A Journey to Israeli Socialism

The story of German Mexican anarchist Augustín Souchy’s experiences in Israel in the early 1950s: an outsider's journey through kibbutzim, moshavim and the working-class city of Holon

A farmer plowing the fields of Kvutzat Yavne, 1947. The Meitar Collection, the Pritzker Family National Photography Collection, the National Library of Israel

By Nitai Shinan

The German Mexican anarchist Augustín Souchy Bauer was born in 1892 in Hanover. He remained in that city until 1917, when he fled to Sweden to avoid being drafted into the German army, which was busy fighting World War I. After several years spent in Nordic countries he returned to Germany, where he stayed until the Nazis rose to power in 1933. While in Germany, he was active in the Anarchist federation and served as the editor of its newspaper. In 1936, with the outbreak of civil war, he went to Spain to participate in the defense of the republic against the nationalist military coup. While there, he served as the head of the foreign language information office in the anarchist trade union, the CNT. Like many other republicans, after the fall of the republic, he immigrated to Mexico and stayed there until 1961, when he then returned to West Germany. He remained an anarchist activist there for the rest of his life, until his eventual death in 1984.

During his time in Spain, Augustín Souchy closely followed the process of collectivization and the establishment of cooperative agricultural communes, mainly in the provinces of Aragon and Catalonia. His interest in this attempt, which was stopped in its tracks by Francisco Franco’s rise to power as a result of the nationalist victory, also brought him to the State of Israel in the fall of 1952. His objective was to closely examine the new forms of settlement, especially the cooperative moshavim and kibbutzim, in order to learn about how they differed from and how they were similar to what was happening in Spain.

Once back in Mexico, he reported about his experiences in an essay that he called El nuevo Israel, in which he tried to give his readers an appreciation of the character and successes of the collective institutions of the young State of Israel. The second edition of the essay, almost unchanged from the original, was published in 1958 in Buenos Aires and can be found at the National Library of Israel.

It seems that the author was properly prepared for this journey, and therefore, while reporting on a lecture he delivered in German in Tel Aviv, during which he compared the cooperative settlements and communities in Israel with those founded in Spain, he mentioned Abba Ahimeir’s negative impression of the kibbutzim. Ahimeir claimed that the money needed to settle a single person on a kibbutz was enough to cover the cost of settling ten immigrant families elsewhere in the country.

Armed with his incredible ability to express himself in almost every major European language, as well as a bit of Hebrew, the author was able to establish connections with many people from all the diverse facets of Israeli society. Unlike other visitors from Latin America who visited Israel in the early 1950s and were generally accompanied by personnel from the Foreign Ministry’s Latin America Department or other public institutions, Augustín Souchy traveled on his own. He even used public transportation, just like a local would. Once he even hitched a ride in a military jeep on his way from Nahalal to Nazareth. This flexibility enabled him to speak with all types of characters, an opportunity rarely given to members of official delegations hosted by the authorities. For example, on a bus from Shavei Tzion to Haifa, he heard a young Jewish Spanish-speaking immigrant from Turkey lament the difficulties of life in the ma’abarot (immigrant and refugee absorption camps) and the unfair way apartments were granted to new immigrants based on personal contacts. In response, the author defended the state and pointed out to this young woman that the housing problem was a global issue and that the State of Israel couldn’t build enough homes to quickly house all the new immigrants who came.

At the Histadrut (Israel’s national trade union) branch in Nazareth and the co-op store in the Afula area, Souchy heard serious complaints from Arab Israelis about the military regime, about the discrimination they faced, and about their restricted movement and land confiscations. The author, who understood that Jewish-Arab relations were a problem in the young country, spoke with A. Baron, secretary of the Ichud (Unity) Association, which supported bi-nationalism and Jewish-Arab rapprochement and was founded even before the establishment of the state by Yehuda Leib Magnes. At the time, the association published a small monthly magazine called Ner which covered public affairs and Jewish-Arab rapprochement. Souchy also spoke with Elias Kossa, a lawyer and leader of the Arab community in Haifa who represented their interests in the Israeli courts. Elias Kossa also complained about the discrimination suffered by Arab Israelis, using data that had already been published in Ner magazine which showed how the food rations allocated for Arabs were smaller than what was allocated for the Jews during the austerity period. It was clear that the political plan Elias Kossa proposed, which included the return of the expropriated lands and the return of Arab refugees to their lands, was unacceptable to the Israeli government. It seems that in conversations with Israeli Arabs, the author was reserved and contented himself with critically listening to them while trying to understand how it was possible for the State of Israel to act this way while being committed to equal rights for all its citizens. He sometimes wondered whether economic and scientific shortcomings of Arab agricultural workers might be the factor responsible for the gaps between the Jewish and Arab farmers.

