Kibbutz is thriving after recovering from tragedy

TRAGEDY: The memorial to five terror victims on Kibbutz Metzer. They were murdered in 2002

By Lydia Aisenberg

Kibbutz Metzer is a short walk from the 1949 brokered Armistice Line, the pre-1967 border with Jordan that is known these days simply as ‘the green line’.

The term stems from the colour of a pen used to mark the line on a detailed map when the agreement was brokered in Rhodes in 1949.

Kibbutz veteran Dov Avital recalled: “Some of the land we are on was owned by Palestinian villages in this vicinity, but in an exchange of land brokered with the Jordanians, they received the Dotan Valley and Israel, the nearby region known as Wadi Ara.”

Situated on the eastern edge of the somewhat narrow central region of Israel, Metzer was settled in 1953 by a group of pioneers from Argentina, members of the Zionist Hashomer Hatair movement who, as much as wishing to settle in Israel, also wanted to flee the Peronist authoritarian ideology in the country of their birth.

The founder members of Metzer had trained as fishermen in Argentina having had dreams of setting up a fishing village on the shores of the Mediterranean.

However, the Israeli government, at that time, wanted to prepare a defence line for the newly-born state and they found themselves being sent elsewhere — about 20 kilometres away.

There was no water source for the kibbutz, but the neighbouring Arab Muslim village of Meiser had a well and they allowed their new kibbutznik neighbours to use their pump.

As both Kibbutz Metzer and Meiser village developed physically, so did the bond between the two communities and, although sometimes rocky, in general they upheld good inter-community relations and individual friendships.

Meiser families visited the kibbutz’s petting zoo and families from both comunities attended each other’s weddings and funerals and played football together.

“We get on well,” said Dov Avital, the business innovation manager of Metzer Industries, where over one-third of the workers are from local Arab Muslim villages and the nearby Arab city of Baka al-Gharbiya.

A large ‘Welcome to Metzer’ sign in Hebrew, Arabic, English, Spanish and Russian adorns the bright yellow, electronic metal front gate and guard hut in the fence.

Looming on the horizon are cranes and scores of apartment blocks, the outer suburbs of a new Israeli city, Harish.

When completed the city, the last rows of housing on its eastern side within 50 metres of the Green Line and, sitting on a hill right opposite, the 10,000 Palestinian inhabitants of the West Bank village of Kafin.

Neither the Arab nor Jewish residents of Meiser and Metzer are too excited about the new Israeli city under construction that has already swallowed up huge areas of natural forest and destroyed rare flora and fauna.

“Meiser is named after a servant of the wife of Mohammad, who is buried in the village, and the founder members of the kibbutz took a similar sounding name in Hebrew, although Metzer means more of a stronghold or border,” explained Avital.

“The mosque of Meiser is the only one I know that was designed by a Jewish architect!”

Co-operation between Meiser and Metzer, and after the war of 1967 between those two communities and the Palestinian village of Kafin looking down on their Israeli Jewish and Arab neighbours, was held up as an example of a workable relationship between communities on either side of the Green Line.

Meiser, Metzer and Kafin became known as the Triangle of Coexistence until a devastating lone Palestinian terrorist entered the kibbutz just before midnight in November, 2002, brutally slaying a young mother, Revital Ohayoun, and her two toddler sons, and Yitzhak Drori, a kibbutz member, who was running to help.

Also murdered was a lady from a nearby agricultural settlement who had been visiting friends at Metzer that fateful evening.

“The second intifada (2000) saw horrendous acts of terror throughout Israel (many of which were in Hadera and in the region of Wadi Ara very close to Metzer and Meiser village), and the Israeli government decided to build a security fence, the course of which in the vicinity of Metzer/Meiser/Kafin.

“They did not intended building it on the 1949 line, but well into the West Bank, cutting off the Palestinian Kafin villagers from their olive orchards and other arable land,” explained Avital.

“When the Palestinians in Kafin realised this situation, as did we, we came together in order to campaign for the fence to be moved west, closer to our land — even take some of it — as we believed that if it was necessary to build a fence in the name of security then an equal amount of land be appropriated from either side.

“Why should our neighbours pay a higher price? There was no need for them to lose their livelihood — we wanted security, not new enemies.”

The quiet demonstrations eventually caught the attention of the Israeli Defence Ministry and a meeting was brokered, to be held at Metzer, between representatives of the ministry, the Palestinian mayor of Kafin and the Israelis, on November 11, 2002.

However, at midnight the day before, Sirhan Sirhan from the Palestinian city of Tulkarem entered the kibbutz and murdered five Israelis. He was killed a year later in the West Bank town of Jenin during a skirmish with Israeli soldiers.

The funeral of Yitzhak Drori was attended also by members of the neighbouring Arab communities and Palestinians from Kafin.

“That murderous action was carried out not just against Israelis, but also against Palestinians who wanted to work with Israel to find solutions to the conflict,” said Dov Avital.

“Our joint efforts at peacemaking brought about this tragedy, but also clear that at some time we are going to have to sit down and make peace with former combatants. During my army service I was a combatant and as a civilian, fought for peace.”

Immediately after the murders, Avital became the official spokesman on behalf of his community and also took over the position of kibbutz general secretary, the job previously held by Drori.

“That shocking, unforgivable attack will not change our way of life or belief that we must keep the light of humanity, understanding of each other, mutual respect and wish to live in peace, alive,” he said.

“Since we first began with our protests about the course of the security fence and for a long period after the terror attack, I was constantly being interviewed by media from Israel and all over the world.

“I will never forget a Japanese journalist who commented that he was so impressed when we spoke about the Palestinians of Kafin, they were addressed as our neighbours. They still are.”

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