Kibbutz welcomes first Arab-Muslim
AMAL Carmiya is Kibbutz Nir Eliyahu's newest member. Nobody would have paid much attention to the 45-year-old mother of two except she is Israel's first-ever Arab-Muslim kibbutznik.
"It's not meant to be a political statement or a comment on the Arab-Israeli conflict, Amal is simply part of our community," said Neta Be'eri, head of the kibbutz's membership committee.
But the appointment, and consequent attention, has left Carmiya fearing extremists.
Carmiya's relationship with the kibbutz, north-east of Tel Aviv, began 18 years ago when she sent her eldest child to its creche. Soon afterwards, the kibbutz offered her a job as a nurse and, in 1997, the divorced mother and her two children became temporary residents. In September 2007, the kibbutz was privatised and opened to new members.
Some five families, including Carmiya's, were invited to apply for membership. "Close to 90% of the community voted 'yes' to Carmiya last week," the kibbutz's secretary, Nimrod Madar, said. "Nobody voted for Amal the Arab, they voted for Amal the person. For many years, she has been a highly-regarded resident; it was only natural that she become a member."
Yet outside the quiet, tree-lined kibbutz, Carmiya's membership has attracted much attention, resulting in her shying away from the media. "She is worried about extremists on both sides, harassing her and her children," Madar said.
But last week, Carmiya, who comes from the nearby Arab-Israeli village of Qalasawe, spoke to The Kibbutz newspaper, a publication serving Israel's 270 kibbutzim.
"With the complicated situation in Israel, I feel that this is the place, these are the people and this is the way that suits me best," she said, adding her family has mixed feelings about her choice. "They have already learned to accept the way I am. They comment about my children's education here and there, and think that maybe my daughter needs to return to the village to find a husband, but all of this won't change my decision to live on the kibbutz."
Carmiya's membership also reflects huge changes within Israel's kibbutz movement. Only 1.7% of Israelis live in kibbutzim compared to 5% 50 years ago. With younger Israelis heading to the cities, the average age of Kibbutz Nir Eliyahu is 55. "Which is why we opened our doors and agreed to privatise our operations to some degree," Madar said.
Each kibbutz has its own rules on membership and while non-Jewish members are increasingly accepted, Carmiya is believed to be the first Arab Muslim. "We view it very much as a positive step and one that needs to be explored further," said Aviv Leshem, of Israel's Kibbutz Movement.
Carmiya's children, Aya, 20, and Adam, 14, will still have to apply in their own right. "When the day comes, they will make a decision about their own path in life," Carmiya said. "We do not deny that we are Muslim. We fast during Ramadan and celebrate all the holidays They enjoy both worlds. My children are universal."
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