Tel Aviv – a photo from the book

After accepting the suggestion of the secretary of the Histadrut information office, Stella Rabinowitz, that he should visit a religious kibbutz, Souchy found himself in Kvutzat Yavne. The author prepared himself for the possibility that he’d find “a more or less primitive tribe from Asia Minor” there and wondered how he’d be able to communicate with them, if at all. To his surprise, he was able to converse with the locals his in own mother tongue; after all, Kvutzat Yavne had been founded by German immigrants in 1931. Their conversations mostly involved questions related to the organization of the kibbutz, its economy, and the communal lifestyle. It seems the only way the kibbutz’s religious nature became evident during his visit was when he was asked to wear a kippa (yarmulke) while in the dining room. During dinner, he observed a debate between a young pioneer who had only recently arrived from Switzerland who “supported Karl Marx’s economic theory despite his religious beliefs” and the secretary of the kibbutz, Eliyahu Buchaster, who preferred the theories of the Jewish social anarchist Gustav Landauer. The latter may have preferred those theories because of Landauer’s recommendation to establish agricultural settlements where the work would be done communally. Landauer could indeed be considered one of the intellectual forefathers of the kibbutz movement. Such a debate could have easily taken place in a secular kibbutz as well.

Youth working in the kibbutzim – from the book

Souchy also had a long conversation with Rachel Adler, a member of the community, in order to fully understand the value of women in the kibbutzim. Opponents of the collective lifestyle came out against the status enjoyed by kibbutz women because, “when speaking about the kibbutzim outside of Israel[…] it is impossible to avoid hearing the opinion that life in the kibbutz contributes to the destruction of the family institution. There are opponents of the collective settlements who make fun of these lifestyles and speak maliciously of the ‘collectivization of women’.” Mrs. Adler responded that the opposite was true, and that the kibbutz afforded women the best life possible, as well as plenty of spare time. Unlike women in the city or on a private farm who needed to work outside the home but also maintain their households and take care of the children – which effectively meant working 12 or even 14 hours a day – women on a kibbutz didn’t need to take on such a burden because the farm work and childcare were handled jointly by the collective. Indeed, Souchy noted that despite the unique arrangements for family accommodation on a kibbutz, with children sleeping in a children’s home, parents could visit their children and be there to put them to sleep whenever they wanted.

Youth working in the kibbutzim – from the book

However, despite all the kibbutz’s economic and social successes, not all members were optimistic about the future of the collective lifestyle. Baruch Kahane, the manager of the kibbutz factory, noted that he and other members of the founding generation had been imbued with the cooperative ideology and believed that they were “the successors of the Essenes, the group from the time of the ancient Hebrews who completely practiced collective property. The members of this group lived in an admirable manner; they loathed war, condemned commerce and disparaged the treasures of the world.” However, that wasn’t how the more recent immigrants behaved; they didn’t “have the same idealism” that the founders had, and therefore the kibbutzim and other collective communities couldn’t gain new strength from the immigration waves of the early 1950s, according to Kahane.

Dr. Rosenstein, a dentist and member of Kibbutz Kiryat Anavim, wasn’t any more optimistic than Baruch Kahane regarding the future of kibbutz settlement. But in his opinion, the fault wasn’t with the immigrants but rather with the members of the younger generation, even those from the kibbutzim. This was because he felt that the youth didn’t share the values ​​of sacrifice, the idea of being content with little, which characterized the founders of the kibbutzim. The youth weren’t enthusiastic about “living so close to each other. Many of them don’t always want to eat in the communal dining room. They don’t like the idea of a meal that, while healthy and nutritious, doesn’t take into account everyone’s personal taste.” It seems that city life, where people could freely go to the cinema or a dance club, seemed much more attractive to them.

Kvutzat Yavne – from the book

It turns out that ideological questions also threatened the cooperative lifestyle. The author visited Kibbutz Givat HaShlosha, whose members were in the midst of a severe internal conflict. The conflict related to Joseph Stalin and the Soviet Union, with whom the supporters of the Mapam party sympathized, but whom the Mapai party supporters objected to. A shoemaker from the kibbutz, a Mapai supporter, told Souchy with quite a hint of irony: “In our kibbutz, there are supporters of the ruling party [Mapai] and the opposition party [Mapam]. The more or less pro-Soviet Mapam members are in the majority, and among them are schoolteachers who’ve introduced Soviet doctrine into their lessons… They said that Stalin was the greatest person alive, second only to God. In these discussions, the differences of opinion were so fundamental that it wasn’t possible to reach a compromise.” To the author’s question of whether, for the sake of the union, it might be possible to provide each school of thought with its own teachers, and thus perhaps establish two schools, the shoemaker replied that it was already too late for that. The kibbutz soon split and the Mapai supporters established a new kibbutz called Einat.

