Thursday, June 12, 2008

First Arab Kibbutznik approved

It's groundbreaking and startling news. After nearly 100 years of putting the Zionist ideal to the test on the land, a kibbutz has, for the first time ever, accepted an Arab as a full-fledged member. Ms Amal Carmiyeh, a single mum with two boys, took the pledge last week in central Israel. The Jerusalem Post's report cautions not to take her acceptance as any sort of symbol of Zionist tolerance or start of a trend...but I wonder. Surely, this particular Israeli Arab must be an exceptional woman to make it through the vetting process, even when kibbutz life is in sharp decline. Thai workers have replaced Palestinians as non-Jewish physical labourers at kibbutzim, and it's revolutionary to see that sense of equality now can extend to the (formerly) hired help.
What an upbringing for Carmiyeh's sons: they will learn cooperativeness and resourcefulness and live on the land beside their neighbours. Would the pioneers of Kfar Saba be turning in their graves?

Nir Eliahu, a kibbutz near Kfar Saba, accepted Amal Carmiyeh as a member , making her the first Arab Muslim to become a member of the Kibbutz Movement, according to the movement's newsletter.

Carmiyeh, originally from Kalansuwa in the Triangle, sent her two sons to the Nir Eliahu kindergarten. She was later hired as a nurse and then, several years ago, started living on the kibbutz. Carmiyeh and her sons were among five families accepted as members before the holiday.

"It means that the kibbutzim have a liberal view on life, an accepting and open view," said Aviv Leshem, a spokesman for the Kibbutz Movement. "Kibbutz members have a positive view of [Carmiyeh]. It's a legitimate decision."

But Netta Be'eri, the head of absorption for Nir Eliahu, does not see Carmiyeh's becoming a member as a political act or as the beginning of a trend.

"We love her as a person and are happy that she'll live with us," Be'eri said. "We don't mean for it to be a symbol. She has openness and an ability to live with us. Unfortunately there won't be many examples like this."

Daniel Gavron, author of Kibbutz: Awakening from Utopia, agreed that Carmiyeh's acceptance would remain more the exception than the rule.

"It's very good, but it surprises me. It's an unusual precedent," he said. "The kibbutzim were always very Zionist Jewish communes. The left-wing ones tried to encourage Arabs to build kibbutzim for themselves - but they never admitted Arabs. The purpose was to create a Jewish working class. The Arabs were irrelevant to that."

Although times have changed, Gavron said that that mind-set persists to the present day.

"It's one person in one kibbutz," he said. "I can't imagine it will make a huge impact. It'll certainly give [Arabs] a feeling that all things are possible... but I don't think it's a general revolution."

Some, such as former Nir Eliahu secretary Kuni Senner, do see symbolism in Carmiyeh's acceptance, particularly because she became a member at Shavuot, a holiday that traditionally represents the Jews' acceptance as a people.

"It's symbolic because we [became a] nation on Shavuot," said Senner. "I would hope that what we did expresses [the feelings of] society."

While she may be of a different ethnicity and religion than the rest of Nir Eliahu, Senner says that Carmiyeh has no problem living on the kibbutz.

"She's not a stranger, not for us and not for the country," he said. "She's one of us."

Carmiyeh and her sons join several other residents of Nir Eliahu who are not Jewish.

"Today we're more open," said Be'eri. "If they can live with us, if there will be special families, it will happen. I hope people can live together and educate their children together. We all live in the same land."

Aside from whatever Carmiyeh's acceptance says about society, Senner said that in the end, she was accepted based on who she was.

"We did not vote for an idea or an ideal," he said. "We voted on a friend of ours whom we know. It was a personal vote on one person."

1 comment:

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