Daily Israel Report

Viral Video: Young Zionist Leader Tells of Farmers' Plight

Video of Yoel Zilberman's disturbing yet inspiring address to the Jerusalem Conference continues to make the rounds in Israel's email boxes.
By Gil Ronen
First Publish: 5/17/2010, 12:08 PM / Last Update: 5/19/2010, 10:13 PM

The video of Yoel Zilberman's address to the recent Jerusalem Conference is an unlikely candidate for becoming a “viral video” – one that became popular on its own, through recommendations by e-mail and social networks, but it did. Zilberman, 25, founder of HaShomer HaChadash, tells the disturbing story of the plight of Israel's farmers, under brutal attacks by Bedouins and ignored by their own police, who summon the old-style heroic Israeli spirit and decide to take action to defend themselves.

Both the harrowing accounts of a harsh, hard-to-fathom reality, and the revival of the Zionist fighting spirit, which many feared had disappeared, may explain the video's popularity, as it continues to make the rounds through e-mail boxes three months after its delivery.

Israel National News brings you the full text of Zilberman's address:

Three and a half years ago, just after the operation in Lebanon, for those who remember – the Second Lebanon War,  one could say even during the course of the Second Lebanon War, when missiles were falling in villages in the Galilee and an Arab girl was killed by a Hizbullah missile that hit her village, her father called his daughter a shaheeda (martyr). In the Galilee. Not in Judea and Samaria or anywhere else in the world.

At that time I was a combat soldier in that operation, in the army. And there was a feeling that we'd lost the war. The main feeling was that the nation felt weak; the nation felt that it was not making it. Ehud Olmert summed it up when he said: “we are tired of wars.” 

'I can't hold on'
A short time later – my father, who has a herd of cattle on a 5,000 dunam area north of Tzipori in the lower Galilee, sits us down to Friday supper and tells us: I am bankrupt. There is a tribe of Bedouins that has been cutting my fences for many years, invading my territory, threatening to murder me, slaughtering cows on my property and generally doing whatever they want. I have filed 240 complaints with the police. And nobody even looks in my direction. He simply told us, his family: 'I have decided to abandon 2,500 dunam. I can't hold on to this territory any more.'

At the time I was at a crossroads, about to start an officers' course in the army, and I told my father 'over my dead body, this is not going to happen.' We organized, me and several friends from my army crew, we bought an old Renault Express, and started visiting the territory. There are some dignitaries here who have already visited me there to see the container-on-wheels we lived in for two years. In the past year we upgraded it to a caravan. Everything is legal, the authorities signed the paperwork, because we understood that in the Galilee, the laws are a little different.

We put up an Israeli flag and we brought some books – only books on Judaism and Zionism. And we started going to the fields every day after operations and training, to guard the land, fight the Bedouins and make them leave. When we would call the police, the policeman on duty would tell us: 'if you call me one more time I am coming to arrest you.'     

Who is Rambam?
There are 15 authorities in the country – police, Border Police, JNF, et cetera – that do not have the guts to do their job on the ground. Now, in the course of this process three and a half years ago, I learned that when one talks to the youth in the Land of Israel – by the way, I am not religious and I come from a nonreligious social background, like most Israelis – when you talk to young people in this society, and ask them 'what story to you know?', they can tell all of you the name of the brother of the cousin of the grandmother of Harry Potter; but when you ask them 'who is Rambam?' [Maimonides] – they can't even tell you if it is the name of a hospital; and if you ask them if they know what the names Berl Katznelson or [Yitzchak] Tabenkin or [Ze'ev] Jabotinsky stand for [early Zionist leaders, ed.] – the best case scenario is that they will say 'a street in Tel Aviv.'

And you come to understand that this generation's oxygen and strength are mostly 'Survivor' and 'Big Brother', the 'reality' TV shows – that is what gives them their insights and  thoughts and connection to the Land of Israel. And that is why in the end, when cracks form, the vacuum [is filled by] the other side. I don't care about the Arabs per se. They could have been Filipinos or any other nation. There are  Israeli Jews do not feel that the Land of Israel belongs to them, and that is our story. 

And from my father's story, as I started guarding the territory and living there, I start hearing dozens of stories about kibbutzim and moshavim that have already abandoned their land, after Bedouins made their lives miserable for dozens of years.

Abandoning the land
Three  years ago, Kibbutz Kfar HaNassi abandoned 4,000 dunams. Simply left the territory. The Bedouin village Tuba-Zangaria has already invaded the territory and is building illegally. Kibbutz Amiad – 13,000 dunams. Moshav Alonei Aba – 2,000 dunams. And the stories continue.