Dr. Manfred Scheuer, chairman of Moshav Shavei Tzion, was more optimistic about the prospect of the cooperative lifestyle and was even hopeful that new people would join his community. When Souchy asked him how the success of the moshav related to issues of capitalism and socialism, Manfred replied, “We do not deal with theories… we are practical people. For us, experience is the only thing that can teach us. We trust our sense of logic and the use of honesty and respect in carrying out the work. These are the principles we followed when we built our group.” It seems that Souchy felt more comfortable in the kibbutzim where he could more easily engage in “theories” than in Moshav Shavei Tzion.

Givat Brenner – from the book

The author was also impressed by the socialist character of the Kiryat Avoda neighborhood in central Holon, where restrictions on private ownership were put in place. During his tour, he asked his host, the secretary of the Kiryat Avoda cooperative association, “Where have the shops, cinemas and synagogues gone?” The secretary answered, “We don’t need any of them. We have a small synagogue that serves a small part of the population. The majority here doesn’t think that religion needs to stand out… As for private shops, we think that they’re unnecessary. We have the cooperative store, where we can buy better and cheaper goods.” Souchy was very moved by this answer, and for a moment it seemed to him that in the Israeli city of Holon, the dream of doing away with private commerce that prioritizes profit over all else and replacing it with a cooperative store that considers the common good had finally come true. Had the anarchist ideal – a world made up of communes that provide for the needs of the people without exploitation – finally been realized in Israel?

Unfortunately, the secretary’s wife dampened Souchy’s enthusiasm by pointing out that many residents of Holon worked in Tel Aviv and did their shopping there as well. It seemed that a society operating without the drive of private profit was still a far-off dream.

The book includes photographs, but it seems the captions were edited by someone with insufficient knowledge of Hebrew, and so names were sometimes misspelled. Dizengoff Square became Dizengulf, Kvutzat Yavne became Javno, and Givat Brenner became Rivat Brenner. This adds a comedic dimension to the essay.

In conclusion, it seems that one of the factors that attracted visitors to the young State of Israel was its spirit of social solidarity and the belief in socialism that led to considerable achievements. We must remember this, especially now as we work towards recovering from Hamas’s murderous attack on us. As for Souchy, it seems that he made another trip to Israel in the seventies, but additional research material is needed in order to properly assess his mindset and writings from this period.

The Emotional Resonance of Music During War

Throughout Israeli history, music has been utilized to calm the chaos of war and make sense of tragedy. When words can’t quite get it right, music often can. As we deep-dive into four of Israel’s most famous wartime tunes, we can start to understand why music is just so important to our dear country, especially during dark days such as these.

IDF band, 1984, Ilan Ossendriver, the Pritzker Family National Photography Collection, the National Library of Israel

From the earliest of times, people have been using music to channel their emotions. Early Mayans used soothing songs to aid with the difficulties of labor and birth, the Vikings sang melodious chants when marching into war to scare their opponents and boost their own morale, ancient Innuits would make use of throat singing to pass down their culture throughout generations. And the People of Israel were no different.

As the biblical story goes, when the People of Israel escaped persecution and slavery in Egypt, they played tambourines and sang songs of joy, led by the biblical figure Miriam and the righteous women around her.

Artist’s depiction of Miriam with her tambourine, Ze’ev Raban, photographed by Zeev Radovan, 1992, Center for Jewish Art at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, the National Library of Israel

Song is immensely powerful – this is a belief that was acknowledged way back in the ancient world, and is still recognized today. And one of its uses is during times of war, both in battle, but also for the comfort, assurance and perseverance of those who are suffering and need a certain special ignition of hope. Songs composed during wartime are often unique in their outpouring of emotion and the rawness ascribed to them.

Naomi Shemer is one such example of a singer whose wartime songs captured the hearts of the Israeli nation possibly more than any other composer before her. If any song has the power to symbolize something as terrible as a war, then the song Lu Yehi, more than anything, has come to represent the Yom Kippur War.

