The West Bank settlement of Nokdim
The West Bank settlement of Nokdim Photo by Alex Levac
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The Nokdim secretariat ruled two weeks ago to bar non-Jewish Russian-Israelis from buying homes in the small Bethlehem-area settlement where Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman makes his home. The decision came after a frenzied debate between residents over whether the entry of individuals not considered Jewish by religious law would lead to "assimilation" or improper behavior on the part of veteran residents and their children.

The current fracas was sparked after a number of families of Russian origin applied to be accepted in the community. In each of the families, at least one member is not Jewish according to halakha, or religious law. Nokdim is a mixed community of religious and secular Israelis, both native and Russian-speaking, in the Gush Etzion settlement bloc southeast of Jerusalem.

After several residents expressed opposition to admitting the families, the settlement's absorption committee decided to bring up the issue at a secretariat meeting. Two weeks ago the panel decided the families' applications would be rejected.

Nokdim's secretary, Yossi Heiman, told Haaretz: "If there were an easy solution to this issue, we wouldn't have to hold hearings on it. There are many considerations both ways; there are also strong arguments in favor of accepting these families. But, ultimately, the majority decided they were opposed to such a high number of these families coming in and changing the community's demographics.

"The biggest problem is that if you accept 10 families in which the mother isn't Jewish, then soon there will be 30 children, and tomorrow your son could fall in love with the good-looking girl next door. It's a real problem," Heiman said.

"It's difficult enough with the dozens of terrorists who enter each morning," added Nokdim resident Amit Gruen, in apparent reference to Palestinians employed in home construction in the settlement.

"We have to separate ourselves from the gentiles in commerce and everything else - particularly when it comes to living with them. It could lead to assimilation or idol worship; it opens the door to all kinds of trouble. They might lead us into committing offenses that Jews normally don't do, like idolatry and incest and all kinds of other perversions. That's why we have no place for them here," he said.

"In principle, the fact that they serve in the army is a problem. They must not serve in the army - the fact that the state brought them over doesn't mean a thing. Just as it brought them over, it can send them back to their own countries," Gruen said.

Gil Gan-Mor, an attorney heading the branch on housing rights at the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, said any decision not to accept a family as residents in a community on the basis of race, religion or sex is illegal discrimination.