Then cattle herders and agriculturalists start coming to me and saying 'Yoel, save us.'  Amir Engel of Tel Adashim who survives an attempt to murder him. Motti Peretz of Har Tur'an in Beit Rimon who survives an attempt to murder him. And you suddenly realize that these people are truly alone out in the field. And on that same day we decide to organize and form a group. [Former President] Yitzchak Ben-Tzvi wrote in his book 'The History of the Haganah' that when the state abandons its citizens – and by the way, it is not just abandoning them, it is torturing them and making sure that they lose their strength – he says, those citizens have no alternative but to unite and learn to defend each other.

And at that moment we decide – the whole group of guys. And they are all guys who served in the army. Most of them were in special units. And they all love this country. They are all happy to live here. None of them is confused. They all know the [Talmudic] phrase 'know from whence you came.' They know their story and know where they are going. And from this we decide that we will form something called the New HaShomer. Because we are not inventing anything. Because 100 years ago there was the same group of Jews here that arrived in the Land of Israel and the same type of government was torturing them too. And we understand that at that moment we are renewing the concept of mutual responsibility. Of people who come together to save a person.

We have more than 600 volunteers now. Guys who give between 7 and 20 days of reserve duty annually. Who come up to the agriculturalist or cattle farmer and say to him – 'go sleep at home with your wife tonight, we are guarding the territory. Because it is true that you are making money off of it but it is ours. It is our story. And when you meet these cattle men who tell you: 'my wife says, either we divorce or you leave the land,' you simply save these people.

We have seven pre-military academies and yeshivas whose students regularly come to these lands and guard them. Young people who join these agriculturalists and work with them day to day.

A growing response
Last week we made history. Maybe you have heard of pre-military academies like Eli or Atzmona and such, or the pre-military 'service year' for guys who finish high school. We have over 230 candidates, boys, for whom we held very difficult training, to find the twenty or thirty guys who will live like King David, as we like to say. Every group of 8-10 guys will live on an outpost and be in charge of a flock of sheep.

They will study Torah in the morning. They will study Zionism in the evening. They will learn Arabic so the [Arabs] will understand we do not delude ourselves that we live in France or Holland; they must realize they are in the Middle East. And these guys with the flocks of sheep, and the Full Contact training and running and training, will bring back the courage of the Jew in the Land of Israel. The Jew who observes more commandments and the one who observes less, they are all the same to us. And in the end you see deep, long term processes. People join. By the way, some people come to do guard duty and some contribute – either their money or their assistance with equipment of some kind.

Everybody feels that they want to be a part of this thing. And this thing keeps growing: every week at least 60 people join. We hold three to seven lectures a week. We get 3-6 requests for help every week. A guy called Oz Davidian from the Negev called me a year ago. He told me – 'Yoel, three weeks ago, three Bedouins came. They found me alone in my ranch and they beat me half to death senseless with metal rods. Why? Because. Because he holds 1,500 dunams and they want him to stop holding them. Three weeks later, he says, the same Bedouins come and steal all of his sheep too. He says to me: 'If you do not come here tonight, these guys will murder me.' In this situation, I bring along three volunteers from the North. We do not have a car, we hitch rides at 2:00 AM and arrive at his field. I find a person who is a pile of bones. Anorexic. He hasn't left his farm for four months. He couldn't leave his farm. He has a court order forbidding his young daughter from visiting him there because it is dangerous. In the Negev.

Pilots beaten
I sit with 20 pilots in the Negev. At Nevatim Air Base, between Arad and Be'ersheva. 20 pilots. Arrowheads. They tell us that their base commander forbids them from traveling on the road from Arad to Be'ersheva. Why? Because Bedouins throw washing machines and boulders on the road, the cars stop suddenly. They take the soldiers out of the vehicles and they beat them up. So they are told to drive to their base a roundabout way, through Dimona.

I always say that the fortified walls that protect our land are the open spaces. The fortified walls of Jerusalem are the cattlemen and agriculturalists with the 4 million dunams of state land. That is what protects our country. Whoever thinks that 'the state of Azrieli [a Tel Aviv shopping mall]' will save us is confused.  

And from all of this we see that by 2015 we will have more than 2,000 guards, at least 6,000 total volunteers, and at least 30 nucleus groups like I described of 8-10 pre-army guys with the sheep on the land, going back to the roots, and relearning their own story, and not being confused by anyone, and then there will be no cracks and confusion, and the entire world will know who this belongs to. This includes the Arabs by the way. They are simply waiting for us to tell them – 'this is ours.' They haven't understood this yet. They are waiting and with the help of G-d, long term processes will make this happen.               

HaShomer HaChadash can be contacted through Philip Bar-Yosef at bigshraga@hotmail.com.