Lu Yehi – Performed by Chava Alberstein

 You can also find this song in the National Library of Israel collections


During the first devastating days of that war, Shemer composed a collection of lyrics that expressed her hope and prayers for the Israeli soldiers’ safe return home. At first, she used the melody of the Beatles’ song “Let It Be” (the Hebrew words Lu Yehi are a direct translation of the title) but, influenced by her husband Mordechai Horowitz, Shemer decided to later compose an entirely new tune. “I won’t let you waste this song on a foreign tune. This is a Jewish war, and you should give it a Jewish tune,” said Mordechai. Listening to his advice, Shemer worked on completing her new melody before performing her freshly composed song on Israeli television, where it captivated audiences, and reflected back to them their own feelings in a way that most people couldn’t hope to do alone. The song became something of a national prayer in Israel during that time (more about this here).

Draft of Lu Yehi Naomi Shemer, 1973, the National Library of Israel

When the National Library of Israel was endowed with Naomi Shemer’s personal archives, they included both her handwritten lyrics to Lu Yehi as well as a special little pocket book. This pocket book contained the words of the fourth verse of her song “Jerusalem of Gold”.

Yerushalayim Shel Zahav – Performed by Shuli Natan

 You can also find this song in the National Library of Israel collections


At the beginning of 1967, the Mayor of Jerusalem commissioned a song about Jerusalem from Naomi Shemer. This song, Yerushalayim Shel Zahav, was written for the Israel Song Festival at a time when Jerusalem’s Old City was occupied by Jordan – a difficult period in which Jews could not enter the Old City and worship at their holy sites. It describes the longings of the Jewish people for Jerusalem and their yearning for peace.

Jerusalem of Gold” (Yerushalayim Shel Zahav), Naomi Shemer, 1967, the National Library of Israel

Less than a month after the song’s publication, however, the Six-Day War broke out and the IDF was able to take the Old City. Upon hearing this jubilant news, Naomi Shemer decided in that very moment to add a final verse to her song, celebrating the return of the Jews to their ancient holy sites. Naomi Shemer’s song thus became the unofficial anthem of the Jewish people, and still symbolizes the mood of many Israelis during the Six-Day War.

Naomi Shemer at the piano, the National Library of Israel

Shemer was not the only songwriter to have this effect on the nation, however. As the First Lebanon War raged around him in 1982, esteemed Israeli lyricist Ehud Manor was inspired to write a searing text that dealt with his own emotions following the death of his brother during the War of Attrition. As Manor sat in his living room with his wife watching the daily news play out reels from the battlefield, he broke down in tears and started jotting down words on a scrap of paper. These lyrics would eventually become the song Ein Li Eretz Acheret – “I Have No Other Country”.

Ehud Manor on the radio, 1969, IPPA Staff Photographer and Shalom Bar Tal, the Dan Hadani Collection, the Pritzker Family National Photography Collection, the National Library of Israel

When the song was released in 1986, it emerged as a profound musical testament that resonated with the collective sentiments of a nation grappling with the tragedies of war. Against the backdrop of the challenges and strife around them, the melody not only encapsulated the turbulent emotions of Israelis at the time, but his insightful lyrics echoed the collective atmosphere of the war. Ein Li Eretz Acheret became a significant cultural touchstone, being voted Israel’s favorite song time and time again. Later chosen as the Song of the State of Israel by the Yediot Ahronoth newspaper. The song has been given different political interpretations but it actually offers a musical narrative that goes beyond political boundaries and has thus been recycled multiple times throughout Israel’s recent history to articulate the intricate emotions woven into the fabric of a society which continuously finds itself facing conflicts.

“I have no other country. Although my land is burning, my veins, my soul with an aching body and with a hungry heart, here is my home. I will not be silent. For my country has changed her face. I will not give up on her, I shall remind her and sing into her ears, until she opens her eyes.”

Ein Li Eretz Acheret – Performed by Gali Atari

 You can also find this song in the National Library of Israel collections


Even more recently, during Operation Cast Lead in 2008-2009, as hope for a brighter future seemed so far off for so many Israelis, a song that had been released a few months earlier suddenly hit home in a new way: Ayeka. After becoming a Breslov Hasid, Shalom “Shuly” Rand was expected to spend the rest of his life learning Torah and walking in the traditional Hasidic path set out for him. But, being an introspective and thoughtful man with a rebellious streak, this was not the route he chose. While staying true to his religious beliefs and practices, and fathering seven children, he also became an actor and began composing and singing music.

Ayeka – Performed by Shuly Rand

 You can also find this song in the National Library of Israel collections


Arguably his most well-known song is a prayer that came straight from his heart. As a man who had lived through dark days as well as the good ones experienced by all Israelis, he writes of his faith being challenged. Confused and lonely, he turned to the heavens with a question, or even a plea – ayeka?! – “where are you?!” Rand communicates his feelings candidly in this song, with vulnerability and perhaps a touch of rage, as he turns to G-d and questions how the Master of the Universe could allow so much suffering and heartbreak in the world that He created.

