Galilee villages battle to exclude non-Zionists

Two Israeli villages are trying to amend their bylaws in order to allow residence to Zionists only.

The move is widely interpreted as an attempt to stop local Arabs from joining the communities.

In recent months, the far-right political party Yisrael Beiteinu has provoked controversy by proposing a so-called “Citizenship law” that would require all citizens to swear allegiance to the state.

Now, two villages in the Galilee region of Misgav — Manof and Yuvalim — are adopting rules that would make Zionism a prerequisite for setting up home there. A group of MKs is putting forward legislation to enshrine in law the right of villages to enact such rules.

The Arab rights lobby says that the national and local developments are both designed to discriminate against Arabs. But Manof and Yuvalim dispute this, saying that small communities have always had the right to uphold a special character.

In Israel, just over 50 locales are defined as yishuvim kehillati’im, or communal villages. Each is home to around 150 families. Like kibbutzim they have a mission statement outlining an ideological agenda, and entry is by approval of a residents’ committee.

Last year, Adalah, an Arab legal advocacy group which favours making Israel a bi-national state, challenged the legitimacy of yishuv committees. It is currently fighting in the High Court the test case of Ahmed and Fahina Zubeidat, an Arab Israeli couple who wanted to buy a house in Rakefet — an exclusively Jewish village in Misgav — and were turned away by the village committee.

According to Adalah lawyer Suhad Bishara, the village committees in general, and Manof and Yuvalim in particular, “are saying that the Jewish majority in Israel has the right to maintain a policy of segregation”.

She was in favour, however, of a state-backed system in which land available in Arab villages is often open to bids only from locals — making land acquisition there possible only for Arabs.

Adalah’s campaign has split opinion in Misgav’s Arab and Bedouin villages. While some Misgav Arabs agree with Adalah, many privately say that the group is importing a national political battle to their area and oppose it.

Michael Zetler, a founder of Manof, said that he set up the village hoping that it would focus on a sense of Jewish community and Zionist ideals.

“A city can absorb all sorts of steams and population groups,” he said. “A yishuv kehillati is a small community where we mark every event in the Jewish calendar together, and I feel that everyone who lives here should be comfortable taking part in these events.”
He added that the village agreed that Charedim “would not fit in” either.

    Last updated: 12:25pm, June 11 2009