Abirim - Yaron Kaminsky - 20092011
Abirim, located in the Galilee, is trying to become a co-op. Photo by Yaron Kaminsky
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Abirim, a community in the Galilee currently undergoing a process to become a cooperative society, only wants to admit members who have served in the Israel Defense Forces or completed some other form of national service, Haaretz has learned. The small community in the western Galilee is among a number of communities in the north working to become cooperative societies and to emphasize their Jewish and Zionist nature.

The news follows a High Court of Justice ruling last week in which the Israel Lands Administration was ordered to allocate a plot of state land in the northern community of Rakefet to an Arab couple, Fatina and Ahmed Zabeidat.

The Rakefet case applies specifically to the Zabeidats, but a panel of nine justices will soon hear a petition against the recently passed Acceptance Committee Law, which allows communities to deny membership to potential residents based on wide-ranging criteria.

A number of small communities in the north, particularly in the Misgav region where Rakefet is located, are not waiting for the High Court decision and are hoping to become cooperative societies.

Abirim is now completing the process of officially becoming a cooperative society. Its new articles of association are almost ready for approval, and Haaretz has learned that they contain restrictions on membership, including the requirement to have served in the IDF or to have completed national service or some other community volunteering for at least two years.

The proposed articles state that all those who wish to be accepted as members must sign a document declaring that Abirim is a "community acting according to the vision of the Declaration of Independence of the State of Israel, which keeps the values of the Zionist movement of settling the Land of Israel and the traditions of [the people of] Israel."

Abirim's new articles do emphasize that residents oppose religious coercion of any type and are committed to freedom of worship.

A number of Abirim residents object to the change, but they are a minority. Ilan Horovitz, one of the opponents, said the articles are discriminatory and will keep certain parts of the population from joining the community, in particular Arab citizens. He said he could not sign such a statement and join the cooperative society as long as the articles were not changed.

In an attempt to stop Abirim becoming a cooperative society, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel asked the Registrar of Cooperative Societies not to accept the new articles, saying they discriminate in the allocation of state land.

David Gur, the head of the municipal committee at Abirim denied that the change was in any way intended to prevent Arab citizens from living in Abirim. He said the timing was related to financial and legal considerations, and it would be best to make the change before expanding the community.

Becoming a cooperative society has budgetary and economic implications, and entails greater autonomy from the regional council. Abirim's decision is also related to a plan to expand the community and bring in new families. There are now 42 families living in Abirim and the plan is to add another 40.

The office of the Registrar of Cooperative Societies said no such society had yet been established at Abirim. It confirmed it had received the ACRI's request, and said: "If and when a request to register as such a society is received, the proposed articles of association will be examined by the registrar as required."