When Operation Cast Lead shook the people of Israel just a few months after the song’s release, many Israelis recalled Rand’s lyrics and felt their own feelings echoed in his song, understanding that this man’s confusion and his struggles with faith were also their own during the distress that lay all around them. Rand expresses his longing to understand how to cope in difficult times, as well as the bigger frustration which comes with knowing that he may never have answers to these questions. It was a sentiment that so many ordinary people could align with during the conflict which arose that same year, and lots of Israelis considered it an apt reflection of the times they were living through.

“Oh G-d almighty, openly speaking, sometimes I have no desire to be in Your world. Where can I hide from You? What will I claim, how will I justify myself, what shall I say? Merciful and gracious G-d, before You is a Jew, hanging by a hair-thin thread, fighting the sadness, the despair that gnaws like a worm. The happiness had fled from me and so did my sanity. Voices from the past whisper to me to stop, but I keep on rowing in the dark, asking and wishing, where are You?!”

 IDF band, 1984, Ilan Ossendriver, the Pritzker Family National Photography Collection, the National Library of Israel

And now, as Israel has been at war since the unimaginably dreadful events of October 7, we see this same musical phenomenon playing out once again. If you look today at the top Israeli music charts, you may notice that the songs being listened to in Israel right now reflect the war that we are experiencing. Many of the most popular songs in the country at the moment were written to express the national mood of mourning, of helplessness at the situation we find ourselves in, but also of hope for a brighter future.

 IDF band, 1969, Shalom Bar Tal, the Dan Hadani Collection, the Pritzker Family National Photography Collection, the National Library of Israel

Songs do more than just entertain us. They provide us with guidance in times of hardship, they provide us with companionship in knowing that others feel how we feel, and they provide us with words for feelings that we can’t quite express alone. Listen to the lyrics of the songs mentioned in this article, and many of the most listened-to songs in Israel right now and see if you feel the same way. The chances are that you, like so many others, will find a friend in these words and melodies.

 IDF band, 1969, Shalom Bar Tal, the Dan Hadani Collection, the Pritzker Family National Photography Collection, the National Library of Israel

The State’s Watchful Guardians: Female Field Observers on the Border

IDF field observer war rooms are spread across Israel’s borders, working 24/7. The soldiers and officers who operate the systems contained within know that the security of their entire sector often depends on their judgment calls. On October 7, dozens of field observers were killed by Hamas terrorists who broke into Israeli army outposts. This is the story of the IDF’s field observers – the eyes that protect Israel’s borders.

An IDF field observer on duty, never taking her eyes off the screen for a moment. Photo: IDF Spokesperson's Unit

It’s July 2020, in the early hours of the morning. The observation war room of the southern Golan Heights is relatively quiet, but dramatic events are about to unfold. Noa, a veteran tatzpitanit, or field observer,  scans her sector on her screen. She knows the area like the back of her hand, even when it’s dark out. She knows the farmers who pass by every day, the shepherds, the nearby villagers.

But this time she identifies four suspicious figures – bent over, moving cautiously. To the untrained eye, they look like wild animals in search of a meal. Noa identifies them as human figures carrying large brown bags and moving towards Israel’s border fence.

She declares an ongoing incident. Additional field observers, a sergeant and the officer of the war room, are called in, while elite Maglan soldiers prepare an ambush near the fence for the uninvited guests. Meantime, the four can be seen splitting up on screen, with three of them moving towards the fence and one staying behind to watch their back. They place the explosives and quickly retreat, certain that they’ve succeeded in their mission – when IDF forces open fire on them. Noa the field observer and the southern Golan war room managed to prevent four Hezbollah terrorists from carrying out their hostile plans.

This is just one of thousands of stories that exemplify the critical role played by field observers in protecting Israel’s borders – by stopping terrorism, weapons and drug smuggling.

Field observers during an exercise. Photo: IDF Spokesperson’s Unit

Field observers are part of the IDF’s Border Defense Corps, which includes combat battalions alongside male and female combat intelligence collection soldiers. The field observers are charged with the duty of endlessly surveying their respective sectors, across all of Israel’s borders. Oftentimes, observers will be the first to identify suspicious activities and be the first to have to make the judgment call of whether to call in combat forces.

Combat intelligence collection soldiers in training. Photo: IDF Spokesperson’s Unit

Field observers are combat support troops, who work from observation war rooms in the most dangerous of areas. We received tragic confirmation of this fact on October 7, when dozens of field observers were killed trying to protect their outposts and war rooms. They were also among the first to identify the danger and attempt to warn of it. They serve in the Border Defense Corps alongside light infantry units like the Karakal, Bardelas and Lions of the Jordan battalions – all containing male and female soldiers fighting side by side.

