Friday, 3 June 2011

Wilfred Owen, the Ram of Pride, and the Kibbutz.

Wilfred Owen (1893-1918)
poet, patriot, soldier, pacifist.

Rosa Parks refused to leave her seat for a white person (okay she wasn’t the first but she’s the one whom people think of as the first), some un-named person was the first to take a hammer and knock a chunk off the Berlin Wall, someone else in Chiapas was the first to think “You know, Zapata was right…”, another person was the first to set foot in Tahrir Square with the intent of standing against President Mubarak’s dictatorship. In all cases what comes through to me when I think about these things is less the event itself more the impact, the emotion, the release of energy. It is the old tension between transience and permanence; the event passes but is recorded in history – the emotional response is universal and universally recognised even though it is momentary.

I am contemplating this because, in a recent discussion, it was suggested to me that one way I might keep my ‘art’ fresh is to write about current events. I am not resisting this idea, but I am kicking it around. Okay I’ll confess my gut reaction is to resist it, because I know that a work of art can become horribly dated very quickly and that we artists, no matter what our medium, strive for immortality!

Yet that is what some of us achieve even though we hang our hat on something that is time-specific. Who can deny the living, constant power of Wilfred Owen’s lines What passing-bells for those who die like cattle? / Only the monstrous anger of the guns. / Only the stuttering rifles’ rapid rattle… notwithstanding it is specific to the Great War.

I found the following poem by Owen. It is time specific, but the release of emotional energy when one reads it never goes away. Its time is the time of the Great War of course. However Owen calls up the more ancient image of the Patriarch Abram (Abraham) to use as an analogy, and with it the idea of the horrid blasphemy in the act of refusing to heed a loving Creator. The final two lines – their closeness in form to a rhyming couplet lending them a quiet but awful impact – sum up with great, almost gentle simplicity Owen’s disgust at the stubborn, prideful cruelty which he saw behind the sacrificing of so many young lives.

          The Parable of the Young Man and the Old

          So Abram rose, and clave the wood, and went,
          And took the fire with him, and a knife.
          And as they sojourned, both of them together,
          Isaac the first-born spake, and said, My Father,
          Behold the preparations, fire and iron,
          But where the lamb for this burnt-offering?
          Then Abram bound the youth with belts and straps,
          And builded parapets the trenches there,
          And stretched forth the knife to slay his son.
          When lo! an angel called him out of heaven,
          Saying, Lay not thy hand upon the lad,
          Neither do anything to him. Behold,
          A ram, caught in a thicket by its horns;
          Offer the Ram of Pride instead of him.
          But the old man would not so, but slew his son,
          And half the seed of Europe, one by one.

The desolation of what was the tree-lined road to Guillemont.
This image of The Somme will remain with me and may colour my poetry for a while.


When I write, as I have done many times, in support of mutuality as an alternative to capitalism, statism, and political oligarchy, I give examples of experiments in the area of co-operative and communal living. What I do not do is hold them out as examples of perfection. They are only experiments after all. One of my examples is the kibbutz system in Israel.

I have been thinking about what divides people from each other. I have been thinking of my principle of No Bosses, No Borders (the anarchist’s No Cross, No Crown?). Specifically I have been thinking about the wall built between the Gaza Strip and Israel. To me its importance is not that it pens Palestinians into an effective ghetto, nor that it may well protect Israeli citizens from terrorist attack. To me its significance is that it divides people from each other who may well have much more in common than those things which appear to divide them. It forces them not to consider mutuality. Again to me this is where its true evil lies, irrespective of what other good-or-evil purpose or function it may have.

In an article in Freedom in 1997 Meir Turniansky wrote about the kibbutz where he lived – Kibbutz Samar. He reminded us of certain facts about the kibbutz philosophy: “First of all the Kibbutz movement was never Jewish-Arab but based purely, like the rest of the Zionist movement, from it’s beginning in the turn of the century, on Jewish immigrants from east Europe who were influenced by Marxist ideas…” (my emphasis, to show which side of a virtual wall they were). In the same early paragraph he goes on to say how the death of Stalin was reported in the kibbutzim newspaper with the words “… the sun of nationalities has turned off”! The article went on to explain how the kibbutz system changed in step with the development of the state of Israel as a whole.

I would like to quote a large passage from Turniansky’s article:

…many Kibbutzim are not a utopistic society anymore but a society in transit towards a rural town on the scale of a small village. Still the Kibbutzim were never “pioneers of anarchism” except a few rare examples which I feel one of them is the kibbutz I live in which like some others still maintains it’s revolutionary way of life but in a different way than the original kibbutz.

