Sderot Activists Win Right to Move Into Kibbutz Gevim

Decision comes following the recommendations of the ILA appeals committee that said there was no sufficient reason to deny the couple residency.

The Israel Lands Administration has overturned a decision by the admissions committee of Kibbutz Gevim in the western Negev denying residence to a social activist from Sderot.

The decision came following the recommendations of the ILA appeals committee that deliberated over the issue, finding that there was no sufficient reason to deny residency to Ofir Kalfa and his wife Danalee Kalfa.

Ofir, a community activist in Sderot with two academic degrees who heads a project to create 16 local "smart classrooms" and six computer learning centers, and Danalee, a management and public policy student, applied for residence at Kibbutz Gevim roughly a year ago.

The Kalfas wanted to live in the "expansion" kibbutz land where new homes are to be built for people who are not kibbutz members. The kibbutz admissions committee for the expansion rejected the couple's application, claiming that they are not attuned to community life.

Following the decision, in February the couple petitioned the High Court of Justice against the Admissions Committee Law, which allows small communities to screen prospective residents.

In response to the petition, the kibbutz released a statement, saying: "Ofir and Danalee Kalfa not only don't understand what it means to live in a small community, they are also opposed to the whole concept of commitment to the community.

"Their wish to take part in the communal expansion of Gevim does not at all stem from a desire to live in a communal setting," the kibbutz said, "but from a desire to upgrade their current residence, as if the expansion of Gevim is merely a worthwhile real estate investment in a country-like venue, devoid of any community-oriented character." Kibbutz Gevim argued that its location near Gaza exposes its members to daily challenges, which create a high level of mutual dependence.

Following the Kalfas' High Court petition, the couple submitted an appeal to the ILA appeals committee. During discussions in that panel, a representative of the kibbutz expansion admissions committee said: "We are trying to introduce new blood into the community, but new blood needs to match what is already there, otherwise we would die."

The representative told the committee that the Kalfas were over-qualified. "There is a fear that those with leadership ability have a difficult time accepting those who disagree with them. [The Kalfas were rejected] not because someone found something negative in them," but because of their "surplus of talent."

Kalfa told Haaretz on Wednesday: "As far as we're concerned this is a great achievement and the realization of our dream, but I feel pain for the many families that are rejected, and do not exercise their rights, or are unable to petition the High Court of Justice. It is important to me to say that we must fight against discriminatory decisions made by these admissions committees any way we can."

Despite the Kalfas' victory, representatives of activists who oppose the Admissions Committee Law on principle claim the authorities are overturning the decisions of committees like that run by Kibbutz Gevim only so the High Court of Justice will not have cause to abolish the law completely.

Adi Nir-Binyamini of the Legal Clinic for Human Rights at Tel Aviv University said on Wednesday: "This case is an example that time after time, attempts to attack the filtering methods and admissions decisions based on 'social incompatibility' are continuously blocked."

The law clinic petitioned the High Court in the Kalfas' name, together with the Association for Distributive Justice.

Following the High Court ruling, the Kalfas are expected to withdraw their petition. However, a petition is still before the High Court by Adalah - the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, and the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, against the Admissions Committee Law.

Michael Eitan, minister for the improvement of government services, who followed the Kalfas' fight, called for "significant change in the workings of the committee in terms of transparency and publication of criteria, timetables and forums for appeals."