Making History

There is an interesting news item in Ha’aretz about plans to lobby UNESCO to declare the kibbutz system in Israel a “world heritage site”. One of the proponents is Dr. Galia Bar-Or, who co-curated the exhibit about kibbutz architecture at the recent Venice Biennele and whom I interviewed at the art museum at Kibbutz Ein Harod, which she oversees.

Israel already has six UNESCO world heritage sites (not surprising for a squib of land that encompasses so much world heritage), which commemorate built environments of significance to history ancient (Masada; the old city of Acre; the Nabatean cities in the Negev; the biblical sites of Megiddo, Be’er Sheva, and Hazor) and more recent (the Bahai Gardens in Haifa; Tel Aviv’s “White City” of modernist design). The Old City of Jerusalem is also on the list, proposed by Jordan in the 1980s.


The idea of historically sanctifying the kibbutz as an institution in this way raises some intriguing questions:

  • Is it more evidence that the kibbutz, as a social ideal, is past its prime—a museum piece, a fossil of history rather than a living, breathing entity with an evolving future? 
  • How do you commemorate a movement that was, at its height, a network of 270+ communities, each a little (sometimes a lot) different from the next one in ideology and practice and industry? Right now, plans are to propose Kibbutz Degania—the original settlement—within the UNESCO designation, while potentially inscribing other kibbutzim (like Ein Harod) that played an important role during certain stages of the movement’s 100-year history.
  • Does the proposal even have a chance of negotiating the highly political hallways of the United Nations? The idea is to commemorate one of the most important forms of settlement—if not the most—of the secular Zionist movement in the years before 1948. (It would also honour an applied ideal of social equality that must stand, despite its diminished status today, as one of the successes of the otherwise abandoned philosophy of utopian socialism.) Israel isn’t exactly the most popular nation on the block when it comes to U.N. voting… so I won’t be holding my breath for the kibbutz to get so honoured.