A couple originally from a Galilee village made history last week by becoming the first Druze accepted as members of a kibbutz.
The couple, Haza and Nibal Tafesh, have been living on Kibbutz Elifaz in the southern Arava region since 2007, after starting out in the Druze village of Beit Jann. Last week the kibbutz voted by a large majority to accept the couple as full members.
Tafesh says he and his wife fell in love with Kibbutz Elifaz on their first day there. "We were captivated by the place and we integrated very well. After that we submitted a membership application, and I'm very happy we've been accepted because it gives us a sense of peace of mind and security for the future," he said.
"Otherwise we would have had to leave. The people here have just enveloped us with love and made sure to help us with everything. This is really heartwarming."
This isn't the first time Arabs have been accepted as kibbutz members. In 2008, a Muslim woman from Kalansua became a member of Kibbutz Nir Eliyahu northeast of Tel Aviv. Several months later, a Bedouin man was accepted as a member of Ein Hashofet in the Jezreel Valley.
The Tafeshes have four children, two of whom are in their 20s and live in the center of the country. They also have a 13-year-old and a 15-year-old who live on Elifaz with their parents.
Haza Tafesh left Beit Jann in 1987 and moved to Eilat for a job at the Israel Nature and Parks Authority. He and his family later moved to the Hai-Bar animal reserve in the south. He is currently working as a tour guide in the area. His wife works as housekeeping director at Kibbutz Ketura's guesthouse.
Kibbutz Elifaz is a secular collective at the entrance to Timna Park about 25 kilometers from Eilat. The kibbutz is home to 29 families, most of whom work in agriculture.
The Tafeshes are well aware of the controversy about admitting Arabs to communal villages as well as legislation that allows communal villages in the Galilee and Negev to screen new residents. The Tafeshes said they didn't give the issue much thought.
"Racism doesn't only affect Jews and Arabs," Tafesh said." There's racism everywhere, but the [kibbutz] members and I are proof that things can be done differently."
Kibbutz coordinator Ilan Bedil doesn't consider the acceptance of the Druze couple a historic event with political or social implications.
"There was no reason not to take them in and not to accept them as members," he said. "We don't view them as different, but rather as part of the community. They're very connected to the community, and we've learned tolerance and patience from them and acceptance of the other."
He said the discussion over the couple's membership application didn't address their Druze background but rather considerations such as their ages - "because some members think they're already at an advanced age, and we're a small young community," Bedil said.
"Ultimately, they were warmly welcomed with lots of love," he added. "There's no room for comparing us to other places that have admissions committees and accept you based on your occupation. We prove that you can live another way."
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