For the settlers of the Gaza Strip, the left-leaning kibbutzim just over the border with Israel proper are, politically speaking, a world apart.
But as Knesset ratification of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's withdrawal from the Gaza Strip looms, some Gaza settlers are exploring the option of a new life in kibbutzim like Zikim, Barur Hayil or Holit -- despite the cultural clashes that could ensue.
According to political sources, dozens of settler families have voiced interest in using their $200,000-$500,000 government compensation packages to relocate to Negev kibbutzim, a move that would minimize disruption to their work and school schedules. The Security Cabinet approved the relocation budget on Sept. 14, and it is expected to be passed by the Knesset in November.
Those settlers who make a living in agriculture could, in principle, find new employment on the collective farms of the kibbutzim. There is even talk of doubling the size of Holit, currently a financially ailing community of 120 families, to accommodate the entire population of the Gush Katif settlement bloc.
"We can certainly consider uniting with Gush Katif," said Uzi Dori, a spokesman for the Negev kibbutzim. "If entire groups want to apply to move to Barur Hayil or Zikim, we welcome that, too."
Dori said that rather than undergo the protracted process of applying for kibbutz membership, settlers who move to Holit, Barur Hayil or Zikim would be housed in annexes and share kibbutz facilities.
Yet some kibbutz veterans have reservations about any such mergers, given their movement's traditionally secular and left-leaning politics so at odds with the majority of Gaza settlers. Since the Palestinian intifada erupted in 2000, some kibbutz activists have taken to regularly demonstrating for a Gaza withdrawal at the strip's main crossing points, drawing abuse from settler motorists.
"I do not believe it practicable to join a religious population with a nonreligious one in such a small setting as a kibbutz," said Avshalom Vilan, a lawmaker with the liberal Meretz Party and former secretary of the United Kibbutz Movement.
Even if the settlers move to neighborhoods "on the periphery of the kibbutz, their children will go to same schools, and they will have to lead very cooperative lives in many ways," Vilan told Israel Radio. "There will simply be an objective difficulty."
But the kibbutz movement's secretary, Gavri Bargil, struck a more conciliatory note, saying, "We are very committed to this disengagement process, above and beyond the political disputes. The kibbutz movement is known as a key front in supporting peace, and we would like this move by the country to prove successful. It is important for us to help out in any manner we can."