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Types of Settlement

In Israel, as in most countries, people live in cities large and small as well as in villages.  The cities include neighborhoods that can vary by use, age, architectural style, transportation network, and population.  The Israeli government defines “urban” as a municipality with 2,000 or more residents.

Distinctive (but not typical) types of Jewish Settlements in Israel

There are several types of small, originally agricultural settlements that are unique to Israel (and to Jews living in the region prior to 1948).  These types of settlement are distinctive, but the majority of the Jews in the region lived (and live) in cities and towns rather than in these three types of settlements.  That was the case both during the 60 years prior to the establishment of the State of Israel, and since.  In addition, the unique character of the settlements has been disappearing during the past two decades.  Currently, most of these settlements are relatively similar to rural or suburban villages elsewhere and many now have some industry in addition to agriculture.

The three following types of settlement were distinctive:

  • Kibbutz (pl. kibbutzim)
  • Moshav (pl. moshavim)
  • Moshav Shitufi (pl. moshavim shitufim)

A kibbutz is a collective settlement in which goods are held in common by kibbutz members.

In a kibbutz, decisions are made collectively and income goes to the collective rather than to individual kibbutz members.  Virtually all services, such as, dining, health care, clothing, education, entertainment, laundry, and housing are provided to members as needed.  (When I lived on a kibbutz in the 1970s, this also included free cigarettes for those who wished.)  Members work as they are able.  The collectivist organization of the kibbutzim has been altered over the years, with the last couple decades bringing dramatic changes.  Most (about 80%) of the kibbutzim have privatized, distributing their property to members and ending the system of collective ownership.  Nowadays, most of the kibbutzim pay differential wages rather than providing every member with equivalent funds, goods, and services.  Many kibbutzim essentially have become small municipalities/boroughs whose residents have a history of interdependence on one another.


A moshav is a village in which families hold long-term leases of their household plots and agricultural land, work their plots individually, but may market their produce cooperatively, share the cost of expensive machinery, and act in conjunction with one another in other, similar ways.

In a moshav, expenses are borne by individual families who receive the income from their labor.  However, the individual families cooperate for their mutual benefit.

These three forms of Zionist settlement began as farming settlements, but over time some have established factories or service businesses.  At first these settlements were a practical means for early Jewish settlers (in the early 20th century) to support themselves.  The settlements also helped facilitate some aspects of some strands of Zionism, especially the notions that Jews should “work the land,” engage in manual labor, establish a new, non-exploitative society, and re-establish a Jewish homeland.

Moshav shitufi

A moshav shitufi ("cooperative" moshav) has a degree of collectivism between a moshav and a kibbutz.  In a moshav shitufi, the members labor jointly but then divide the income among themselves, to spend as each individual or family desires.

Over time, these types of settlements, especially the kibbutzim, also assisted in the defense of the Jewish population in the region.  Residential structures often are clustered in the centers of these types of settlements so as to establish defensible perimeters for them.  And, after the State of Israel was established, such settlements sometimes were located along the state’s borders in order to contribute to border security.

Not infrequently, each of these types of Jewish settlements (as well as the “Development Towns,” discussed below) has been placed in regions of the State of Israel with large Arab populations.  In such instances, Jewish settlements have been intended, at least in part, to help maintain a Jewish presence and ensure that the

Aerial view of Kibbutz which shows it clearly defined boarders in the midst of Israeli farm lands.
Kibbutz Urim (Note
the clearly defined perimter)

From the above discussion,you may have noted that a significant number of Jewish Israeli towns and villages have been established through planning processes that were centralized and coordinated at the national level.  In addition, prior to the state’s founding such planning took place within Zionist institutions.

Arab Settlements in Israel

Israeli Arabs live in large and small urban areas, as well as, in villages of varying sizes.

Haifa, Akko, and Jerusalem, for example, are cities with significant Arab populations (these cities also include significant Jewish populations).  Nazareth, in the Galilee, is the largest Israeli city with a population that is nearly entirely Arab.  Um el-Fahm, near the West Bank and between the Jezreel Valley and Hadera, also is nearly entirely Arab and is approaching Nazareth in size.

