Israeli Kibbutz Says Proximity to Gaza Warrants Scrutiny of New Members

Gevim responds to Court petition brought by couple rejected by the kibbutz that being near Gaza exposes them to daily challenges, creating high levels of mutual dependence.

A kibbutz on the edge of the Gaza Strip told the High Court of Justice on Monday that residents must be able to cooperate when their security is threatened, meaning it has a communal character and is therefore allowed to screen prospective residents under a controversial law passed last year.

Kibbutz Gevim argued in a response to a High Court petition brought by a couple rejected by the kibbutz that its location near Gaza exposes its members to daily challenges, which creates a high level of mutual dependence.

Ofir Danalee Kalfa - Eliyahu Hershkovitz - 12022012
Eliyahu Hershkovitz

"The kibbutz's abilities, strength and continuity is based on a unified community that cannot allow itself to waste energy on internal friction and disagreements stemming from the incompatibility of certain potential members to life in a small community," the kibbutz said.

The law states that around 300 small Galilee and Negev towns that have a communal identity and are expanding into public lands are entitled to reject prospective residents because they deems them to be incompatible with "the social life of the community." Two other petitions against the law have also been submitted to the High Court.

But Ofir Kalfa - who, along with his wife, Danalee Kron Kalfa, petitioned the High Court after the kibbutz rejected them and their 1-year-old daughter as residents - said the claim of communal identity is just a way of rejecting people the admissions committee doesn't like.

"We do want to live in partnership, we do want to contribute to the community and volunteer," he said on Monday.

"This expansion does not have anything unique about it or any special character," Kalfa said. "Gevim is not a religious or vegan kibbutz. Communal life there is the same as in any neighborhood with good community services in north Tel Aviv, and is reflected in tax payments and a communal party on Independence Day. To the best of my knowledge, the 'character' is just a means of selection."

It may be precisely that attitude that Kibbutz Gevim's admissions committee found to be overly independent-minded.

"The regional acceptance committee's impression was that the appellants object to the whole concept of commitment to the community and their objection was expressed throughout the course of their interview," the kibbutz told the High Court.

The kibbutz indicated that it wasn't enough for prospective residents to want to live in Gevim because they want to improve their quality of life or gain access to better schools, which is why the Kalfas have said they want to move in.

"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," the kibbutz said. "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, 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."

Kalfa, a communal activist in Sderot with two academic degrees who heads a project to create 16 "smart classrooms" and six computer learning centers there, and Danalee, a management and public policy student, filed their petition last month. They say various ethnic, religious and other groups could be excluded from communities built on state land.

In an effort to show that the Kalfas' Mizrahi ethnicity did not play a factor in the rejection, the kibbutz said the Kalfas were the only ones of the 48 applicant families who were rejected. Of those applicants, 14 families live in Sderot and most are of Middle Eastern origin.

Ofir Kalfa said that for all the kibbutz's explanations, he doesn't know why his family was rejected.

"We are not the ones who brought up the ethnic issue," he said. "When they rejected us for no reason, every possibility was realistic: maybe because I have three earrings, or because I don't seem right to them, or because I'm opinionated. They didn't give a reason."

As part of the review process, the couple had to undergo an evaluation and appear before the admissions committee. The letter of refusal they received stated that the decision is based on the opinion of the institute "specializing in assessing compatibility with communal life," and on the committee's impressions of the two, "which reinforced the conclusion in the professional evaluation."

The kibbutz told the High Court that the Kalfas were asked questions aimed at "identifying their compatibility with a small and special community" and ascertaining their way of treating problems and how they would deal with a decision that was made by the majority of residents and with which they disagreed.