In the 1990s, the IDF began to seriously consider how and when to integrate women into combat roles in the IDF, though there were earlier cases as well. There are still voices that oppose the integration of women into these roles, but recent events have shown that female combat soldiers are up to the task. In recent years, the IDF has become one of the most interesting armies in the world when it comes to women in combat and combat support roles. While many armies around the world integrate women in their combat array, Israeli female combat and combat support troops take part in real time fighting on a nearly unprecedented scale in modern times, turning them into an interesting test case and the subject of many studies.

Moshe Dayan as IDF Chief of Staff, 1950s. Photo: Dan Hadani Archive, the Pritzker Family National Photography Collection, the National Library of Israel. In 1940, Moshe Dayan commanded a team of Australian and Jewish soldiers who fought the Axis powers. as part of the British Army. While carrying out observation of a bombing target in the Beirut area, he was shot through his binoculars, losing an eye. When he returned to Mandatory Palestine, he became famous as a war hero, developing into one of the most influential public figures in Israel

46-Foot-High Observation Towers

Observation is one of the most important, and most ancient, methods of intelligence gathering. The first Zionists to develop what would become the Israeli intelligence doctrine belonged to the NILI underground led by Aaron Aaronsohn, which provided the British Army in WWI with information on Ottoman forces stationed in the Land of Israel.

British General Edmund Allenby, who ultimately took the region from the Ottomans, would later write of Aaronsohn’s contribution to the British victory: “He was mainly responsible for the formation of my Field Intelligence organisation behind Turkish lines.” In 1917, the NILI underground members were caught. Many were imprisoned, tortured, and executed. Sarah Aaronsohn was captured, cruelly tortured, and died from her wounds three days after shooting herself.

NILI underground members Sarah Aaronsohn and Avshalom Feinberg, Damascus, Syria, 1916. This photo is part of the Israel Archive Network (IAN) and is made available thanks to the collaboration of Yad Yitzhak Ben Zvi, the Ministry of Heritage, and the National Library of Israel

During the War of Independence, the first observation war rooms were established near the country’s borders, and these were tasked with gathering and analyzing intelligence information based on observation, aerial photos, and more. The intelligence units would accompany the combat companies, and the intelligence gathered served the higher-ups to prepare for future hostilities. From that time until about the 1990s, observation was conducted mainly from towers established at IDF outposts and along Israel’s borders.

Soldier looking out at the Jordanian border, 1971. Photo: Boris Carmi. Source: the Meitar Collection, the Pritzker Family National Photography Collection, the National Library of Israel

“The soldiers ask that we protect them”

In the early 2000s and especially due to the establishment of the Separation Barrier, the IDF began to develop the field of observation on a visual-technological basis. This was the period during which the first female field observers began operating their systems in the border region war rooms. In the past few decades, thanks to technological innovations, the field of visual intelligence has evolved considerably. Today, field observers work with technology allowing for far greater movement, in-depth observation, detailed imagery, and of course the endless monitoring of the area on a scale that was not possible before.

Although they have been doing their job for over twenty years, public awareness of the importance of their role hit the headlines as a result of that terrible day in October. Field observers were a significant element among those who suspected, identified and gave warning of Hamas’ plans ahead of time. Not only that but as soldiers stationed on the borders, tasked with monitoring dangerous areas, they were the first to see the attack coming in real time, before anyone else.

Field observers know today, more than ever, just how important their work is. Stav, who served as one, says: “The field observers know their sector the best. People can’t understand just how intimately. We identify the people who live in the area, identify every tree, every rock. We can identify if people have bad intentions based on their body language.”

Field observers in the northern sector. Photo: private album

Thanks to technological progress and the tactical benefits of their work, the responsibilities of the women serving in these roles have changed and expanded over time. Beyond warning of suspicious activities and scanning the border, field observers also observe active IDF operations in real time, watching over the combat soldiers as they move through terrain and helping to protect them with their knowledge of the area.

Gal, a field observer serving in the reserves, added that “for us as young women aged 18-19, to take part in such sensitive operations, with special units, to look the enemy in the eye and be one step ahead of them, this is a powerful sense of mission”.

Every field observer has a wealth of hair-raising events to tell of, few of which hit the headlines.

Eden, another field observer serving in the reserves, said: “In one of the operations, for which we even received a citation from the brigade commander, we directed forces inside a hostile city during the night hours. I identified an ambush that was set for the soldiers about a hundred meters away from the force, of course I announced an immediate stop to the advance. And thanks to our discovery, the forces ended the mission without casualties and of course while catching those who tried to harm us. In that moment, when you’re in the war room and you know there’s a threat a few meters from the force, you’re the one who makes the decision that we’re not advancing and the force listens to you. The soldiers know what we can do and want us to protect them.”

