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The Kibbutzim / Qassams, terrorism don´t cow kibbutzim (HA´ARETZ NEWS) By Eli Ashkenazi 11/08/04) Source: http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/498620.html
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Movement sources tell stories of new members who even settle on kibbutzim far from the center of the country, such as on Kerem Shalom, which sits adjacent to the Egyptian and Palestinian Authority borders.
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Members of Kerem Shalom prefer to ignore the tense security situation and the threats around them, ranging from Qassam rockets to terrorist infiltration. Instead they prefer to deal with the absorption of new members.
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Over the past two years, the southern kibbutz has absorbed 15 members; nine more are still in the "candidacy" stage and others continue to show up expressing interest in the far-flung community.
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Ilan Regev, Kerem Shalom´s coordinator, said they first placed ads in newspapers. After an initial screening, a group of 20 people arrived at Kerem Shalom, some of whom had no idea what a kibbutz even was.
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The kibbutz movement clings tightly to the stories of the blossoming of Kerem Shalom and other kibbutzim. In 2001, following 18 years in which the kibbutz population continued to drop, the trend came to a halt; in 2003 there was even a 0.5 percent rise in the number of kibbutz residents.
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Since 1985, the overall kibbutz population began to age as the young generation moved away and the number of residents dropped at the rate of 1 percent a year from 158,000 in 1985 to 116,000 today.
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Recent winds of change have, however, been sweeping through the kibbutz movement´s offices on Tel Aviv´s Leonardo da Vinci Street.
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"Our target is an additional 30,000 members in the next decade," said Gavri Bargil, one of the movement´s two secretaries.
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The kibbutz movement has even established a "demographic growth headquarters." Bargil and his co-secretary, Natan Tal, note that "demographic and community growth is the challenge faced today by the kibbutzim. The absorption of young members and others is what will ensure a principled and quality society. Economic stabilization and demographic growth are evidence of a process of growth and renewal over the past year. These processes are making the kibbutz a more attractive lifestyle for many Israelis."
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According to information reaching the movement offices from the kibbutzim, since the beginning of 2004 there has been a demand among people who had previously left their kibbutzim, and among families who had never lived on one, to join up as members and residents.
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The demand is not just for kibbutzim in the central and Sharon regions, but also notably in the northern and southern peripheral areas.
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Theo Kaminer, of the demographic growth headquarters, said that since the beginning of the year, his office has dealt with some 700 individuals or families who want to be accepted as families in the "traditional" fashion. This figure compares to just 229 in 2001.
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Kaminer noted that hundreds of additional appeals are made directly to individual kibbutzim, including requests to be "residents" (as distinct from being accepted as a kibbutz member).
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"This is a 300 percent increase compared to 2001," noted Kaminer.
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"The kibbutz still has advantages such as good education systems, solidarity and community life," said Bargil, who believes that "many people are looking today for a change from their alienated lifestyle."
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The case of Kerem Shalom is not isolated. Kibbutz Eyal in the Sharon coastal region, has become a prime example of a kibbutz that is absorbing new people. The kibbutz, which was sagging under the weight of its social and economic situation, "took responsibility for its fate," movement members explained.
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Its recovery involved a process of change and privatization approved and facilitated by a majority of the kibbutz´s members. The communal systems have stabilized and education is of a particularly high level.
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Located near the Green Line not far from the Palestinian cities of Tul Karm and Qalqilyah, Kibbutz Eyal had suffered for years from a difficult security situation. There was ongoing theft and vandalism of their agricultural products and equipment, and the constant fear of terrorist infiltration became a fact of life. The construction of the separation fence improved the general and personal security situation.
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With an aging population, Eyal members understood they needed to fill the demographic gap and began absorbing new families. Twelve out of the 50 families who approached Eyal are now in the process of absorption. If they stay through the initial first year and want to remain, they will build homes on the kibbutz on a private basis.
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Much like nearly every issue debated at the kibbutz movement, there is controversy over the way of coping with demographic growth and other problems. The "central stream," lead by movement founders, espouses a process of change and privatization, and a differential payment of salaries to kibbutz members, as the way to save the kibbutzim from the economic garbage can. This, they believe, will also attract newcomers.
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The "communal stream," however, which represents 90 kibbutzim - about one-third of the total - believes that the traditional system of equality is what forged the kibbutz and must be maintained.
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"If you want capitalism," they ask, "why don´t you simply prefer Tel Aviv over us?" (© Copyright 2004 Haaretz. 11/08/04)
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