THE STORY OF RAMAT RACHEL
In 1909 the first kibbutz, Degania Alef, was established and very soon turned into the most original creation of the Israeli society. It was a communal settlement, and its flag proclaimed: “Each according to his needs and ability, total equality and mutual help”.
The first days
These pioneer Jews were members of “Gedud Ha’avoda” (Labour Brigade) named after Joseph Trumpeldor, who came to Eretz Israel in 1921 and decided to establish work units and build a new society in the country. The pioneers organized themselves as the “Jerusalem Division”, whose aim was to settle in the city and work in stonecutting, building and porterage, all which had been done previously by Arabs. They lived in a temporary camp in Jerusalem but strived to receive an area of land and a water supply in order to establish a kibbutz. In 1926, a group of 10 pioneers came to some very stony land south of Jerusalem, just north of Bethlehem, and founded a kibbutz - Ramat Rachel - overlooking the grave of the biblical Rachel.
In the violent events of 1929, the educational farm next to Ramat Rachel was attacked by hundreds of Arabs incited by the Mufti (Muslim religious leader in Jerusalem). Members of the young kibbutz abandoned their domestic duties and moved to a nearby neighbourhood, while the rioters burned the kibbutz to the ground. One member was killed.
The fertile years
A year after the attack, the members returned and began rebuilding the kibbutz. This time they built houses of solid construction that would withstand any future attacks. Theirs was the first dining room in the kibbutz movement built from stone. Scores of immigrants- mainly from Poland, Germany and Russia- were absorbed by the kibbutz. The kibbutz developed and the settlers established a cow shed, commercial laundry and bakery. Many members found work at the Dead Sea Potash Mills and some at the Jerusalem Railway Station as porters. The number of children increased and a school was built. The members’ social life also developed, and they became an active presence in Jerusalem. By the end of 1940, there were 250 members on kibbutz Ramat Rachel.
In 1936 riots began again, continuing until 1939. Ramat Rachel defended itself successfully, although much property was destroyed and three kibbutz members were killed.
During the War of Independence (1948), the kibbutz was completely surrounded by enemy forces. The members held well against local Arab attacks for a few months but had to retreat before major pressure by units of the Jordanian and Egyptian armies. Three times the Arab Legion forces overran the kibbutz and three times the Israelis fought to win it back. Since the site was strategically very important as Jerusalem’s southern outpost, the kibbutz received reinforcements. Neverthless, it was completely destroyed. Thirteen kibbutz members and 40 Israeli soldiers were killed and many were wounded. Most of the members decided to settle elsewhere. At the end of British rule in the country, the forces of the Hagana and Palmach opened the road between Ramat Rachel and Jerusalem.
Re-building Ramat Rachel
Only 40 members returned to build Ramat Rachel for a third time. The next few years were very difficult indeed - there were few members, no finances and a severe shortage of land and water. In spite of these difficulties, the site was redeveloped. Still located opposite a Jordanian outpost, Ramat Rachel had its share of difficulties, but it was not until June 5, 1967, that enemy shelling once again took its toll. Jordanian shells and bombs rained on the site for two days, and a direct hit by a shell destroyed the kibbutz dining room. Despite their sound defeat of the Jordanians, the Israeli forces and the kibbutz suffered heavy losses.
Once again, the survivors of Ramat Rachel began to rebuild their lives and homes. In the 1970s groups of very young pioneers (Gar’inei Nachal) settled on Ramat Rachel and their contribution was decisive in the development of the kibbutz to what it is today. Kibbutz doors also opened to families, both from the city and from abroad.
Ramat Rachel today
Today Ramat Rachel is home to over 400 adults and children of all ages.
The Center for Tourism, Congresses and Sport is expanding. Together with the other services and agricultural branches, it has helped Ramat Rachel thrive.
But the kibbutz is not all business. Ramat Rachel is now developing its archaeological park
– a site that reveals history dating as far back as the First Temple period through the Roman and Byzantine eras - and the promenade, with breathtaking views of the Judean Desert, Herodion, Bethlehem and Jerusalem. The promenade connects the Park of Olives and the Olive Columns to Mitzpeh Yair - all monuments of “creative archaeology” symbolising the new life of this spot so rich in history.
The story of Ramat Rachel is one of creation and building, destruction and war in the hills surrounding Jerusalem Old City – the Holy City.
This is the life story of a shared community that never lost its hope to build a better society.