Five years ago, on October 7 2018, a terrorist murdered two Israeli citizens – Ziv Hajbi and Kim Levengrond Yehezkel. The two worked together with the terrorist at the Alon Group factory near the city of Ariel, where Jews worked alongside Palestinians in what was supposed to be a symbol of coexistence.

After tying Kim up, shooting her, as well as shooting Ziv and wounding other workers, the terrorist got away. For two whole months, the hunt was on for him. The soldiers of the observation war room in the Shechem (Nablus) area were an inseparable part of the operation – “One day, we identified him with new clothes on, for instance, this proved he had help,” Stav says. After a two-month manhunt, the terrorist was captured, to the joy of the field observers who helped capture him with their hard work.

Ynet article, 13.12.2018. Screenshot from the Historical Jewish Press Collection at the National Library of Israel

Day-in and day-out, Israel’s borders are protected by brave, intelligent, and highly motivated women. Their eyes scan the border looking for danger wherever it lurks. Even today, after suffering the trauma of October 7 in the most personal, painful manner, these dedicated soldiers continue to occupy the observation rooms and serve as the eyes of the whole country.



I would like to wholeheartedly thank the field observers who shared their fascinating stories for this article: Gili Yuval, Tal Grazi, Stav Ref, Gal Sharabi, and Eden Gorevitch.

Women who served as field observers are currently working on founding a memorial association for the field observers who fell defending IDF posts during October 7.

May their memory be a blessing.

Nir Oz Will Blossom Again: The Story of a Legendary Kibbutz Gardener

In the early days, members of Kibbutz Nir Oz suffered from terrible sandstorms that made it difficult to move, see and even eat. Ran Pauker, the kibbutz’s legendary landscaper, was called to solve the problem, and along the way, Nir Oz became a green, ecological gem. When asked about the future of the kibbutz that suffered a fatal blow on October 7 - he says the vegetation will be restored within a year, as for the community: “We’ll have to wait and see”

Ran Pauker, who has worked as Kibbutz Nir Oz’s gardener and landscaper for decades, next to the sign at the entrance to “Green Spot,” the kibbutz’s botanical garden that specializes in vegetation requiring little irrigation. Photo from a private album.

“I’ll just finish trimming the garden and call you right back,” Ran Pauker, the 86-year-old evacuee from Kibbutz Nir Oz, answered when I called to speak with him about his life’s work. It seems you can’t take the gardener out of the garden, even when he’s far away from home. Pauker and his wife Carmelit have been evacuated to Kibbutz HaSolelim in the Lower Galilee. Both were members of the first pioneering Hashomer Hatza’ir groups that founded Kibbutz Nir Oz in the 1950s. The couple was forced to leave their home behind after the awful attack on October 7. They happened to be staying with their daughter in Sderot that Saturday, and so were saved.

Like many kibbutzim that were established along Israel’s borders, Kibbutz Nir Oz also faced many challenges throughout its history. If you had gone there in the 1950s and looked around, you would have seen wilderness and sand stretching from one end of the horizon to the other.

Kibbutz Nir Oz, around 1960. Photo: Ran Pauker, from the Kibbutz Nir Oz archives


‘Nir Oz’, a New Kibbutz Near Nirim” – a report from Herut, September 30, 1955

“When we settled here, there were unbearable sandstorms in the area. I couldn’t see a few meters in front of me,” Pauker says. “I remember one sandstorm when we needed to eat in the kitchen storeroom because … the dining hall had filled with sand and dust. The storeroom was small, so we ate in shifts.”

Looking back, Pauker may have been exactly the solution that the sand-swept kibbutz needed. Upon his arrival there, although he hadn’t planned on doing so, he took it upon himself to manage Kibbutz Nir Oz’s landscaping and be responsible for all the plants and vegetation in the public sphere. On a bus from Tel Aviv to the kibbutz, he bumped into an old friend, Meir Lavi (Mayor), who was the kibbutz secretary at the time, and told him, “Ran, we don’t have a gardener. You’re the son of a gardener, you’re a graduate of Kadoorie [a well-known Israeli agricultural school], you’re done being a farm coordinator and you have no job right now. Come work as a gardener for two or three months until we can find someone else.”

Pauker agreed. “They say nothing’s more permanent than the temporary. They’re right. I’ve been a gardener ever since.”

