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Daubs fo gilt on the Israeli image abraod

Two films on Israel, despite their obvious public relations motive, nevertheless catch and hold firmly, the viewer's interest.

 
By Sevanti Ninan
Last Updated: Saturday 04 July 2015

Israeli farmers laying plastic EVEN WHILE Doordarshan carried a two-part documentary that indulged in Israel-bashing at prime time, the Israeli publicity machine in Delhi was getting its act together. Since diplomatic relations between the two countries have been fully established, one can expect some skillful image-building manoeuvres from a country that has perfected the art of putting across its case.

Of three films on Israel screened recently at the India International Center in Delhi, two are of interest to this column. While Yes, The Farmer Can documents the agricultural miracles for which Israel is known, The Kibbutz looks at the future of the experiment in communal living 80 years after it came into existence. Despite both films being quite obviously publicity ventures, they are quite fascinating.

Bio-engineered to death
Yes, The Farmer Can documents the methods employed by a society that ceased long ago to leave nature (or the farmer) alone. Agriculture extension in Israel means constant experimenting with machinery, crops and trees to attain pinnacles in productivity. Thus, Israeli horticulture is geared to pushing and prodding trees to such miraculous feats as growing to a certain height and producing fruit that grow out of season and within easy picking range so that the fruit hit the market before seasonal fruit.

There are of course machines that are designed for all sorts of tasks. Giant machines embrace trees, shake them and channel the falling fruit into collection bins, a combine drops seedlings from plastic bags into precisely measured holes, and flowers are checked with wind pulses that improve wind pollination and increase yields.

Animals, too, are similarly measured, monitored, engineered and fed with hormones to become optimum productivity machines. Dairy farmers don't just raise cows, they produce sophisticated components of the milking parlours. Cows on the electronic milking stands have transmitters strapped onto their legs to measure, among other things, the amount of milk they produce. Hens packed into large henhouses have colourful toys hung within pecking reach to distract them from attacking their neighbours. And, research is on to produce birds with fewer feathers, and therefore, greater heat resistance.

Goats and camels that are record producers of milk, have their embryos extracted from them and transplanted into other goats and camels. More embryos are frozen for future transplants, and the animals get hormone treatment, presumably to make them even more outstanding milk producers. By the end of it all, you get the overwhelming feeling that this is a society on the brink of being bio-engineered to death.

Conquering the desert
The Kibbutz takes you back to 80 years ago, when the Negev desert had to be conquered by young Jewish pioneers, mostly from East Europe. The word kibbutz means 'gathering' in Hebrew, and the kibbutzim were in the forefront of a new society that led to the establishment of the state of Israel. Since then, however, this social unit has evolved beyond recognition, and is now undergoing a fair amount of soul-searching to determine its relevance in today's world.

Children brought up within these experiments in collective living have some advantages and opportunities, but face some drawbacks as well. Says one youngster in the film, "I don't know how to use money, how to buy things, how to get along in the real world." For in the kibbutz many aspects of daily living are handled for them by others.

Some older kibbutz members feel that the ideology behind this experiment is disappearing, others feel the kibbutzim have to change to be relevant in the future.

Affluence and technology has changed methods of communication within a kibbutz -- some members have their own TV studios, which produce community call-in shows. The constant preoccupation though is with determining how kibbutzim can integrate with the outer world and at the same time, retain their own relevance. An interesting film, which would have been even more so the PR proponent were not so obvious.

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