The kibbutz in which I live… has an ideology of non intervention with the members life which remarkably reminds anarchist theories. The main points of social “order” here are:

  1. Everybody decides for himself where and how much he works.
  2. There is no budget, everyone draws cash as he wishes.
  3. decisions are reached only by dialogue or the assembly.
  4. There are hardly any committees to monitor internal affairs as in other Kibbutzim.
  5. All facilities e.g. kitchen, office etc. are open all the times — there are no locks anywhere.

These features or customs of our life style are possible because here lives a small group of people which decided it wants to live this way. Of course this requires much self control from the member since this whole system is based on the fact that people will consider the communal property, money and works to be done as their own and therefore will work well and spend the money sparingly, but all is done according to their decision. The belief is that this freedom will lead to better results than the usual systems of control and coercion societies usually use. Up to today things are working fine, this place is prospering and has a strong social spine. There are about 150 residents living here including 80 members. We grow dates and vegetables and have a dairy farm and some tiny factories. Maybe the most interesting thing... about this place is the fact that you will not find here more than five people who know who Kropotkin was. The word “anarchy” is hardly ever mentioned, and is sometimes even abused in it’s negative misleading conception (equal to just one big mess where nobody cares about anything). This place emerged as an anarchistic society without people planning it ideologically. The healthy society here is more a result of people from well-to-do houses being fed up of the rotten systems they grew up in (many of them were raised in old and stagnated kibbutzim) having an opportunity to act freely and manage their own lives from A to Z as a small desolate rural place like Samar makes possible.

I feel that in Samar it is proven that true anarchy can exist and benefit the people who practice it. People here are always willing to defend the way of life we live even if it means restraining themselves since eventually they do prosper and enjoy a good deal of freedom…

I came across all the above when I was looking for any information I could find about the inclusion of Arab people within the kibbutz system. I found none, which saddened me. That is the erection of a fence which should never have been erected, a chance lost in the drive for an ethnic homeland, Isaac slaughtered on the altar of nationalism.

I say I found none, but that is not quite true. There was an article by Simon Griver in The Jewish Chronicle Online dated 13th June 2008:

A kibbutz has accepted an Arab citizen’s request to become a member for what is claimed to be the first time.

Amal Karmia, a divorcee from the Arab town of Kalanswa, north-east of Tel Aviv, officially became a member of Kibbutz Nir Eliahu, near Kfar Saba, where she lives with her teenage daughter Aya and son Adam.

Israeli magazine The Kibbutz reported that this was the first time in the history of the kibbutz movement that an Arab had been accepted as a member. Ms Karmia, a nurse, has a long association with Kibbutz Nir Eliahu. Both her children attended the kibbutz kindergarten and she became the nurse in the kibbutz clinic in 1997. In recent years, she has lived on the kibbutz.

“This is the place and these are the people and this is the lifestyle which suits me,” said Ms Karmia. “Even so, we are Muslims. We fast on Ramadan and keep all the festivals. My children enjoy the best of both worlds and have a universal outlook.”

As for the future, she said, “people on the kibbutz ask me if the children will go back to Kalanswa to find a spouse when they are older. I tell them it will be up to Aya and Adam to decide what kind of life they want to lead.”

Neta Beeri, who is in charge of new members for the kibbutz, said: “This was not a symbolic act. We have known Amal for years and love her. She is a person that we wanted as a member. Even so perhaps others will realise that Arabs do not have horns and there will be more Arab members of kibbutzim.”

I’m tempted to say: a nice thought but don’t hold your breath. The fact that the event is trumpeted sixty years after the foundation of the state of Israel says something!

When you get to my age (oh my Lord – I said ‘when you get to my age’!) you will however realise that culture is not immutable. I have seen the culture of the country where I live change many times due to a multitude of pressures. What that teaches me is that maybe cultural conservatism and multiculturalism should after all be given up, thrown away, in favour of a natural mutuality such as was reported from Kibbutz Samar in 1997, but on a larger scale. Maybe if we bind our treasured cultures to the altar and raise the knife then a ram will be provided. Is it not worth having faith?

Meir Turniansky 
Simon Griver  


  1. What an excellent post! Wonderful afternoon reading for me.. thank you!

  2. I'm glad you appreciated it. Comments like this make my efforts seem worthwhile. :)