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Communal settlement (Israel)

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Title: Communal settlement (Israel)  
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Communal settlement (Israel)

A community settlement (Hebrew: יישוב קהילתי‎, Yishuv Kehilati) is a type of town in Israel. While in an ordinary town anyone may buy property, in a community settlement the town's residents, who are organized in a cooperative, can veto a sale of a house or a business to an undesirable buyer.

By this selection process, residents of a community settlement may have a particular shared ideology, religious perspective, or desired lifestyle which they wish to perpetuate by accepting only like-minded individuals. For example, a family-oriented community settlement that wishes to avoid becoming a retirement community may choose to accept only young married couples as new residents.

Legal structure

Legally, a community settlement operates as a cooperative in which all residents must be members. To enforce the restrictions on reselling property, property on a community settlement is formally not sold, but rather leased. The land of the entire settlement is owned by one entity (usually the Jewish National Fund through the Israel Land Administration), which leases out individual plots only to members of the cooperative. In that sense, a community settlement is much like a town-sized housing cooperative.

The residents cooperative may also own and operate property and businesses, and this is often used for keeping certain public facilities, such as preschool, synagogues, grocery stores, sport facilities, youth clubs, swimming pools, etc., in the hands of the entire community. However, unlike a kibbutz or a moshav, the economic cooperation between residents is very loose - most residents work outside the settlement, and residents only pay minimal property taxes to the cooperative to help maintain the town and its public facilities.

Note that despite a popular misconception, the mere existence of community-owned facilities is not what differentiates community settlements from ordinary towns, as most ordinary towns also have the same types of facilities - preschool, synagogues, sport centers and sometimes even swimming pools - owned and operated by the town. Likewise, the mere existence of a democratic body of residents which makes decisions and organizes events for the whole community is not a defining feature of community settlements: Ordinary towns also have their own local governments which are democratically elected by their residents.

Most community settlements are small, with no more than several hundred residents, and are therefore too small to form their own separate formal municipalities. Instead, the residents' cooperative is recognized by the state of Israel as a local committee. Several such local committees can, for example, form together a regional council, which is one of the three types of local government in Israel. In practice, the regional council often has more impact on the resident's life than the cooperative of their own settlement: It is the regional council which will normally run schools, build roads, collect property taxes, and even run its own screening process.

Common features

As explained above, what really sets apart a community settlement from an ordinary town is its ability to select its residents. However, when one looks at the 150 or so community settlements in Israel, more common features can be spotted in most, though not all, community settlements. These common features include:

  • Community settlements are predominantly rural and exurban. As explained above, the land of most community settlements is owned by the Israel Land Administration; One of this organization's explicit goals is to populate Israel's peripheral areas, rather than have the population continue to gravitate toward its central Gush Dan area.
  • Houses in Community settlements are predominantly, if not exclusively, single-family homes and not apartment buildings. One explanation for this is, again, the desire to spread-out the population. Another explanation is that the availability of affordable single-family houses is actually one the main attraction points of the new towns, which would otherwise not be very appealing to potential residents. Finally, building an apartment building is a much more complex financial enterprise for the cooperative than each family building its own home out of its own funds.
  • Community settlements are predominantly small, with a few hundreds of residents. This is caused by a combination of the town's young age, the typically small area or land allocated to the town, and the desire to build only single-family houses. Many community settlements start out small, with only few dozen families, and over the years slowly grow and accept new families.
  • Residents of community settlements are typically very involved in their community. They know their neighbors well, they volunteer for various committees which run the town and its facilities, and they often meet together for various events and celebrations. A genuine feeling of community is often felt in these settlements, which is why that word was chosen to describe this form of settlement. The strong sense of community is of course made possible by the small size of the towns, and also by favoring applicants who seek strong community ties over applicants who seek to live within their own four walls without ever seeing a neighbor.
  • Although Jews constitute about 75% of Israel's general population, communal settlements are almost entirely Jewish. Some community settlements openly require applicants to be Jews (e.g., by declaring themselves a religious community), while other community settlements find more indirect ways to reject non-Jewish candidates, usually claiming "lack of social compatibility". Another problem for non-Jews is that the Jewish National Fund, the owner of the land in many community settlements, views itself as a Jewish organization whose mission is to spread the Jewish population, and therefore refuses to lease to non-Jews. See more in "Controversy" below.
  • Today, most community settlements are gated communities, i.e., are enclosed in a fence and a gate which allow only residents (or their visitors) to enter. The reason stated for installing these is usually to deter thieves. Enclosing the entire town is practical because of the small size of its population, and the relatively controlled nature of its permanent population.

History and today

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