More About...Arabs in Jerusalem

It should be noted that many of the Arabs who live in Jerusalem have not always lived within the State of Israel.  They had lived under Jordanian rule in the region that many call the “West Bank.”  Unlike other portions of the West Bank, the eastern portions of Jerusalem have been formally annexed by the State of Israel.  As a result, the Arabs who had been living in annexed territories currently are permanent residents or citizens of the State of Israel.

Israeli Arabs and Jews tend to live in ethnically differentiated neighborhoods in the cities with a mixed Arab-Jewish population.  Haifa, though, is somewhat of an exception to this pattern.  In it, Arabs often live in the same neighborhoods as Jews.

The houses in Arab villages, unlike in many of the Jewish villages discussed above, do not tend to be clustered together within a perimeter ring.  Security considerations generally have not affected how homes are situated in Arab villages.  In general, the placement of residential structures in Arab villages has not been shaped through a process of town planning.

The landscape of rural Arab villages within what have become the boundaries of the State of Israel changed dramatically during and shortly after the Israeli War of Independence (named The Catastrophe by many Arabs).  About half of the Arabs who had been living in rural villages left in conjunction with the war, abandoning an estimated 360 villages.1  The lands on which these villages were situated were confiscated by the State of Israel. 

International law tends to regard the confiscation of abandoned land to be legal.  However, confiscation obviously benefits one side more than another and Palestinians have disputed the policy’s legality.  The dispute centers around the notion of abandonment.  While the Israeli government argues that the Arabs who left their homes during the 1948-49 War left them voluntarily (thus having abandoned them in a legal sense), many Palestinians argue that they did not intend to leave their homes permanently.  Another aspect to this dispute is that international law tends to limit the right to return to and to reclaim abandoned property to the generation that left the property.  International law tends to grant less legal standing to subsequent generations than to the generation that left its land and property.

More About...Compensation for Expropriated Land. A Couple Examples:

In 1960, land was expropriated for the town of Karmiel (in the Galilee).  The amount paid in compensation equaled less than the average annual agricultural income for the land.  In another example, some of the arid, but relatively better land in the Negev, that was expropriated in 1979 was compensated at a rate of about $5.00 U.S. (in 1979 dollars) per acre.

Other Arab village lands within the State of Israel have been expropriated by the Israeli government.  In such instances, land occupied by Arab Israeli citizens has been taken by the government for purposes that it has deemed to supersede individual property rights.  Generally such instances have involved security considerations or the settlement of Jewish immigrants (who, themselves, may be refugees from other places).  Arab Israelis generally oppose land expropriation on three accounts.  First, they have not wanted to give up their homes or the land that they have used to support themselves economically.  Second, they have not wanted to move.  And, third, they have not considered the compensation that they received to have been equal to what they had to give up.

Keep in mind the distinction between "confiscation" and "expropriation."

For several years now, all new cars sold in the State of Israel must be equipped with air conditioning.  Apparently, people came to the conclusion that the high degree of “road rage” on Israel’s roads was caused, in part, by the heat. Source

Another land-related tension is between the Bedouin who live in the northern Negev and the Israeli government.  The Israeli government has required the Bedouin to move from the northwestern to the northeastern portion of the Negev and has worked to settle the Bedouin in seven planned towns that it created for them.  In 2005, approximately 100,000 Negev Bedouin were living in these seven towns and about 59,000 were living on lands that the government considers “illegal” and the Bedouin term “unrecognized.”2


1 Golan, Arnon.  The Transformation of Abandoned Arab Rural Areas.  Israel Studies 2(1):96, 1997. [Official Israeli figure from the 1950s.]

2 Yahel, Havatzelet. The State and the Arab Sector: Land Disputes between the Negev Bedouin and Israel, Israel Studies, 11(2):1-22, 2006.

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