Cover of a book published in 2015 to mark 60 years of Kibbutz Nir Oz. The photo features a well-known Hebrew slogan coined by Meir Ya’ari that has accompanied the kibbutz throughout its history and which can be translated as: “We are not road-weary, rather we are trailblazers


A sign hanging on the Nir Oz silo following the October 7 attacks, featuring the same slogan that appears on the cover of the book above. Photo: Moshe Yolovich.

The sandstorms made him realize that his role was much more important than he thought. It wouldn’t only change his life but would also turn him into a guru of green, economical, and ecological planning.

At the start of his journey, Pauker faced a challenge that was two-fold: How could he make life bearable in the hot, dusty desert while also saving money and water, as the expenses were costing the young kibbutz a fortune? Industrious as he was, Pauker figured out how: He carefully and cleverly planned his tree plantings and deliberately chose vegetation that was suitable for desert conditions. The green that dominates Kibbutz Nir Oz became its hallmark, and even after the October 7 tragedy, the plants still stand alongside the destroyed, burnt homes. Pauker says his secret is a combination of patience, a willingness to learn from mistakes, constant attention to conditions, and finding the right plants for the terrain.

One of the impressive Ficus trees that are spread throughout Nir Oz. Photo: Ran Pauker.

A list of contributors to the book published by the kibbutz’s founders to mark its 60th anniversary. A number of these people were abducted on October 7. Some have been released, and we are waiting anxiously for the rest to come home.

Over the years, Pauker saw that his work methods offered additional advantages: By saving money, time and labor resources, he was able to work in a more ecological fashion, better suited to a planet that is gradually becoming warmer. His ideas and developments turned Nir Oz into a role model for cultivating natural space in a way that allows for a pleasant and comfortable life, but that also takes ecological and economic concerns into account:

“I realized that if I didn’t gather the clippings [from the lawn mower] and if I used a recycler lawn mower [which leaves what was mowed on the field], I’d save on sweeping expenses and fuel. I’d also be leaving minerals in the ground and wouldn’t need fertilizer. We brought in plants that are highly resistant to dryness; we created drainage collection basins throughout the relatively flat kibbutz, and we used water from the air conditioners to water the plants. This paid off financially and environmentally.”

Experiments with different grass varieties inside a flower-shaped plot in front of the dining hall, which is still there to this day. Photo: Ran Pauker, from the Kibbutz archives.

Ran inherited his love of gardening from his father. He was born in Nahariya to parents who were among the founders of the city. His father also worked as a gardener and garden planner, and even as a child, just four-years-old, Pauker helped his father out at work. His dad gave him a small bucket of lime and sent him off to whitewash the tree trunks.

When he began working on the landscaping for Kibbutz Nir Oz, he asked his father to come help him with the planning. The experienced, German-born gardener offered him orderly, methodical work practices. When Ran was first starting out as head of landscaping, he had a vision and clear plans, and he made sure to document his work so that he’d be able to present his achievements to the community members, and later, to the wider public. Inside the lush, green kibbutz, Ran established a botanical garden named Nekuda Yeruka, or “Green Point”, which has become a plant research center visited by experts and students from all over the world.

And how did he meet his wife, Carmelit? When the two were working together in the rose nursery, of course. They bred different species on the rose bushes, and their collaboration blossomed into love, which led them to a happy marriage and a big, supportive family.

Carmelit Menashe and Ran in Kibbutz Nir Oz’s rose nursery in 1964. Photo from a private album.

On October 10, Pauker was set to celebrate the publication of his autobiography, Sipuro shel Tzabar BeHafrachat HaMidbar (“The Story of a Sabra Who Made the Desert Bloom”). The book covers his significant contributions to the kibbutz as well as to the fields of gardening and environmental studies, as experts still come to the kibbutz to learn from him to this day. Along with all of us, Pauker hopes that one day, when all the hostages including those from the kibbutz are returned home and the community begins rebuilding itself, he’ll be able to celebrate the release of his book.

The back cover of Ran Pauker’s autobiography, set to be published soon.

The botanical garden and the lush greenery of Nir Oz is a success story about making the desert wasteland flourish. When asked about the future, Ran says, “The kibbutz itself is destroyed, the homes are destroyed, but the plants still stand and the irrigation is still working, thanks to Na’amit who is responsible for the landscaping now, and the amazing kibbutz members who have been coming to help. If they’ll let us, we’ll get all the landscaping back the way it was within a year. But the big question is the Nir Oz community; what will the community choose to do and how can we rehabilitate it? As for that, we’ll need to wait and see.”

Lush, green Kibbutz Nir Oz, seen from above, 2019. Photo from the Kibbutz Nir Oz archives


This article is part of our special series: “Life on the Border: A Tribute to the Communities of the Gaza Border Region”

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