Back at the turn of twentieth century, when Jewish settlers and farmers began to return to their land, no law existed in the area, and there was no sovereign to enforce it. In 1909, “Ha’Shomer” – “The Guardian” – was established to protect these pioneers and their endeavors. They were the forerunners of the Haganah, which subsequently developed into the IDF. They were warriors, horse-riding, gun-carrying, Arabic-speaking Jews who decided to protect what was theirs, understanding that only steadfastness would enable the Jews returning to their land to survive. They fought, and in many cases, they won.
It seems that in Israel circa 2012, some things haven’t changed. Many of the farmers face the same challenges as their precursors, including repetitive land seizures, theft and destruction of crops, theft of livestock, physical assault, ongoing threats, and damage to property. Since 2004, over one thousand heads of cattle have been stolen.
Seeing the dire necessity on the ground, a few young men have gotten together and established “Ha’Shomer Ha’Chadash,” -“The New Guardian” – with the same objectives as the original. They have taken upon themselves the task of providing security to farmers and ranchers, primarily in the Negev and the Galilee. Maintaining a continuous physical presence, 700 volunteers at 21 locations help farmers secure their lands and property. Areas patrolled by the volunteers have experienced a significant drop in violent actions against farmers.
The organization’s objective is to create a strategic change in Israeli society, developing awareness about the adversities landowners and farmers face, strengthening the weakened connection of Israelis to their land, and stressing the significance of ownership over open territory in the Negev and Galilee. These ideas are implemented by volunteers who stand guard, protecting farms and grazing lands. The volunteers also promote these Zionist ideals through educational ventures.
According to the organization, the motives for their antagonists’ actions are not only financial, but ideological as well. Their aim is to exhaust the farmers and drive them off the land, so that they can claim it for themselves, thus weakening the Jewish presence.
The police and authorities are working to eliminate the problems, but are understaffed and have difficulty responding properly. The New Guardian cooperates with law enforcement, filling in gaps left by the police.
The organization also has an educational program which trains young men and prepares them for leadership positions. An activist in the organization told Tazpit that the New Guardian has had a number of successes. Wherever they have a presence, attacks lessen, although harassment has not ceased completely. Her feelings are mixed. On one hand, the “other side” knows the New Guardian exists and is wary of the organization’s volunteers, but lately there has been an increase in hostilities. The aggressors have become bolder. The New Guardian will continue its activities, and has even attempted to meet the other side to learn its needs and perhaps come to some sort of understanding.
She says that the key is in how we perceive ourselves – “we must behave as owners of land and conduct ourselves with pride. We should internalize the notion that this is our country. If we do so, the other side’s attitude will change as well.” The focus is not the attackers, but on strengthening our roots in our land.
Based on these vital concepts, the organization has plans to broaden its educational activities, becoming a social movement that endeavors to present the ideas of courage, land, fraternity, dedication, and mutual responsibility to Israeli society. The New Guardian will work to create a public discourse on these issues, hoping to have an influence on individuals who will internalize these ideals and act upon them.
In conclusion, she said: “I grew up in a very Zionistic home, where I was educated to believe in the good in every human being, and where I was imbued with a love of the land. Hashomer Hachadash wants to direct Israelis towards these values, reconnecting them to their land and their country. There is a general feeling that these good old basic values are lacking now, and we want to return to them.”