2000. Describes both the theory and the difficulties associated with establishment and maintenance of kibbutzim, particularly the challenges associated with attempts to keep youth on the farms.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Gilbert, Martin. Israel: A History. New York: William Morrow, 1998. Sir Martin Gilbert is considered among the outstanding historians of our times, and in this book he gives an excellent description of the events that created the state of Israel.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Near, Henry. Origins and Growth, 1909-1939 . Vol. 1 in The Kibbutz Movement: A History. New York: Oxford University Press, 1992. Covers the origins of the kibbutz and the roles played by Russian socialists that resulted in the collective farms.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Sachar, Howard. A History of Israel: From the Rise of Zionism to Our Time. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1976. Considered one of the authoritative twentieth century works on the subject. Significant emphasis is placed upon the work of Theodor Herzl and the evolution of Zionism.

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